While testosterones are more commonly known as male hormones, which is true as male secondary sexual characteristics development is dependent on the production of testosterone, women also need a small quantity of testosterone for a healthy body function.
And just like testosterones are only considered “male hormones”, low testosterone levels are also wrongly considered specific to the male population only. Low testosterone aka hypogonadism is more common in women than you think. But this condition often goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed in women due to its multiple, subtle symptoms that are often confused with other ailments and lack of awareness.
What’s Considered Low Testosterone For Females
Female adrenal glands and ovaries produce a small amount of this hormone throughout their lifespan. While it is determined what should be considered a normal amount of testosterone in females of different ages, a standard cut-off point for what should be considered “low” in females has not yet been established.
When talking about testosterone, it is vital to look at the other hormones produced by female adrenal glands and ovaries, known as estrogen and progesterone, as they can directly influence the testosterone levels in a reverse manner.
Normal Testosterone Ranges in Females by Age
Testosterone levels (nanograms per deciliter)
|19 and above||8-60|
(Source: Mayo Clinic)
Symptoms of Low Testosterone in Women
Low testosterone in women can present with a cluster of symptoms. From the negative changes in mental health to the deterioration of physical health, low testosterone affects all areas of female health. These symptoms range from mild to severe depending upon the scarcity of this hormone as well as other contributing female sex hormones, estrogen, and progesterone.
Here are 15 common symptoms that may indicate low testosterone levels in females:
- Mood changes (e.g., depression, anxiety)
- Poor sleep
- Brain fog and trouble focusing
- General fatigue for no reason
- Dry skin
- Thinning and/or brittle hair
- Weight gain (particularly in the midsection)
- Low libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Menstrual irregularities
- Fertility issues
- Decrease in muscle mass
- Loss of bone density
- Lack of motivation
The symptoms associated with low testosterone are very common and are present with many other conditions like hypothyroidism, iron deficiency and, psychological conditions like depression and anxiety, which make the diagnosis even more challenging.
There are high-tech body fat scales available in the market that not only help you measure your weight but also keep a check on your percent body fat, percent muscle mass, bone density, and percent water weight. These weight scales give you a good chance to detect any changes early on. In case you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms you should visit your physician to rule out other illnesses and make a proper diagnosis.
Causes of Low Testosterone in Women
It is normal for hormone production to decline with the advancing age. Females go through drastic hormonal changes throughout their life but more prominently during their menopause. There is a steep decline in sexual hormone production at this age.
Or the decline could be due to a pathological condition affecting the ovaries, the pituitary or, the adrenal glands.
Aging is something inevitable. There is nothing that can be done to prevent aging. But there are some other causes that can be damaging to your testosterone health which you can avoid and keep your hormonal health in balance.
1. Hormonal Birth Control (e.g., birth control pills, IUD, etc.…)
There’s no debate: it is a proven fact that combined oral contraceptives (COCs) are one of the culprits to reduce your androgenic hormones especially testosterone. Oral contraceptives have an inhibitory effect on the ovarian and adrenal glands. At the same time, these contraceptives increase the synthesis of sex hormone-binding globulin resulting in a further decline in testosterone levels.
Consider: Going off hormonal birth control. It may sound scary because if you’re having these issues, you’ve likely been on it for years and so the idea of the unknown is always worrying. However, hormones are a vital component in your overall health and well-being. If a synthetic hormone is wreaking havoc on your biology, then you might want to consider going off of it. Can’t bear the idea? Try one of these supplements that helps balance hormones.
As they say, you are what you eat. Well, to some extent anyway. Many of the foods we consume on a daily basis contain hormones, whether they’re estrogen-producing or testosterone-producing.
There are two types of dietary habits that can cause low testosterone levels.
- First, eating foods with high estrogen levels: high estrogen foods could cause an imbalance so even if your testosterone isn’t necessarily low, it may be out of whack for your body. There is a reverse link between estrogen and testosterone production. The more there is estrogen in your body, the less the amount of testosterone.
- Second, not having enough food items that are good for testosterone production. Such might be the case if you are going for a gluten-free diet.
Foods That Are High in Testosterone
|High T Food||Nutrition||Serving|
|protein, vitamin B6 and omega-3||One per day for the average person|
|Almonds & pumpkin seeds||zinc, magnesium, and protein||A handful of almonds; 1tsp of pumpkin seeds daily|
|Leafy greens (i.e., spinach and kale)||magnesium, vitamin B6, and iron||Eat daily|
|Fish (i.e., salmon and mackerel)||omega-3 and protein||2 to 3 portions per week|
|Lentils (i.e., black, kidney, and pinto beans)||protein, zinc, B vitamins, and magnesium|
Foods that are high in estrogen:
Following are 15 food items that have high estrogen content and need to be avoided:
- Flax seeds
- Soybeans and edamame
- Dried fruits
- Sesame seeds
- Red wine
- Wheat bran
- Cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower)
Consider: Eating more foods that naturally contain testosterone, and if your estrogen levels are too high, try to consume fewer naturally high estrogen foods.
3. Vitamin D Deficiency
There is adequate research present that suggests a positive but independent correlation between vitamin D and testosterone levels in both males and females. So, one reason for your low testosterone could be low vitamin D levels. Such could be the case if you recently moved to a new apartment in the city that doesn’t have much natural light, or your office changed to a cubicle so you sit under fluorescent lights all day and rarely get any natural sunlight.
Did you know that the synthetic hormones in hormonal birth control are known to deplete vitamins and minerals in your body, including Vitamin D? This could be another cause of your low vitamin D levels that ultimately have a negative impact on your testosterone production.
Consider: Testing your vitamin D levels if you think you’re getting plenty of D (e.g., maybe you’re outdoors a lot or take a multivitamin that includes vitamin d). If you are vitamin D deficient, try getting more sun, and if that’s not possible, try a supplement, or if you are on hormonal birth control, consider non-hormonal options.
4. Consuming BPA Through Bottled Water
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in plastic water bottles. When it comes to the link between BPA consumption and testosterone levels, different researches show opposing results. Studies have found evidence to suggest that BPA may cause higher testosterone levels, among other side effects like infertility and cancer.
Contradictory to this research, recent Chinese research shows that exposure to BPA can cause testosterone levels to drop in both males and females as BPA is believed to have similar effects as estrogen. Either way, BPA is messing with your natural hormones.
Consider: Break up with bottled water and use filtered water with a BPA-free bottle, such as a glass bottle, or a metal water bottle such as the high-tech, no BPA LARQ Bottle. Or, if you must drink bottled water, choose a plastic-free, BPA-free brand, such as Boxed Water, Voss Water, or San Pellegrino.
5. Your Exercise Routine
Lack of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle can be a cause of low testosterone. Working out causes your body to naturally produce testosterone–but only certain types of exercises will have this effect. As a general rule of thumb, high intensity, weight training seems to have the biggest impact on natural testosterone production (in both men and women). But this boost is only transient and tends to decline after the exercise is stopped.
Consider: Changing your workout regime to a high-intensity plan or starting one.
6. Natural Hormonal Changes (e.g., Menopause or Early Menopause)
As mentioned earlier, aging is one unchangeable factor when it comes to causes of low testosterone. Of course, if you’re not a teen or twenty-something, it could be your body naturally changing. For the average woman, menopause starts between the ages of 45 to 55 years with an average age of 51 years. However, everyone is different and some women have menopause as early as 40 years of age. Testosterone tends to naturally decline around this age.
Consider: If you think (or know) that you have low testosterone and are approaching an age where menopause could be starting, try getting it tested. It’s surprisingly easy and affordable thanks to at-home testing options, such as the Perimenopause Test from Everlywell for just $99.
How to Test Your Testosterone Levels
If you are below 40 years of age and have symptoms related to low testosterone, there are a couple of options that you can opt to check your testosterone levels.
Here are two main testosterone testing options for women:
- Visit your doctor: Your physician can check your testosterone levels for you with a simple blood test. Your physician may perform a physical check-up as well to look for the relevant clinical symptoms. You may also need to stop taking some medications like steroids, anticonvulsants, androgen/estrogen therapies, barbiturates, etc. as they can alter your testosterone levels.
- Take an at-home test: Many companies have introduced home-based testosterone testing kits. You can easily take a sample (saliva or blood) and send it to a laboratory for testing, which typically costs around $50 to $200 (depending on the test and how comprehensive it is) with results in around two to five days. Learn more about the best at-home testosterone tests for females.
The optimal time to check your testosterone levels is in the morning as testosterone levels are highest during this time of the day.
Ways to Increase Testosterone and Balance Your Hormones
Your hormones are practically driving every function taking place in your body. Some fluctuations in their levels are natural while others could be pathological and might need an intervention. In many cases, some lifestyle adjustments may be what you need to get your hormones back on track.
Here are 13 ways that can help increase your testosterone:
- If you’re on hormonal birth control, consider a hormone-free alternative
- Cut high-estrogen foods from your diet
- Add more high-testosterone foods to your diet
- Avoid sugary stuff
- Eat more fiber and fatty fish
- Drink green tea
- Stop overeating/undereating
- Do more high-intensity workouts
- Get more sunlight
- Quit smoking
- Take supplements: Tribulus, Ashwagandha
- Minimize your stress
- Make your quality of sleep better
Changing your lifestyle and making dietary changes are mostly the first line of treatment in many ailments. But, if you are having persistent symptoms it is recommended to visit your physician for a detailed check-up and appropriate treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is free testosterone?
A small amount (2%) of testosterone that is not bound to any protein is known as “free testosterone.” The remaining ~98% of testosterone the body produces is bound to either sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG), or albumin (a.k.a. “bound testosterone”).
What hormone-free birth control methods are available?
You can stay pregnancy-free and hormone-free in a number of ways. From the copper IUD for long-term pregnancy prevention to barrier methods (i.e., condoms), fertility tracking (e.g., using a basal temperature thermometer, and apps like Natural Cycles), and of course, there’s always abstinence. Regardless, there are plenty of hormone-free options for every lifestyle.
What is seed cycling?
Seed cycling is a holistic approach to hormone regulation using a series of seeds during the month based on your natural cycle. You take a combination of ground seeds based on where your body is in the menstrual cycle, which helps to support your body’s natural cycle and many believe it can regulate a hormonal imbalance.
Bottom Line – Low Testosterone in Women
Low testosterone or hypogonadism in women is more common than we might have thought in the past. Even though this hormone is only needed in a very small amount in women for the proper functioning of their body, slight changes in its production can have damaging effects on your health. Keeping a close eye for any abnormal symptoms and taking timely measures in case of any abnormality can help you save from severe complications and lead a quality life.