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Many women who have low serum levels of testosterone (normal total levels range between 15–70 nanograms per deciliter) are often wrongly convinced by their doctors, loved ones or coworkers that they are suffering from depression or stress. Low testosterone in women commonly causes fatigue, low libido and sleep disturbances, symptoms which are also found in mood disorders. The fact of the matter is, like men, women become deficient in testosterone as they age, and may manifest a whole host of symptoms.
Here are some common symptoms of low testosterone which women may experience:
increase in fat stores
decreased sexual satisfaction
development of cardiovascular disease
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While some women will agree to boost their testosterone levels by using testosterone supplements (either injected or in topical form), there are numerous side effects which may emerge from such therapy. These side effects, some of which are irreversible, include hair loss (male-pattern baldness), weight gain, insulin resistance, acne, excess facial hair, hirsutism, deepening of voice, aggression, enlarged clitoris, and smaller breast size. If a woman is concerned about these side effects, she can turn to DHEA, regular exercise, and certain foods to increase testosterone levels.
A significant increase in serum testosterone levels has been consistently demonstrated during the hours following exercise, so a regular exercise regimen will naturally and safely increase testosterone levels in women. There are also numerous foods which boost testosterone levels in the body. They are:
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What if exercise and the introduction of testosterone-raising foods isn’t enough for a woman to create normal testosterone levels in the blood? A hormone which is secreted in the bloodstream by the adrenal glands known as dihydroepiandosterone, or DHEA, can be taken as an oral supplement. DHEA is converted in the body into DHEA sulfate, then androstenedione, then ultimately to testosterone and estrogens. DHEA reaches its highest levels in the body in one’s twenties, when undergoes a slow and steady decline (about 10% for each decade of life). Oh the joys of aging, right? Probably the most concerning aspect of DHEA’s decline is the potential development of major diseases such as heart disease and cancer, but another confounding aspect is the decline in the sex hormones, with a corresponding drop in muscle mass, increase in visceral fat, skin changes, and all the other symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause.
It is widely believed that DHEA is a key hormone which can be administered as an anti-aging treatment for older individuals. One key study followed 30 male and female subjects ranging between 40-70 years of age for six months, during which time they were given 50 mg of DHEA per day for 3 months, then 3 months of placebo, in random order. It only took two weeks for patients taking DHEA to reach the serum DHEA levels of young adults, and after 3 months on DHEA therapy, the majority of subjects reported improved sleep, more energy, and less anxiety. Another study which examined women between the ages of 45-55 found that the subjects who were given 50 mg daily of DHEA had significantly higher testosterone levels than women who were in the placebo group.
If you are a woman considering boosting your blood testosterone levels with DHEA, please make sure to get a full workup and bloodwork from physician who is well-versed in hormone replacement therapy to determine whether you are indeed deficient in testosterone. I always advise starting with DHEA as opposed to testosterone, since the side effect profile of DHEA is much more tolerable than that of testosterone. I also recommend getting your DHEA supplementation compounded with pregnenolone from a well-respected compounding pharmacy for the best purity and quality. You may still experience some side effects from DHEA supplementation, especially at higher doses (in excess of 25 mg daily). These side effects include oily skin and acne, skin thickening, hair loss, stomach upset, headache, insomnia, high blood pressure, changes in menstrual cycle, facial hair in women, deepening of the voice, and fatigue.
Morales AJ, Nolan JJ, Nelson JC, Yen SS. Effects of replacement dose of dehydroepiandrosterone in men and women of advancing age. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1994 Jun;78(6):1360-7.