Testosterone is a sex hormone typically associated with men. However, what many people fail to realize, is that this hormone is also extremely important for women.
So what exactly does Testosterone do for women?
Well, basically the same as it does for men! In women, testosterone is produced by the ovaries. In addition, a small amount is also released by our adrenal glands.
Despite the fact that women produce only one tenth of the testosterone that men produce, this very important hormone is responsible for helping maintain muscle mass, healthy bones, maintain mood and libido, and is also one of the hormones responsible for energy levels in both men and women.
What can cause my Testosterone levels to drop?
The not-so-good-news is that by around the age of 45, women’s levels of both testosterone and oestrogen drop significantly.
Women produce increased amounts of testosterone during puberty, and it tends to peak when we are in our early 20’s. It’s around menopause that our levels drop quite markedly. The associated decrease in libido and sex drive due to age is often exacerbated by oral contraceptives, which suppress all sex hormone production. Yes, that’s right oral contraceptives wreak havoc with our natural hormone production! By the time a woman has reached natural menopause, she may have only half of the level of testosterone she once had.
Low testosterone in women not only leads to increased fatigue and low sex drive, it also tends to change women’s bodies – due to an increase in abdominal weight gain.
Another thing that can dramatically reduce our testosterone levels is cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone released from our adrenal glands. Small amounts of cortisol released during times of stress is an adaptive (and necessary) chemical response to a perceived threat.
However, when cortisol levels are elevated for prolonged periods of time (in the absence of a “real” perceived threat), there are a number of negative physical implications.
What does Cortisol do?
Cortisol’s main role is to modify the way our body uses various fuel sources.
In a nutshell cortisol makes our cells resistant to the effects of insulin, causing our blood sugar levels to increase. Why? Because it’s preparing our body to either fight or flee – both of which require immediate sources of energy.
The result? Our body (pancreas to be specific) releases more and more insulin….while our cells keep crying out for more energy!
Now because there is no immediate threat (no bears or tigers threatening to eat us), we don’t use all that extra energy, and so our body stores the unused energy as visceral fat. Hence, weight gain.
Prolonged elevated levels of cortisol eventually lead to excessive protein breakdown, as it fulfils its task of converting fuel for immediate use. This in turn leads to muscle breakdown (and no one wants that!). Another unpleasant side effect from prolonged elevated levels of cortisol is that it blocks testosterone’s effect on the body.
Testosterone and Cortisol
Research has shown that there is an inverse direct relationship between cortisol and testosterone. In other words, when one goes up – the other comes down.
This means that if your are a stressed out person with elevated cortisol, it is highly likely that your testosterone is quite low. Both of which are associated with weight gain. Double whammy!
How much Testosterone do I need?
This really depends on the individual. The key is to maintain an optimum level as too much Testosterone can cause problems such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
The first step is to work out whether your testosterone levels are too low. Basically if you are experiencing any of the following, then it may be an idea to pop along to an Integrative GP, Naturopath or Chinese Medicine Practitioner to have your levels checked. Remember though, these symptoms are non-specific and can be due to a range of other issues.
- A sudden decrease in energy levels
- A noticeable decrease in muscle strength and/or endurance
- A decrease in libido
- Feeling overly sleepy after a meal (especially dinner)
- Emotional changes (anxiety and/or depression)
- An increase in abdominal fat
- Elevated cholesterol
- Weak bones
What are some natural ways I can boost my Testosterone?
Now for the good news!
There are some natural ways you can help boost your Testosterone and/or protect your current levels.
All forms (cardio and resistance). Exercise improves our body’s sensitivity to insulin and cortisol, so we don’t need as much! This in turn allows our testosterone to remain at an optimal level.
A large number of studies show that the best type of exercise to boost testosterone is compound exercises that require the largest muscle groups. For example squats, deadlifts, lunges, and step-ups.Having said that, certain forms of high-intensity training will also improve testosterone release.
However beware! Overtraining or too many high-intensity workouts per week can lead to increased levels of cortisol. Overtraining can be a releasing factor that stimulates the anterior pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which induces the adrenal cortex to discharge cortisol. So don’t over do it on the exercise!
In fact you most certainly don’t need to be a bodybuilder or triathlete to notice the benefits of exercise on testosterone levels. Even light physical activity 3 times a week can trigger a range of benefits such as lowering blood pressure and improving mood.
Reduce your intake of processed food, and sugar
Basically, anytime you eat foods high in sugar or refined carbs, blood sugar and insulin spike, which causes testosterone and the body’s ability to use fat for energy to drop.
Although refined carbohydrates are a no-no when you want to boost testosterone, vegetables, fruits, and other lower glycaemic foods that allow you to maintain steady, lower blood sugar levels can raise testosterone, while reducing the stress hormone cortisol. For example, high-protein diets that completely lack veggies, fruits, and other carbs can lead to reduced testosterone.
Specific foods to include in your diet that have been found to elevate testosterone include Brazil nuts, oysters and other high-zinc foods, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, and the green leafy veggies like spinach and chard because they are high in magnesium.
People who meditate regularly have higher testosterone and lower cortisol. In addition, when people who meditate experience extreme stress, they have a more robust hormone release so as to better respond to the threat.
Get plenty of sleep!
For many women with low testosterone, poor sleep is the most important factor. A lack of sleep affects a variety of hormones and chemicals in your body. This, in turn, can have a harmful impact on your testosterone.
Reduce your exposure to oestrogen mimickers!
Oestrogen mimickers exist in the form of chemicals (xenoestrogens), and foods and plants (phytoestrogens). They mimic the action of oestrogen produced in cells and can alter hormonal activity.
Unfortunately, these imposters are everywhere. Xenoestrogens are in cosmetics, cleaning products (both for your house and your body, such as shampoo), candles and fragrances (yes, even perfume), and pesticides from produce.
Phytoestrogens exist in a number of foods such as legumes (especially soybeans), some cereal brans and beans and flaxseeds, alfalfa sprouts, pinto and lima beans. Unfortunately caffeine is also a culprit!
Here are a few super simple ways to limit your exposure to oestrogen mimickers:
• Use natural cleaning and personal care products. Choose plant-based cleaners and check labels. Use natural shampoo, conditioner, and avoid anything that has the word “paraben” in it, as in “methylparaben.”
• Avoid scented candles and air fresheners. Some may contain essential oils and are safe, but beware of the word “fragrance” because it may refer to hormone-altering chemicals.
• Avoid plastic containers for food and water. Use glass and get a stainless steel water bottle.
• Eat organic as much as possible to avoid ingesting oestrogenic pesticides and growth hormones.
• Eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables because they contain a compound that helps the body metabolize chemical oestrogens efficiently.
Of course eating a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, limiting your intake of processed foods, sugars and alcohol, and increasing your intake of wholegrains, lean protein and healthy fats is your first (and best) line of defence against hormone imbalance.
Combine this with daily meditation, good quality sleep and plenty of water and you have a fairly impressive suit of armour working for you. However, in the event that you feel your body needs more support, consider the following natural supplements.
Zinc is important for testosterone production. Research has shown that restricting dietary sources of zinc leads to a significant decrease in testosterone, while zinc supplementation increases itand even protects from exercised-induced reductions in testosterone levels.
The best dietary sources of zinc are protein-rich foods like meats and fish, milk, cheese, beans, and yogurt or kefir made from milk.
Vitamin D increases levels of testosterone.
It is an essential vitamin required by the body for the absorption of calcium, bone development, immune functioning, and alleviation of inflammation.
Vitamin D is fat soluble, which means you need to eat fat to absorb it.
Natural foods high in vitamin D include fish oils, fatty fish, mushrooms, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Vitamin D is also naturally made by your body when you expose your skin to the sun. In addition, vitamin D is widely added to many foods such as milk and orange juice.
Ginseng is a herbal supplement, produced as a tea, powder or capsule form. It is also sometimes used in energy drinks or nutritional juice supplements.
Ginseng naturally balances out sex hormones in the body through stimulation of the hypothalamus gland.
Magnesium is a mineral that is vital to every organ in the body, particularly the heart, muscles and kidneys.
Adequate levels of magnesium are also important for healthy, balanced hormones. Low magnesium throws off the hormone balance for both men and women. Multiple studies show low magnesium in women can cause an imbalance of the androgen hormones, leading to bone loss.
Vitamin C helps reduce the enzyme naturally produced by your body that converts testosterone into oestrogen. Vitamin C at higher doses has also been shown to lower cortisol responses to heavy exercise.
About 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C is enough for the average adult.
Caution: Always remember to check with your GP or Health practitioner before commencing any supplement program, as natural supplements can interact with a number of prescription and over the counter medications.