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What Does Testosterone Do For Women? (Science-Based)

Tracy Thompson
Published by Tracy Thompson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: March 21, 2022

Most people think that testosterone doesn’t affect women because it’s usually referred to as the male sex hormone.

However, this is false. Too high or too low testosterone levels can cause many side effects in women.

I’ve spent dozens of hours researching the symptoms and causes of inadequate testosterone.

Here’s what I’ve concluded based on scientific studies.

Quick Summary

  • Although women produce much less testosterone than men, this hormone still affects many of their bodily functions and overall health.
  • Testosterone levels naturally drop as we age; however, inadequate levels may sometimes be caused by disorders.
  • Consult your doctor to establish your testosterone levels and get appropriate treatment.

Are Women Affected By Testosterone Levels?

woman showing off her arm muscles in gym clothes

Yes, women are affected by testosterone levels.

Firstly, women produce testosterone in the ovaries and adrenal glands, although in much smaller quantities than men [1].

So, it’s wrong to think of testosterone as an exclusively male hormone.

Secondly, women experience many of the same symptoms as men when they have low or high testosterone, such as hair loss [2] and low libido.

Lastly, normal levels of testosterone have at least three important roles in women:

  • They keep women’s bones healthy [3].
  • They improve cognitive functions [4].
  • They promote a healthy sex drive [5].

Sometimes you’ll experience side effects of too high or too low testosterone. Other times, you might not notice any symptoms at all.

That’s why it’s useful to know what normal T levels look like.

The testosterone levels below are considered healthy for women between 20 and 70 [6]:

  • 20 - 25 years: 0.06-1.08 ng/dL
  • 25 - 30 years: 0.06-1.06 ng/dL
  • 30 - 35 years: 0.06-1.03 ng/dL
  • 35 - 40 years: 0.06-1.00 ng/dL
  • 40 - 45 years: 0.06-0.98 ng/dL
  • 45 - 50 years: 0.06-0.95 ng/dL
  • 50 - 55 years: 0.06-0.92 ng/dL
  • 55 - 60 years: 0.06-0.90 ng/dL
  • 60 - 65 years: 0.06-0.87 ng/dL
  • 65 - 70 years: 0.06-0.84 ng/dL

You can establish your testosterone levels with a blood test. But more on that in a moment.

Low Testosterone In Women: Symptoms And Causes

woman squeezing into her jeans, and another in stomach pain

Although testosterone is considered a male hormone, low testosterone levels can cause the following symptoms in women [7]:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Low libido (sex drive)
  • Low sexual satisfaction
  • Weight gain
  • Sluggishness
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Infertility
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Reduced bone density

Just like men, women naturally produce less testosterone as they get older.

Testosterone levels reach their peak when women are in their 20s. Postmenopausal women will produce about a quarter of the peak amount of testosterone [8].

This is normal and doesn’t necessarily call for testosterone therapy.

For now, testosterone therapy is mainly reserved for postmenopausal women that suffer from hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) [9], which causes a lack of sexual desire or interest.

Besides menopause, there are a few other possible causes of low testosterone in women:

  • Adrenal insufficiency: Adrenal glands produce small quantities of testosterone in both men and women. Adrenal insufficiency occurs when they’re not working properly [10].
  • Hypopituitarism: Hypopituitarism is a condition in which the pituitary gland isn’t producing enough hormones or fails to produce specific hormones [11], such as testosterone.
  • Oophorectomy: Oophorectomy is a surgical procedure that removes women’s ovaries [12]. Since ovaries produce the male sex hormone, this procedure may result in testosterone deficiency.
  • Oral estrogen therapy: Estrogen, the female sex hormone, may reduce testosterone production [13].

If you suspect you suffer from low testosterone, I suggest you consult your doctor first to determine the cause of your issues.

High Testosterone In Women: Symptoms And Causes

woman holding her head in stress and another squeezing zit on her face

Symptoms of high testosterone levels in women include [14]:

  • Acne
  • Deepening of the voice
  • Excess facial and body hair
  • Increased muscle mass
  • Irregular periods
  • Enlarged clitoris
  • Lowered libido (sex drive)
  • Mood swings
  • Breast reduction
  • Thinning of the hair

Establishing Your Testosterone Levels

You can determine your testosterone levels by ordering a blood test through your GP. He’ll probably want to examine your symptoms first before scheduling a test.

He can test you for either total or free testosterone. However, it’s best if you get tested for both [17]:

“Many people will check total testosterone, but forget about free testosterone levels. However, (...) some men may have normal total testosterone levels, but low free testosterone—so if you only test for one and not the other, you and your provider may not be getting the whole picture.” - Chimene Richa, MD

So, you could have normal total testosterone but low free testosterone. A general test may not show this, and your doctor could get the wrong idea about your state.

Another thing to keep in mind is that testosterone levels tend to fluctuate during the day.

That’s why most experts recommend that you get tested around 10 AM when T levels tend to be at their highest [18].

How To Treat Low And High Testosterone

woman doing yoga outdoors

It’s best to have your doctor provide a suitable treatment for you.

Some forms of treatment, like testosterone replacement therapy, may not even be available to you without a prescription.

That’s especially true for high testosterone. There are virtually no other ways to treat it besides medication.

However, there are a few things you can do yourself if you suffer from low testosterone:

  • Regular exercise: Weightlifting and HIIT exercises seem to be especially beneficial for low testosterone.
  • Minimize stress: Cortisol, also known as the human stress hormone, reduces testosterone levels.
  • Proper diet: Try eating more foods that contain protein and healthy fats, such as eggs, liver, and oily fish. Also, include more lentils, beans, and fruits in your diet.
  • Testosterone boosters: Testosterone boosters for women either contain testosterone or other substances that stimulate testosterone production, such as zinc and vitamin D.

Related Article: What Happens When A Woman Takes A Testosterone Booster?

Should You Get Your Testosterone Levels Checked?

Although women produce less testosterone than men, this hormone still affects them in many ways. Neither high nor low levels of testosterone are good.

So, I recommend you get tested if you have reason to worry.

After consulting your doctor, you may want to take testosterone boosters to naturally increase your T levels.


References:

  1. https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/normal-testosterone-and-estrogen-levels-in-women 
  2. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/hair-loss/hair-loss-causes-women 
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5036835/ 
  4. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/99/10/3489/2836272 
  5. https://www.mayocliniclabs.com/test-catalog/overview/83686
  6. https://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/news/20030626/testosterone-increases-libido-in-women 
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322663 
  8. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321292 
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27916205/ 
  10. https://www.healthline.com/health/low-testosterone-in-women 
  11. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypopituitarism/symptoms-causes/syc-20351645
  12. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/oophorectomy/about/pac-20385030
  13. https://www.healthline.com/health/low-testosterone-in-women#causes 
  14. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321292 
  15. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos/causes
  16. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/congenital-adrenal-hyperplasia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355205 
  17. https://www.getroman.com/health-guide/free-testosterone/
  18. https://www.medpagetoday.com/resource-centers/hypogonadism/expert-interview-clifton-jackness-md-important-considerations-testosterone-screening/1085

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