Let’s shake off the misconceptions and myths. Testosterone isn’t reserved for men with huge arms or even just men at all. Sure, males have (much) higher levels than we do. But every single one of us has this hormone. And, in the right amount, its benefits are nothing short of tremendous.
How testosterone affects us
Here’s a well-kept secret: testosterone is the plentiful biologically active female hormone. It plays a role in fertility, bone mass, body composition, mood, and our overall sense of vitality and sexuality. With all those jobs, it’s no wonder that when testosterone levels drop, our quality of life can also take a nosedive.
Causes of low testosterone
In women, testosterone comes from two places: the ovaries and the adrenal gland. It makes sense, then, that this hormone can taper as we age and our reproductive systems change. But younger women can also have problems with low testosterone levels. If your adrenal gland isn’t functioning correctly, it’s possible you’re not producing enough T to feel well.
Signs and symptoms of low testosterone in women
Hormone decline can happen gradually and so can symptoms. If you’re experiencing any of these issues, you may have low testosterone:
- Mood changes
- Brain fog
- Gaining body fat, despite good choices with food and exercise
- Low libido (sex drive)
- Difficulty with orgasm
- Feeling weak or a loss of muscle strength
- Reduced quality of sleep
- Extra-dry skin and hair (possibly combined with hair loss)
- Fertility issues
How to check your levels
Testing testosterone is simple and only requires a blood draw. If you’re having symptoms, your doctor should be open to ordering labs. But it’s good to go into your appointment prepared. Despite all evidence to the contrary, some providers still think low testosterone doesn’t matter to or affect woman. In that situation, here’s what you can do:
Say you understand his or her position, but you want it done
You’re the patient and it’s your body—and your right to investigate what’s wrong. A good response: Then let’s test it, so we can at least exclude it.
Have your levels checked without a doctor’s order
Places like Access and Walk-In Labs allow you to request your own labs with or without insurance. However, you’ll still need to find a professional to interpret your results.
Work around it by asking for all sex hormones to be tested
That means every form of estrogen—especially estradiol, as well as progesterone and testosterone.
Tips for lab tasting
So, your doctor sends an order to have your testosterone levels tested. (We’re happy your concerns are being addressed!) Follow these tips for an accurate reading:
Review the lab slip for total testosterone and free testosterone
Alone, total testosterone provides an incomplete picture. It measures all of the hormone in your body, even what’s bound to proteins and unavailable for use. Free testosterone shows exactly how much is ready to be utilized, and that’s an important number.
Test at the right time
Testosterone levels are usually highest first thing in the morning, from about 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. If your results are low when they should be at their peak, you can feel confident if you decide to go ahead with treatment.
Discussing your results
Testosterone is age-dependent. If you’re toward the low end of the lab reference range, your levels might not be optimal for where you are in life or for you in general—and that’s worthy of discussion. Your physician should keep reference ranges in mind but also your symptoms, age, and what time of day your levels were tested.
Natural ways to boost testosterone
Plenty of quality research exists about the effects of high testosterone in women and what to do about it. There’s not as much insight into how to address low levels, but we’re happy to report it’s getting better. Here are a few ways to raise your levels naturally:
Eat more protein
If you’re not getting enough protein, your free testosterone will suffer. (That’s unbound testosterone ready and able to do its job.)
Exercise, including strength training
The benefits women can reap from lifting weights are getting more and more attention. Go for as heavy as you can while keeping your form. Strength training has been shown to give testosterone a lift. Plus, building lean body mass helps levels.
Focus on the glycemic index
Foods like white sugars and flour raise insulin levels and can lead to insulin resistance, which is connected to low T. Stick to whole foods and grains, which have plenty of fiber and help control blood sugar.
Try essential oils
Dilute sandalwood into a carrier, like coconut oil, and rub a small amount on the skin.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Any HRT comes with risks. Keep track of how you feel and your improvement, so you can weigh the benefits against any concerns you or your physician have. To try and minimize unsafe or unpleasant side effects, your doctor should prescribe a dose that’s physiological—an amount natural to your body based on age, gender, symptoms, and current levels.
With a physiological dose, you should be able to rest easy about another myth: the amount of testosterone replacement you’re taking is what a woman needs. It won’t bulk you up or make you manly.
How to take testosterone
If you decide you want to replace testosterone, there are few different ways you can take it. Discuss the pros and cons of each with your doctor:
You’ll want to ask about rotating application sites for these custom creams. And if you’re a mom of young kids? Make sure to mention that to your physician. Though they absorb well, there’s always a chance they can rub off some.
Implanted just under the skin, pellets release a steady stream of hormone into the bloodstream for several months before dissolving. Something that’s good to know? Once it’s put in, there’s no way to remove it if you’re having side effects or are unhappy with your levels.
Injections go straight past the skin and can be very effective for some people. However, because shots are usually weekly, it can create a rollercoaster of hormones in the body. On the day of the injection, you’ll have the highest levels of testosterone but they’ll taper off between that day and the next shot.
Costs of medication
Insurance doesn’t always cover testosterone replacement for women. As of 2019, the prices range from $50 a month and up, depending on delivery method. Health savings account cards can be used to pay at the pharmacy or doctor’s office.
A few notes
Never take any extra medication; your dose is carefully formulated for you. It can take a few weeks to notice benefits, so keep a journal and your follow-up appointment. Your physician will want to recheck your levels and talk about how you’re feeling.