I’ve been talking so much about estrogen and progesterone, so let’s talk a little bit more about testosterone today…
Testosterone is one of your 3 main sex hormones, along with estrogen and progesterone.
When we think of testosterone, we think of the gym and bodybuilders - it’s mainly associated with masculinity. And it’s true that men have 10-20x higher levels of testosterone than women, however, it does play a very important role for both men AND women.
In women, testosterone is produced primarily by the ovaries and adrenal glands.
And in men, by the testes and adrenal glands. Testosterone is made from another hormone called Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Testosterone is actually a very important hormone for women as it helps to regulate ovulation, bone density, muscle mass, and sex drive.
But that’s not all, testosterone also:
has a direct link with blood sugar regulation and decreases insulin resistance
can also help prevent depression
is protective against breast cancer
can improve balance and physical endurance, promoting muscle development and tone, and decreasing body fat
promotes bone formation and strength
helps maintain an overall sense of wellbeing and positive mood
lowers blood pressure
is involved in red blood cell production
is protective against the negative effects of excessive cortisol aka it can help counter the effect of stress in your body
Most women have plenty of testosterone and its precursor, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), until their 30s — when their levels start to decline. It’s one of the reasons why we have lots of energy, sex drive, confidence, and muscle and bone strength in our 20s From your 30s on, your testosterone levels start to decline.
Other factors that can contribute to low testosterone in women include:
Having a hysterectomy, especially if the ovaries are removed
Birth control pills
What are the symptoms of low testosterone:
Low libido or sex drive
Loss of “pep” or overall motivation
Reduced muscle mass & strength
Problems with fertility
Irregular menstrual cycle
Loss of bone density
Fatigue for no obvious reason
Fatigue and decreased energy levels
Depression and irritability
Decreased self-esteem and confidence
Testosterone deficiency is not very common before your 40s, it is far more common in peri- and post-menopausal women. And there, the decline in progesterone and increase in blood glucose or insulin resistance play an important role: both create inflammation and if you are inflamed, your hormones can do scary things like testosterone will convert into Estrogen - it’s also called aromatisation. So you’ll have less testosterone and an excess of estrogen as a result.
Many women in their 30s actually experience elevated testosterone, which is often linked to PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Symptoms of high testosterone:
Increased facial or body hair
Darker hair that grows on the chin or upper lip
Deepening tone of voice
Acne or oily skin
Male pattern baldness, especially around the hairline
Increased muscle mass or bulking up
Periods that cease before entering menopause
In perimenopause, fluctuations in estrogen and testosterone levels can also lead to skin changes, such as acne and hirsutism (excessive hair growth on the face and body).
Conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and adrenal gland disorders can lead to an imbalance in testosterone levels.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is an inflammatory endocrine disorder characterized by high testosterone and elevated luteinizing hormone, both of which prevent your ovarian follicles from reaching the stage of ovulation. It means that there’s no mature follicle that will trigger ovulation and therefore ovulation does not happen, so it’s also a major cause for infertility.
Because PCOS prevents the ovarian follicles from reaching the ovulation stage, it causes significant delays in ovulation (or even prevents it), which then causes irregular or nonexistent periods. The #1 cause for PCOS is insulin resistance: too much insulin causes the pituitary gland to release more LH in proportion to FSH. Too little FSH means that the follicles cannot mature adequately, and the dominant follicle is never formed. Instead, all that is produced is many immature follicles or cysts on your ovaries.
What are natural solutions to boosting your testosterone levels?
Exercise, especially weight bearing exercise and weight lifting. Research shows that people who exercise regularly have higher testosterone levels (3). In the elderly, exercise increases testosterone levels, fitness, and reaction time.
Eat protein! Women should aim for a minimum of 80g per day, you probably need more if you’re in perimenopause or menopause and if you’re exercising. Aim for a serving of protein with each meal as overeating protein will lead to the same problem: your body will convert it to glucose which will drive up your insulin production and therefore lower testosterone. In my experience, most women are far from getting enough protein, so you probably don’t have to worry about this! However, if you are unsure, I recommend you use an app like Fitnesspal or Chronometer that allows you to get a good view on your macro levels.
Other nutrients that are important for maintaining healthy testosterone levels: vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc
Eggs (organic, free-range): especially the yolk (if not cooked) has a lot of nutrients like vitamin D
Shellfish like oysters and clams are excellent sources of zinc, selenium which may support optimal testosterone levels.
Pumpkin seeds: They are rich in zinc, magnesium, and protein.
Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, Swiss Chard and kale: These are rich in magnesium, vitamin B6, and non-heme iron.
Saturated fatty acids (SFAs) and mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are best to boost testosterone, while poly-unsaturated fatty acids can actually lower testosterone. I'm talking butter, ghee, coconut products and MCT oil to boost your testosterone levels!
These herbs have shown the most promise in boosting testosterone levels:
Have sex: Testosterone gives you a higher sex drive, but a higher sex drive also helps to boost your testosterone. Sex is one of the best natural ways to increase testosterone!
What things will hinder the production of testosterone?
Foods that will lower your testosterone levels:
Alcohol: A study in 19 healthy adults showed that consuming 30–40 grams of alcohol per day, which equates to about 2–3 standard drinks, decreased testosterone levels in men by 6.8% over 3 weeks. Another study reported that acute alcohol intoxication was associated with increased testosterone in women but decreased levels in men.
Sugar in all forms: Pastries and desserts (sugar and refined grains), sodas, fruit juice, diet beverages and foods
Processed foods as they contain high amounts of inflammatory vegetable oils and trans fats. Also, it has been found that high consumption of polyunsaturated fats will lower testosterone levels.
Licorice root: I literally just learned this when researching for this article and am thinking I should have my testosterone levels checked as I consume licorice daily in herbal teas: In recent years, several studies have found that licorice may also influence hormone levels, potentially leading to a decline in testosterone over time. In one study, 25 men consumed 7 grams of licorice root daily, which caused a 26% drop in testosterone levels after just 1 week. Another small study showed that licorice may reduce testosterone levels in women as well, reporting that 3.5 grams of licorice daily decreased testosterone levels by 32% after just one menstrual cycle.
Coffee: A study showed that decaffeinated coffee was associated with a significant increase in SHBG in women, but not in men. After 4 weeks, among men, consumption of caffeinated coffee increased total testosterone and decreased total and free estradiol. Among women, decaffeinated coffee decreased total and free testosterone and caffeinated coffee decreased total testosterone. This is a great example that women and men often have different reactions to drugs and foods,so it’s important to always study/test on both genders.
Dairy conventional cow’s milk contains synthetic or natural hormones. Dairy is said to be estrogenic due to growth hormone in cows milk or added hormones that will have a negative effect on testosterone levels. Also, animal feed may contain soy, which could increase the levels of estrogen in the cow’s milk.
Soy foods, such as tofu, edamame, and soy protein isolates, contain phytoestrogens, which are physically similar to the estrogen in the body and function in a similar way. Although scientists have carried out a lot of research into soy, they have not found a connection between eating soy products and altered serum testosterone or estrogen levels. However, another study showed that breast tenderness and estrogen concentrations returned to normal after a man stopped using soy. My opinion on this is that soy will stimulate estrogen production in favor of testosterone and may lead to symptoms of estrogen dominance that don't show up on a blood panel.
Menthol in mint may reduce testosterone levels: According to a study paper in Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin, scientists treated female rats with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) with spearmint essential oil to test its effects on the disorder. Researchers noted that spearmint essential oil reduced testosterone levels in these rats. A review posted to BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine also noted that there is some high-quality evidence showing that mint lowers testosterone levels in women with PCOS.
Stress/elevated Cortisol: as I mentioned in the beginning, your testosterone is not only produced in your ovaries but also in your adrenal glands. Stress will push your adrenal glands to produce cortisol and that takes up the capacity instead of producing testosterone or progesterone. Stress is one of the biggest root causes of low testosterone in men and women.
Xenoestrogens, especially BPA
A really easy way to avoid this is to stop using plastic!
When it comes to food, for example:
Don’t store your food in plastic containers
Avoid canned food
Don’t heat anything in a plastic container
Try not to drink out of plastic bottles, also consider plastic lids on takeaway coffee (fortunately you don't really see these anymore in Europe but it may depend on where you live)