When it comes to sex hormones, women are driven by estrogen and men are driven by testosterone, right? Well, everyone has both — it’s just that women have more estrogen while men have more testosterone.
Testosterone is an androgen, which is a “male” sex hormone that plays a role in reproduction, growth, and maintenance of a healthy body.
In men, testosterone is mainly produced in the testes. In women’s bodies, testosterone is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands, fat cells, and skin cells.
Generally, women’s bodies make about 1/10th to 1/20th of the amount of testosterone as men’s bodies.
Every person has testosterone. Some people’s bodies produce more than others, and some people may choose to take additional testosterone to support gender identity or for other reasons.
Some women may have higher or lower levels of testosterone and higher or lower levels of estrogen (“female” sex hormones) than others.
Male and female sex hormones
Female sex hormones include:
- testosterone and other androgens
Male sex hormones include:
- estradiol and other estrogen
In men, testosterone and other androgens play a role in:
- body fat distribution
- bone density
- hair on the face and body
- muscle growth and strength
- production of red blood cells
- production of sperm
- sex drive
Testosterone and other androgens also play an important role in the following in women:
- bone health
- breast health
- sex drive
- menstrual health
- vaginal health
Female bodies readily convert testosterone and other androgens they produce into female sex hormones.
Both females and males experience an initial surge of testosterone and estrogen during puberty, which lasts through young adulthood.
This production of sex hormones contributes to the development of secondary sex characteristics. These include deep voices and facial hair and higher voices and breast development.
Most females don’t develop male characteristics because testosterone and other androgens act differently in their bodies, being quickly converted to estrogen.
However, when female bodies produce an excess amount of testosterone or other androgens, their bodies can’t keep up with converting it to estrogen.
As a result, they may experience masculinization, also called virilization, and develop more male secondary sex characteristics, such as facial hair and male pattern baldness.
As men and women age, their bodies produce less testosterone, but it continues to play a role in maintaining health and libido for both.
Levels of testosterone and other androgens can be measured with a blood test. In women, normal testosterone levels range from 15 to 70 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) of blood.
Testosterone levels lower than 15 ng/dL may cause:
- changes in breast tissue
- fertility problems
- low sex drive
- missed or irregular menstrual periods
- vaginal dryness
Testosterone levels higher than 70 ng/dL may lead to:
- blood sugar problems
- excessive hair growth, usually on the face
- lack of menstruation
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
If your testosterone levels are abnormal, you may have an underlying medical condition causing your levels to be thrown off.
Higher testosterone levels in women may indicate a tumor on the ovaries or adrenal glands.
Treating underlying health conditions may help balance out production of testosterone and other androgens. But in some cases, treating underlying medical conditions doesn’t normalize production of these hormones.
Some women with higher levels of testosterone may decide to seek treatment to reduce their body’s natural production of this hormone and reduce any associated symptoms, such as masculine traits.
Women with high testosterone are most commonly treated with:
- oral contraceptives
Some women seek treatment for lower testosterone levels caused by another health condition or surgery, such as removal of the ovaries.
However, testosterone levels also naturally decrease as we age, so there isn’t always an underlying concern.
There’s a bit of older short-term research suggesting testosterone therapy can increase female libido in women with low levels of this hormone.
However, the long-term safety and effects of testosterone therapy to increase libido in women isn’t well understood. Neither is testosterone’s effects on improving bone and muscle strength, or leveling mood.
For these reasons, doctors usually advise against testosterone treatment for women. In fact, there are many possible side effects of testosterone therapy in women, even in women with naturally low levels of testosterone.
The link between testosterone therapy in women and breast cancer and heart disease are currently being studied.
Other possible side effects of testosterone therapy include:
- deepening voice
- hair growth on face and chest
- male pattern baldness
- reduced HDL (good) cholesterol
Men with low testosterone have traditionally taken testosterone in creams or gels made specifically for men. There are currently no testosterone products on the market approved for women.
Many women suspect they have low testosterone or other androgen levels because they have low libido. However, low testosterone is just one possible reason for low libido. Other possibilities include:
- erectile dysfunction in a sexual partner
- relationship issues
Addressing the issues above with a mixture of therapy, stress-reduction techniques, adequate rest, and counseling can help restore libido naturally.
Medical conditions causing low levels of testosterone, such as ovarian tumors, should be treated by a medical professional.
If you take a blood test and find that your testosterone levels are high, there are some foods and herbs you can incorporate into your diet to help reduce levels naturally.
Reducing your testosterone may help reduce any masculine traits caused by your high levels of testosterone.
Some foods and herbs to incorporate into your diet include:
- chaste tree (chasteberry)
- black cohosh
- green tea
- licorice root
- saw palmetto
- vegetable oil
- white peony
Before adding any herbal remedies to your diet, talk to your doctor about how they may interact with any drugs you’re taking or affect any medical conditions you may have.
Testosterone is an androgen found in both men and women. In female bodies, testosterone is converted quickly into estrogen, while in men it remains mostly as testosterone.
In women, testosterone plays a role in reproduction, growth, and general health. Low levels of testosterone in women are best treated by addressing any underlying medical or mental health issues, not by taking testosterone supplements made for men.
Women with high testosterone may reduce their testosterone levels naturally by incorporating certain foods and herbs into their diets.
Consult with your doctor before adding herbal supplements to your diet.