Testosterone isn’t just for men. Women need certain amounts of testosterone, which is generally known as a "male" hormone, for good health. Testosterone is responsible for the development of male sexual characteristics in men; in women, it is associated with regulation of muscle mass, fat dissemination and sex drive.
Testosterone Levels in Women
Testosterone is made in small amounts by a woman's adrenal glands and ovaries. A woman's testosterone is highest around age 20 and slowly declines. The University of Michigan Health System states that, “testosterone levels vary in women depending on age. Young girls who have not reached puberty have less than 10 nanograms per deciliter in the bloodstream. This level climbs following puberty and may rise to 70 ng/dL, concentrations seen in premenopausal women. Pregnancy causes testosterone levels to increase to four times the normal level. After menopause, testosterone drops, with normal levels reaching only 40 ng/dL.”
Women can suffer from both high and low testosterone levels. Research has suggested that between 4% and 7% of women produce too much testosterone in their ovaries.
Common symptoms of high testosterone levels in women include:
- thinning of the scalp hair
- deepening of the voice
- increase of facial hair growth
- increase in muscle mass
- fat redistribution
The most common cause of an increase in testosterone in women is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
Interestingly, women with high levels of testosterone are more likely to choose riskier careers than women with regular or low levels of testosterone. The researchers, using an economic-based measure of risk aversion, discovered that increased levels of testosterone in women were associated with a greater appetite for risk, but not among men.
Common symptoms of low testosterone levels in women include:
- hot flashes
- sleep disturbances
- loss of sexual desire
- loss of muscle mass
- decreased bone density
Home testing kits are available for testosterone and a number of other hormones.
Treatment for Testosterone Imbalance in Women
Women with high levels of testosterone can make lifestyle changes to help correct the imbalance. For example, reducing stress levels with yoga and meditation, and eating a healthy diet low in fried, sugary foods can help. Some natural remedies may also be beneficial for treating high levels of testosterone.
Although some doctors prescribe testosterone replacement for women with low levels, it is considered a controversial practice because it may cause masculine characteristics, like increased facial hair. Low testosterone levels may indicate a larger problem, and women should consult with a healthcare professional about options for treatment.