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What Are the Signs of Low Testosterone in Women?

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What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you think of testosterone?

Is it the masculine jawline and broad shoulders? Or the deep voice and luxurious beard? Is it the slabs of thick muscle or the brute-like strength?

If it is, you’re thinking of how this natural hormone affects men, not women.

Now think of a lean and slender woman with a energetic libido – she’s athletic, healthy and happy. That’s what optimal testosterone levels does for a woman.

In this article though we’ll take a look at what happens when those levels aren’t optimal – when you have low androgen concentrations.

What are the signs of low testosterone in women?

Let’s take a look…


Why Is Testosterone Important for Women?

As the primary male hormone and naturally-occurring anabolic steroid hormone, you’d be forgiven for thinking that as a woman you need to do all you can to avoid testosterone in your blood.

After all, this androgen hormone is associated more with aggression and masculinity than femininity.

In women though, testosterone is a completely normal piece of the hormonal jigsaw puzzle. Without it you’d suffer from a whole range of health issues.

Women and testosterone – an important regulatory hormone

From the age of puberty, women experience an increase in testosterone production, released from their ovaries, adrenal glands and peripheral tissues.

Female testosterone metabolism occurs in different ways, simply because it is produced in different glands to men.

For example, in the ovaries, testosterone is produced via a precursor hormone called androstenedione. In the adrenal gland the main precursor is DHEA.

Testosterone is a steroid, androgen hormone that controls both your health and your physical performance.

Compared to men, you only produce a fractional of what they do. Typically you’ll produce between 15-70 ng.dL which is around 10-15 times lower than the 300-1,000 ng.dL that a healthy man experiences.

Note: Your lower relative testosterone levels make it practically impossible for you to add muscle ‘bulk’ – even at the higher end of the scale you’ll just not have enough potential to add slabs of muscle mass.

When testosterone is running at a healthy level, you’ll experience the following benefits:

  • You’ll find it easier to shred fat and develop lean, toned muscles
  • Balances metabolic functions and regulates energy production
  • Supports healthy ovulation and menstruation
  • Promotes a healthy libido and sex drive
  • Maintains bone and muscle mass

Women can suffer from low testosterone too

It’s well known that the life cycle of testosterone in men follows the shape of a hill or ‘inverted U’ as it’s known in the science.

This means that testosterone levels increase rapidly from puberty, remains high through to late twenties and then gradually begins to decline from the age of 30.

By the age of 45, around 40% of men will have clinically low androgen levels.

And it’s a similar story for women – only the downward curve of testosterone decline is steeper. That’s because by the age of 45, as many as 90% of women will have lower-than-optimal androgen hormone levels.


Young blonde-haired woman in sportswear outside exercising

Key Point: Testosterone regulates metabolic, vascular and cognitive health in women, as well as physical performance and libido.


Signs of Low Testosterone in Women

Unexplained weight gain

Even though you’re dieting and working hard in the gym you seem to be getting heavier and heavier and your body fat is steadily increasing – and there’s no explanation as to why.

Remember, testosterone is an important regulator of lean mass.

As levels of the hormone drop, so does your muscle mass. And because muscle is a primary driver of your metabolic rate this can lead to an increase in weight – particularly from belly fat.

Excessive tiredness

Because testosterone helps to regulate energy levels, you might find that you plod through your day feeling lethargic, fatigued and low on energy.

When your T levels are low, getting out of bed can feel like running a marathon and your normal warm up weights can feel like spine -crushing PRs.

This isn’t helped by the fact that you’ll also find both the quality and quantity of sleep you’re getting goes down significantly. That’s because when your hormones are out of whack, your risk of sleep apnea, sleep disturbances and restlessness all go up.

Low libido

Having a keen sex drive is a sign of good health. It’s completely natural to want to spend intimate time with your partner – and it’s fun too.

Having low T means you’ll struggle to be ‘in the mood’ and even if you are, you’ll struggle to orgasm – a condition called anorgasmia.

One of the first signs of low T is a disinterest in sex.

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) means you’ll suffer from a lack of arousal and your general interest in sex will rapidly decline.

As you age you’ll naturally become less interested in sex, but in your prime years you should be full of vigor and excitement at the thoughts of spending time between the sheets.

You suffer from mood swings

More often than not, mood swings in women are blamed on ‘hormones’. But did you know specifically that testosterone can be one of these?

Androgen hormones are closely related to behavior, mood and cognition.

In both men and women, low T has been shown to increase the risk of anxiety, depression and also cognitive illness.

You’re on oral birth control

Oral birth control pills are one of the most commonly used contraceptives in the US.

In fact, as many as 60% of women of reproductive age are currently using it as their primary birth control method [1].

The biggest side effect of this type of medication is that it decreases production of testosterone from the ovaries.

It also increases the action of a glycoprotein called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). This protein binds to androgen and essentially makes them unusable – it puts it in a kind of hormonal headlock and won’t let go.

And the problem can continue once you come off the pill too – that’s because SHBG levels can be elevated for over a year afterwards.


Muscular woman performing body weight dips off of some weight plates


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References

  1. Jones, J et al. Current Contraceptive Use in the United States, 2006–2010, and Changes in Patterns of Use Since 1995. NHSR. 2012; 60


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