By Christine Hatfield, MD
Most often thought of in connection with men, this hormone plays a key role in women’s health.
The women who come to my office have the same collection of concerns: I cannot lose weight, no matter what I do! I feel anxious for no reason! My sex drive is gone! My body is flabby even though I am working out! I‘m exhausted!
While there can be many reasons for any one of these symptoms, the most common is a deficiency of testosterone.
Yes, testosterone—it’s not just for men. Women make testosterone in the ovaries and adrenal glands throughout their lifetime. It reaches its peak around age 20 and then declines steadily as we age. The level drops slowly, so we don’t notice at first. But by the time we reach 40, the effects of low testosterone begin to show up.
Symptoms of insufficient testosterone are frequently confused with other medical conditions, especially depression. Testosterone can be measured in the blood, but few physicians think to order this test, so thousands of women remain untreated and suffer needlessly, despite medical research proving it is safe and effective.
Testosterone: The Miracle Worker
Adequate levels of testosterone can improve almost every aspect of your health, your figure, and your zest for life.
Have ever noticed how men lose weight more easily than women? It’s because they have more testosterone. As women lose testosterone, they can no longer maintain an optimal muscle to fat ratio. The number on the scale may stay the same, but they become soft and doughy as muscle is replaced by fat. Working out will not help if you do not have enough testosterone to build muscle. Correcting testosterone can help you increase your metabolic rate and lose weight. A leaner body will reduce your risk of weight-related health conditions, including heart disease and breast cancer. Plus, your clothes will fit better!
When testosterone drops, women lose their confidence. They may become sad and forgetful or have difficulty processing information. Testosterone gives us our drive and a sense of vitality. Women are more likely than men to suffer from depression and anxiety, both of which improve with restoration of optimal testosterone levels. Why use an antidepressant if a boost in testosterone is all you need? There is evidence that testosterone improves cognitive ability and may protect against dementia, too.
I see women in the office every day who would rather do the laundry than have sex. They just have no interest. Testosterone is the hormone that gives us our sexual desire and without it, sex just becomes a chore. You do not need to give up your sex life just because your hormones are slipping away. Testosterone replacement can restore libido and put some spice back in the bedroom!
Testosterone promotes protein synthesis in the body. This translates to shiny, thicker hair, better nails, and firm, elastic skin (bye-bye wrinkles). The bones benefit from testosterone, increasing density and strength, thereby preventing osteoporosis, fractures, and loss of height as we age.
How Is Testosterone Corrected?
Optimizing testosterone (and other hormones) can have a great impact on your health. You can help your body make its own testosterone by following a few basic principles:
Lose weight: Women (and men) with more fat produce an enzyme called aromatase, which converts any testosterone you have into estrogen, which causes you to store more fat.
Watch your diet: Eat more lean protein and vegetables. Eliminate sugar, alcohol, processed grains, and artificial sweeteners.
Exercise: Moderate exercise boosts testosterone, as does resistance training.
Reduce stress: Adrenal fatigue is a common and real condition caused by excess stress. Since our adrenal glands make testosterone, help them by balancing cortisol with adrenal support (an integrative physician can diagnose and treat adrenal fatigue).
Be kind to your liver: The liver is responsible for hormone activation. Do a cleanse at least once a year (each season is best) and limit alcohol consumption.
Supplement: Ashwaganda, maca, stinging nettle, chrysin, zinc, B complex, and vitamin C all have evidence of boosting testosterone.
If these measures alone do not give you the results you are looking for, or if you are over the age of 40, you may benefit from hormone replacement. Visit a physician with expertise in hormone balancing who will measure and prescribe bio-identical testosterone.
Women (and their doctors) tend to be hesitant about using testosterone, fearing hair growth or a deepening of the voice. Replaced in the correct amount with attention to the balance of other hormones, bio-identical testosterone is safe and effective. Bio-identical testosterone will work in your body as if you made it yourself, with positive, anti-aging effects.
Christine Hatfield, MD, a gynecologist and anti-aging specialist, is the medical director of NOWhealth (North Okanagan Women’s Health) in Vernon. She practises integrative medicine and specializes in hormone balancing for women of all ages. Visit www.nowhealth.ca or call 250-542-4490 for an appointment.
*Reprint from our Summer 2015 Issue