By Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP
Testosterone plays a number of important roles in our health that may surprise you.
For instance, did you know that women produce testosterone, too? It is not just a male sex hormone, although women require only one-tenth the amount of testosterone that men do.
We experience a spike in testosterone production during puberty, and beginning around age 30, it begins to decline. However, this process can be accelerated due to lifestyle factors, such as chronic stress or poor nutrition.
It is important to maintain balanced testosterone levels throughout the lifespan. In sufficient amounts, testosterone promotes healthy libido and energy levels. It also plays a role in:
- Bone density and health
- Energy levels
- Muscle mass
- Regular sleep patterns
- Production of red blood cells
According to a recent study from the American Urology Association, testosterone levels have been steadily decreasing in men since 1991. The reasons for this decline in testosterone are multifaceted, but given the endocrine-disrupting chemicals present in everyday products, and the nutritional deficiencies in modern diets, it is no surprise that our hormonal health is suboptimal.
If you feel this may be the case for you, keep reading. We will look at the common signs and symptoms of low testosterone, as well as natural treatment options.
Testosterone In Men
Before we talk about the issues that can arise from low testosterone levels, it is important to understand its role in the male body.
Men produce most of their testosterone in the testicles. The endocrine system in the brain is responsible for signaling to the body when it needs to produce testosterone.
During puberty, this leads to muscle development and hair growth on the face and body.
Testosterone is vital to male fertility and the production of healthy sperm. Along with this important function, healthy testosterone levels also promote bone health, metabolism, and cognitive functioning.
Low testosterone can occur for a number of reasons. One of them is simply getting older– testosterone levels tend to drop about 1% after age 30. Imbalances that are not related to the natural aging process tend to be caused by:
- Conditions such as diabetes or obesity
- Damage or injury to the testicles
- Use of certain medications, such as antidepressants or narcotic painkillers
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Some of the telltale signs of low testosterone in males include:
- Decreased libido. Testosterone plays a large role in the male sex drive. Changes in libido are normal as we age, but a noticeable lack of interest may be due to hormonal imbalance.
- General fatigue. Energy is linked to healthy testosterone levels. If you’ve been sleeping 8-9 hours a night and still feel fatigued, it might be worth getting your testosterone levels tested.
- Difficulty getting or maintaining erection. Testosterone stimulates the brain to produce nitric oxide – a chemical that is needed to sustain an erection. Low testosterone interferes with this process and can add difficulty to your sex life.
- Loss of muscle mass. Testosterone is one of the major factors in building and sustaining muscle mass. Low testosterone over time will have an impact on your muscles, even if you hit the gym every day.
- Mood swings & memory issues: Have you noticed an increase in moodiness, irritability, or even depression? It could be due to hormonal imbalance– testosterone plays a crucial role in regulating men’s mood and sleep cycles.
Testosterone In Women
While we tend to associate testosterone with men, in smaller amounts it is also an important component of women’s health.
Women produce testosterone mainly in their ovaries, but the adrenal glands, fat cells, and skin cells produce it as well. Most of this testosterone gets converted into female sex hormones, though some is needed to maintain healthy energy levels and bodily functions.
As well, testosterone is important for women in:
- Promoting breast & bone health
- Maintaining regular menstrual cycles
- Cognitive health (too often we see women who have been incorrectly diagnosed as having depression or referred for counseling when the root cause was actually a low testosterone level).
Like men, women experience lower testosterone levels as they age naturally. However, the most dramatic drop occurs during menopause.
The normal range of testosterone levels for women can vary by age and the type of testing that is done. If levels are low, women may experience:
- Low sex drive
- Irregular menstrual cycles
And while having too much testosterone tends not to be a problem for men, in women numerous health issues can arise from an excess of this hormone. The most common is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), affecting approximately 5 million women in the US. This condition can lead to reduced fertility, irregular periods, and skin problems like acne and abnormal hair growth. (Alyssa Burnham, ND, Naturopathic Doctor at Wise Woman Wellness, is specially trained in helping women life full and healthy lives with PCOS naturally so please seek help if you are suffering from PCOS symptoms.)
Supporting Healthy Hormone Levels
If you begin to notice any of these signs of low testosterone, be sure to talk with your health practitioner. They can test for hormone levels by performing a blood test, and then work with you to restore any imbalance.
In addition, there are several natural ways you can support healthy hormone levels in your daily life. These include:
- Regular physical activity. Research has found a strong association between exercise and testosterone production. Weight training and high intensity interval training (HIIT) are the most effective at boosting T, but any way you can get your body moving on a regular basis is key for overall health and hormones.
- Reduce stress. When we are chronically stressed, our bodies produce cortisol, the stress hormone, at the expense of other key hormones like testosterone. Finding techniques that work to reduce stress is a must for feeling your best and boosting testosterone levels.
- Get enough sleep. Studies have found that when we lack sleep, our body cannot produce the necessary hormones and chemicals that keep it working optimally. This includes testosterone. Aiming for at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night will help maintain healthy testosterone levels.
- Testosterone replacement. Testosterone replacement therapycan be administered in several different ways – most commonly through injections (for men only) and transdermal gels and creams. The creams that we prescribe for our female patients work wonderfully and are very cost effective.
Healthy Hormone Diet
Another major way you can boost testosterone levels in your daily life is through diet.
Certain herbs and food groups can actually help your body produce testosterone naturally– no hormonal injections or implants needed.
- Ashwagandha has been used in traditional Indian medicine for years to treat sexual dysfunction and infertility. Studies have associated the herb with increased testosterone.
- Zinc is needed for your body to make testosterone and in healthy sperm production. If you are deficient, supplementing zinc may be worthwhile. Otherwise, you can add zinc into your diet by eating quality red meat, eggs, chickpeas, and yogurt.
- Healthy fats & protein. Research shows that men who eat low fat, low protein diets also have lowered testosterone levels. Instead of simple carbs and empty calories, prioritize avocados, nuts, dairy products, and meats into your diet.
- Magnesium can enhance your quality of sleep, which is vital to testosterone production. Supplementation can be useful, along with eating magnesium-rich foods like dark chocolate, sunflower seeds, and bananas.
As always, talk with your practitioner before introducing new herbs or supplements to your diet.
Testosterone plays a role in a number of the body’s important functions. Balanced levels of this hormone are crucial for optimal health in both men & women. We advise men to discuss their testosterone related symptoms with their primary care provider. For women, If you feel you have symptoms of low/high testosterone, please consider having your hormone levels tested and managed by the hormone experts at Wise Woman Wellness. We have helped thousands of women get their health and vitality back. We can work on restoring your body’s natural balance of testosterone through the natural methods we discussed – give us a call to get started!
Barhum, L. (2018, July). 8 science-backed ways to boost testosterone naturally. Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322508#natural-ways-to-maintain-testosterone
Medical News Today, Typical testosterone levels in males and females Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323085
Garrard, C., Rapaport, L., Waldbieser, J., Upham, B., Cassata, C., Robertson, R., & Kraft, A. (n.d.). Testosterone and women’s health. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/testosterone/womens-health/
Gharahdaghi, N., Phillips, B. E., Szewczyk, N. J., Smith, K., Wilkinson, D. J., & Atherton, P. J. (2020, December 18). Links between testosterone, oestrogen, and the growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor axis and resistance exercise muscle adaptations. Frontiers. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2020.621226/full
Kahl, K. L. (2022, January 27). Testosterone levels show steady decrease among young US men. Urology Times. Retrieved from https://www.urologytimes.com/view/testosterone-levels-show-steady-decrease-among-young-us-men
Lawrence , E. (2023, January 25). How to increase testosterone. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/health/family/how-to-increase-testosterone/
Van Heertum, K., & Rossi, B. (2017, July 10). Alcohol and fertility: How much is too much? Fertility research and practice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504800/#CR48
Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Effect of 1 week of sleep restriction on testosterone levels in young healthy men. JAMA. 2011 Jun 1;305(21):2173-4. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.710. PMID: 21632481; PMCID: PMC4445839.