I bet many of you thought “Whaaaat? Testosterone? That is for men not women. Right? Hummm well wrong. Testosterone is a very important hormone for women and so commonly ignored, hence the reason why I decided to post about it.
What is Testosterone?
Testosterone is an androgen hormone from the steroid group and as all sex hormones it derives from cholesterol (YES! The so called villain and with which you cannot literally live, but let’s leave that for another time).
Steroid hormones are produced both in the gonads (ovaries in women, testes in men) and adrenal glands (as well as by the placenta during pregnancy) and are fat soluble hormones that bind to the steroid receptors that exist in the cells; depending on the type of the receptor, the classification of the steroids (androgens, oestrogens, progestogens, mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids – the last two in the adrenal gland cortex, hence the “corticoid” end). In spite of the “Andro” prefix meaning “men” androgens are produced by both men and women and play a very important role in women, being their levels higher than estrogen levels.
So, what is the role of androgens/testosterone?
Note that I am strictly speaking about women in this post
- Kick start of puberty: Androgens are a key hormone in the events that start puberty in women, regulating/stimulating the growth of pubic hair as well as the growth of hair in the arm pits.
- Estrogen synthesis: When reaching the adult status, androgens are needed to produce estrogen, as they are its precursors.
- Organ and system regulation: Androgens are involved in the regulation of many organs and systems in our bodies, including liver, kidneys, bone, muscle and of course the organs from the reproductive tract.
- Sexual drive and sexual pleasure: Androgens are strongly related with sexual drive, nipple and clitoral sensitivity and sexual pleasure
- Well-being and energy: Testosterone is associated with a raise in well-being and energy levels
- Depression and cognitive function:Testosterone helps cognitive function and protects against depression (there are also reports that high testosterone levels, above physiological levels, are also associated with depression). It is common for women with low testosterone levels to feel lethargic, sad, with a low mood, anxiety, lack of drive to do daily tasks, lack of enthusiasm, etc.
- PMT and menopause: Improvement of of PMT symptoms and menstrual pain as well as menopausal symptoms
Why does testosterone decrease?
- Age: Age is a natural cause of low hormone levels, even before menopause. When we get to menopause, our testosterone levels can be lowered by 50%.
- Hormones: Progesterone is directly related with testosterone production, meaning that low levels of progesterone means low levels of testosterone. Two potential causes: age, as progesterone decreases with age, or any hormonal condition that has to be diagnosed by the appropriate specialist. As with all other sex hormones, there is a “turmoil” when we go through perimenopause and later menopause. Testosterone declines by 50% or more.
- Stress (Yes again and again): This is quite a controversial one, as you will see different studies reporting different results and conclusions. There are many studies associating stress with low testosterone, but an association does not mean that testosterone is the cause, as association is not causation. However it is something to be considered, due to the effects chronic stress cause in our bodies. Cortisol, the stress hormone persists in high levels during stress and affects testosterone synthesis. When we are under stress, our bodies focus on protecting ourselves from the stressor and “secondary functions” are put on hold, like reproduction.
- Ovary and/or Hysterectomy: the removal of gonads or uterus will lead to a significant decrease in testosterone
- The use of birth control techniques – oral contraceptives: The pill acts suppressing the production of sex hormones (progesterone, estrogen and testosterone), and its continuous use for a long time can affect hormonal balance and lead to low testosterone levels
- Insulin resistance: There are studies associating (again, association is not causality) insulin with both low and high levels of testosterone.
How to Know?
The following may be associated with low testosterone
- Are you in peri-menopause or menopause?
- Are you 40 years old or more?
- Are you feeling down, lacking enthusiasm, moody, depressed?
- Is your hair weak, falling and breaking easily?
- Is your sex drive down?
- Do you have difficulties in building muscle (if lifting weights), or notice increased sagging?
- Are you gaining weight and is it difficult to lose weight?
- Are you feeling lethargic, fatigued?
But, those symptoms can happen with other conditions, so how to know?
The only accurate and definite way of knowing is by getting your blood tested.
How to fix it?
That has to be discussed with a medical professional specialist in that area. Among the options there is hormone replacement with bio-identical hormones and also natural methods that can help boost your testosterone levels. Note that any supplementation should be done after getting tested and after conferring with a medical professional and not on your own. The following may help:
- Reduce stress: Use relaxation techiques, meditation, essential oils, herbal teas
- Take care of your diet: Consume enough protein adequate for your needs; Do not avoid fat; Do not avoid saturated fat, you need it; Eat your vegetables – kale, spinach, garlic help promoting androgens; Zinc is a very important mineral, add lamb, seafood, nuts, eggs and seeds to your diet; Reduce alcohol consumption; Eliminate sugar, processed foods, trans-fats, vegetable oils
- Make sure your Vit D levels are optimal
- Reduce as much as possible exposure to xeno-estrogens (compounds that mimic estrogen action in the body) – plastic food containers, plastic bottles, pesticides, all are a source of xeno-estrogens
- Exercise – Heavy weight lifting, HIIT are good options for boosting testosterone levels
- Hummm I bet this one you will like: Have sex!