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Unhealthy Testosterone Levels In Women: Causes and Symptoms

Medically reviewed by Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD on March 12, 2020. Written by Libby Pellegrini. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


It’s possible for a woman’s testosterone production to be too high or too low. And because testosterone is a key hormone in the body—in women and men alike—a testosterone imbalance can have quite an impact on your health and well-being.

So keep reading to learn more about unhealthy levels of testosterone in women—including causes and symptoms. You’ll also learn about natural remedies that may help lower high testosterone levels in females to help get your body’s hormone balance back on track. (And don’t forget: you can check your testosterone from the comfort of home with the Everlywell Testosterone Test.)

Female testosterone levels

Do women have testosterone? The answer is “yes.” Though testosterone is often thought of as a “male hormone,” it’s actually vital to women as well: normal testosterone levels in women are important for maintaining overall health and well-being. (Related: Low testosterone in men)

In fact, women usually have higher testosterone levels than estradiol levels. (Estradiol is the body’s main form of estrogen, which is commonly viewed as a “female hormone.”)

Testosterone in women: what it does

In women, testosterone is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. This hormone helps the body with a number of different functions. For example, it helps regulate mood and supports the health of female reproductive tissue and bones. Because of this, symptoms can arise if there’s a testosterone imbalance and levels get too high or too low.

Here are a few key roles testosterone can play in a woman’s health:

  • Maintenance and growth of bones
  • Increases muscle mass
  • Decreases body fat (in post-menopausal women)
  • Supports a healthy libido or sex drive
  • May help decrease vaginal atrophy (which occurs most often in post-menopausal women)
  • May help support cardiovascular health

So as you can see, normal testosterone production in females can have many beneficial effects. But too much or too little of this hormone can have less-than-positive effects on the body.

Let’s start by discussing low testosterone symptoms.


Symptoms of low testosterone in women

What are some low testosterone symptoms in women? Low libido, weight gain, and changes in mood are all common signs of low testosterone levels. Low testosterone over a long period of time may also contribute to more serious issues like heart disease, poor memory, and loss of bone density.

Other common signs of low T?

  • Your hair may begin to thin
  • Your skin may become drier
  • Your sex drive may be dampened (one reason why some women with low testosterone choose to undergo testosterone therapy)
  • You might lose muscle mass
  • An increase in body fat, as well as mood changes (including greater anxiety), can also stem from lower-than-healthy testosterone levels
  • Sexual dysfunction, bone loss, and overall loss of strength are some other possible low T symptoms

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder and low testosterone in women

Because testosterone plays a role in libido, women with lower-than-normal levels of testosterone can experience hypoactive sexual desire disorder—or HSDD.

HSDD is considered the most widespread sexual health problem among women, and estimates suggest it occurs in 8% to 19% of women. It’s marked by fewer (if any) sexual fantasies and a lack of interest in sexual activity—along with a lot of personal distress, frustration, sadness, and decreased self-confidence and self-worth. Depression and fatigue often occur with HSDD.

Researchers have yet to pin down the exact causes of HSDD. The extent to which testosterone levels contribute to HSDD is also not well-understood. Low testosterone levels are, however, linked with less sexual desire, and testosterone hormone therapy can boost sexual desire in both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women. But there isn’t an exact T level that can be used to diagnose HSDD.

What causes lower testosterone in females?

What’s behind low testosterone levels in women? Here are a few possible causes:

  • Long-term use of various methods of birth control—such as oral birth control pills and contraceptive patches
  • Ovarian failure—where your ovaries stop functioning correctly—can lead to low testosterone levels. Possible causes of ovarian failure include chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and eating disorders, but the most common cause of ovarian failure is menopause—which happens to every woman as she ages.
  • Using certain medication—such as anti-hypertensives and opiates Thyroid disease
  • Tumors on various glands in the body—such as the pituitary gland—can also cause low T levels in women

Symptoms of high testosterone in women

Signs of high testosterone levels in women can include:

  • Excess acne
  • Abnormal hair growth throughout your body (such as on your chest)
  • Male pattern baldness
  • A deeper voice
  • An enlarged clitoris and smaller breast size
  • Menstrual irregularities are another sign of high levels of testosterone
  • And if you put on pounds super easily, you might want to get your testosterone levels checked: elevated testosterone contributes to weight gain

High female testosterone levels are also linked with an increased risk of obesity and infertility. Post-menopausal women with elevated testosterone may be more likely to experience insulin resistance, which can make diabetes more likely. If you have high levels of testosterone, speak with your healthcare provider to learn about treatment options. In some cases, hormone therapy or medication can help get levels back to a balanced state.

What causes high female testosterone levels?

  • Ever come across the acronym “PCOS”? It stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and it’s a hormonal disorder that can fill your blood with too much testosterone.
  • Steroid use and abuse – can hike up your testosterone levels.
  • Adrenal disorders (like congenital adrenal hyperplasia) can also be at fault for high T levels. These disorders are genetic and often found at birth or during puberty.

How to lower testosterone in women

What lowers testosterone in women? Several herbs and other plant-based foods may be able to naturally decrease T levels in women:

  • Licorice – The root of a legume plant native to the Middle East (and nearby regions like southern Europe), licorice may lower testosterone levels when taken daily.
  • Green tea – Aside from being an all-around delicious tea, green tea may also be able to block testosterone from turning into a hormone called DHT – which is similar to testosterone but has much stronger effects on the body.
  • Spearmint – Often consumed in tea form, spearmint may decrease levels of free testosterone in the bloodstream. (Read more: Know the difference between free T and total T)

Also, keep in mind that if you're experiencing high testosterone, it's a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider to learn what their recommendation is.


Conclusion

If your hormone levels fall outside a healthy, normal range, then your health and well-being may be at risk. That’s certainly the case for testosterone: from weight gain and increased body hair to menstrual cycle irregularities and lowered muscle mass, there are a number of symptoms that can occur from an imbalance of testosterone.

In short, testosterone is an essential sex hormone that plays important roles in a woman’s health. That’s why it’s a good idea to check your testosterone levels. The Everlywell Testosterone Test makes this easy to do at home—giving you accurate information on a key part of your hormonal health, which you can discuss with your healthcare provider.


Unhealthy testosterone levels in men: some causes and symptoms

Why weight loss can boost your testosterone levels


References

1. Glaser R, Dimitrakakis C. Testosterone therapy in women: myths and misconceptions. Maturitas. 2013;74(3):230–234. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2013.01.003

2. Testosterone therapy in women: Does it boost sex drive? Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed March 12, 2020.

3. Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. URL. Published 2017. Accessed March 12, 2020.

4. Yasui T, Matsui S, Tani A, et al. Androgen in postmenopausal women. J Med Invest. 2012;59(1-2):12–27. doi:10.2152/jmi.59.12

5. Grant P, Ramasamy S. An update on plant derived anti-androgens. Int J Endocrinol Metab. 2012;10(2):497-502. doi:10.5812/ijem.3644