For women, the role of testosterone in the body is not always clear. Here is some basic information that every woman should know about this mighty hormone... and why it's not just for the boys.
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is a steroid hormone that belongs to a class of hormones called androgens. It is produced mostly in the testes of men and the ovaries of women, although small amounts are produced in the adrenal glands as well. Testosterone is best known for its anabolic effects, like building muscle and tissues, helping with protein synthesis, and increasing bone density. Testosterone also has androgenic effects that we often associate with male secondary sex characteristics, i.e. deepening of the voice, development of facial and body hair, and changes in facial bone contours.
Why is testosterone important for women?
For both men and women, testosterone plays a key role in the development and maintenance of muscle mass, strength, energy levels, and bone density. For women in particular, the maintenance of bone density and muscle mass is important, as both of these tend to deteriorate with age. Testosterone may also offer females some more subtle effects, like impacting mood and (here’s the big one) sexual desire. That’s right…the big “T” is linked to the big “O” for women as well as men.
What are signs of low testosterone for women?
Women with low testosterone (low T) may experience decreased libido and persistent fatigue. For athletes in particular, muscle weakness is another frequent complaint. Because testosterone is a hormone, symptoms of deficiency resemble symptoms of depression and other mood disorders. In fact, certain experts argue that misdiagnosis and lack of treatment are common for these reasons.
- Exercise less (if you’re exercising too much). For both men and women, overtraining — the type often seen in endurance sports like distance running — can actually decrease your testosterone. Take time to rest if you need it!
- Exercise more (if you’re not exercising). While endurance training may be associated with decreased testosterone levels, research indicates that acute endurance training and resistance training can actually increase your circulating androgens – including testosterone.
- Move some weight. Take a break from the treadmill and hit the weights instead. In addition to increasing androgen levels, resistance training comes with a ton of other amazing benefits for women, including stronger bones (reducing your risk of developing osteoporosis) and weight loss. It's recommend that women resistance train two to three times a week.
- Have more sex. There is a correlation between testosterone levels and sexual activity for women. While it is believed that individuals with higher testosterone levels tend have higher libidos, some research indicates that it is the sex itself that may be increasing women’s testosterone. Several studies showed that sexual arousal leads to small increases in plasma testosterone levels for women.
- Eat more zinc. Zinc is powerful little mineral, which blocks the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. More zinc = less converted estrogen = higher testosterone. Good sources of zinc include oysters (hence their reputed aphrodisiac abilities) and other seafood, pumpkin seeds, red meat (especially beef and lamb), and spinach.
- Eat more magnesium. Magnesium is also believed to increase your testosterone by inhibiting testosterone from binding to its binding protein, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). As a result, you have more free testosterone (the biologically active type of T) floating around in your blood. Great sources of magnesium include: fish, beans, nuts, and leafy green vegetables.
What are signs of high testosterone for women?
Between 4% and 7% of women produce too much testosterone in their ovaries. Some of these women have a pattern of symptoms called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS. This diagnosis is important for women, as PCOS can lead to infertility and other problems. Another possible effect of high T in women is excessive hair growth in unwanted areas, known as hirsutism. (Yes, there’s a scientific name for those pesky chin hairs you have to pluck.) Other signs include: acne, excessive perspiration, frontal balding, and deepening of the voice.
What to do if your testosterone is too high
If your testosterone is high, you should talk to you doctor. Your doctor will likely check your testosterone levels and refer you to an endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in hormone levels and glandular functions. Certain factors, like smoking, obesity, and PCOS, are also associated with high testosterone
The role of testosterone in the female physiology continues to be studied by scientists and researchers. There are still many questions you may have. For example: does getting your upper lip threaded or being moody from time to time mean your testosterone is out of whack? Probably not, but there’s only one way to find out! InsideTracker’s Ultimate Plan lets you test a wide range of blood biomarkers plus important ratios, including free and total testosterone, SHBG, and cortisol, and gives you individualized reccomendations based on your age, gender, ethnicity, activity levels, and goals.
Some other blog posts we think you'll love:
- Tired of Being Tired: How I Optimized My Iron Levels
- Getting Back on Track: Laura Ingalls' InsideTracker-Fueled Journey Back to Holistic Health
- Avoiding The Crash: How Monitoring Iron Levels Can Save Your Season
- Stress Fractures: The Relationship Between Biochemistry, Nutritional Screening and Biomechanics