When you hear the word testosterone, you probably think about men. Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone, impacting libido, muscle mass, and energy. At Lifeforce, we’ve written a lot about how men can boost and optimize their levels.
But what if we told you that testosterone is essential for women’s health and well-being, too?
In fact, for some women, optimizing testosterone could be the missing puzzle piece to increasing sex drive, improving energy, and feeling leaner, stronger, and mentally sharper.
“Testosterone is a crucial hormone for women’s biology,” says Lifeforce Physician Samuel C. Winter, DO. “It has far-reaching effects and can have a dramatic impact on their quality of life.”
Testosterone 101 for Women
Let’s back up and talk about the basics. Testosterone is the primary androgen, which is a group of male sex hormones. Men typically produce significantly more androgens than women, but these hormones are also present in women.
According to the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 25% of androgen production in women comes from the adrenal glands, 25% occurs in the ovaries, and the rest is produced in other cells throughout the body. In women, a small amount of testosterone is converted to estrogen, says Lifeforce Physician Kimberly Hartzfeld, DO.
When it comes to testosterone, women and men have one major thing in common: As your age goes up, your levels go down. “For women, the decline starts in your 30s and is gradual over time,” says Dr. Hartzfeld. This culminates with menopause. A study found that 10 years after the onset of menopause, circulating testosterone levels are half of premenopausal levels.
How Your Levels Impact Your Life
As your testosterone dips, you will feel the effects across many areas of your life. According to both Dr. Hartzfeld and Dr. Winter, symptoms of low testosterone in women can include low energy, reduced libido, changes in mood, brain fog, weight gain around the stomach, and a decreased passion for life.
The good news is that with treatment, you can recapture that passion. Here’s what can happen when you optimize your levels.
Testosterone levels impact sexual well-being, from desire, to arousal, to pleasure. Research shows that testosterone can be an effective treatment for postmenopausal women with Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), in which women lose desire for sex for an extended period of time and this reduced desire causes personal distress.
Dr. Hartzfeld has witnessed these results in her patients. “I’ve seen huge benefits for sexual function, which is really important,” she says. “I’ve seen women whose testosterone levels have dropped, impacting their relationship because they don’t feel desire any more. Optimizing levels can be a big source of relief and joy.”
Improved Body Composition
Testosterone could be a key factor in reducing stubborn midlife weight gain. “Testosterone increases muscle cell growth,” explains Dr. Hartzfeld. “When you increase muscle mass, metabolism speeds up, which can lead to a reduction in fat.”
You’ll also feel the difference in your workouts. “So many women go to the gym and get tired, injured, and demoralized because they don't have the hormones to allow the body to adapt and get stronger,” says Dr. Winter. “With testosterone, the body has the ingredients to gain muscle and burn fat.”
Increasing lean muscle mass and reducing weight is a recipe for increased energy, says Dr. Hartzfeld. She also notes that research shows a correlation between low testosterone and poor sleep quality — and you can’t optimize your energy without optimal sleep.
“Testosterone metabolites have been shown to increase synaptic plasticity proteins in the brain, which helps improve cognitive function,” says Dr. Hartzfeld. “Testosterone also reduces the aging process of the cells lining our blood vessels, leading to inhibition of neuronal aging.”
Testosterone optimization may also help women feel sharper, stat. “If you replace testosterone, there is evidence that it helps with executive function, decision making, logic, and planning,” says Dr. Winter. “Your memory gets better and you come to the answer faster. With that, comes more confidence and with confidence comes more success.”
How Do You Get Those Benefits?
The first step is to get your testosterone levels checked and consult a physician to get a clear picture of what’s going on. The Lifeforce Diagnostic will measure not only your total testosterone, but also your levels of DHEA, the precursor to testosterone, and free testosterone, which is the active and accessible form of the hormone.
If your levels are low, you will work with a Lifeforce Physician to create a personalized plan, which may include lifestyle recommendations, nutraceuticals, and potentially hormone replacement therapy.
While the best plans will be customized to you, here are a few of the most effective ways to optimize testosterone in women.
Hit the Weights
“One of the best things you can do to support testosterone production is strength training,” says Dr. Hartzfeld. Research shows that in healthy women, resistance exercises can induce increases in testosterone. In particular, working large muscle groups — such as glutes, hamstrings, and quads — is most effective for increasing testosterone. Check out this routine for a few of our favorite leg day exercises.
“Whole food, plant-based diets that are high in fiber and leafy vegetables are good for hormone regulation,” notes Dr. Winter. Make sure your diet has plenty of zinc and vitamin D, which have both been correlated to testosterone levels. (You can also get the most bioavailable and bioactive form of supplemental vitamin D with Lifeforce Vitamin D+K.)
Another important nutrient is Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish, chia seeds, flaxseed, walnuts, leafy greens, and avocados. “Omegas are integral to cell membranes, which are needed to make our hormones,” says Dr. Hartzfeld. “They are essentially the building blocks for hormone production. In addition, omegas can reduce inflammation, which helps maintain hormone balance.”
Manage Your Stress
We hear it all the time: Stress management is key. Dr. Winter explains that if you have too much of the stress hormone cortisol, it will jam up cell receptors and cause receptor fatigue. This will interfere with the body’s ability to respond to other hormones like testosterone. Get familiar with our top science-backed techniques to soothe stress here.
If your testosterone levels are low, your doctor may recommend supplementing with DHEA, a hormone that is the precursor to testosterone. When you supplement with DHEA, “it will naturally make more testosterone over time,” says Dr. Hartzfeld.
Lifeforce’s DHEA nutraceutical is a unique formula of low-dose DHEA, Pregnenolone, and 7-Keto DHEA to help you maintain optimal hormone levels.
Testosterone Replacement for Women
Your Lifeforce doctor may also consider prescribing a testosterone cream, which is an effective way to increase your levels. You apply a small amount of the cream to the forearm or inner thigh daily, depending on individual needs and your doctor’s recommendation.
You may be thinking, ‘Is this safe?’ In fact, a recent publication that looked at a large group of patients over seven years demonstrated the long-term safety of testosterone therapy. There have also been two long-term, peer-reviewed studies showing a reduction in the incidence of invasive breast cancer in women on testosterone therapy.
Creams are the preferred method of testosterone replacement for women. "Testosterone cream provides a steady or more even rise in levels and does not affect the liver as other forms do," explains Dr. Hartzfeld. "The goal is to get your testosterone into a physiologic premenopausal level. When using other forms of testosterone — like injections or pellets — it may spike hormones to unnaturally high levels. The creams have been shown to be safe."
With any form of testosterone, it’s crucial to monitor your levels regularly. According to Dr. Winter, if your levels become too high, you may experience hair loss and acne, and you are at risk of impacting your fertility negatively.
“It’s very important to keep on top of it with regular labs and seeing a physician regularly,” he says. As a Lifeforce member, you will have your levels re-tested every three months, and you’ll work very closely with your Lifeforce physician to monitor your levels and adjust your treatment as needed. We are your partner in your hormone journey every step of the way.
The Bottom Line
While men have dominated the conversation around testosterone, women should know that it can have a major impact on their physical, mental, and sexual well-being.
Both Dr. Hartzfeld and Dr. Winter have seen incredible changes firsthand in their patients. Says Dr. Winter, “Women have been telling me, ‘When you raised my testosterone, I feel like a million bucks!’”
Learn more about Lifeforce’s Hormone Optimization for Women HERE.
This article was medically reviewed by:
Samuel C Winter, DO, Board Certified in Family Medicine and Osteopathic Manipulation by the American Osteopathic Board of Family Medicine
Kimberly Hartzfeld, DO, ABOG American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, IFMCP Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner