Once again, despite numerous demonstrations of the health benefits of responsible use of testosterone supplements, testosterone research fell on hard times.
Although the history of testosterone research still haunts the medical practice today, interest in testosterone replacement therapy for both men and women is currently undergoing a long-overdue and welcome renaissance.
Several important trends are contributing to a growing acceptance of testosterone replacement therapy:
- A gradual realization of a hormonally driven male andropause
- Readily available, high-quality, inexpensive bioidentical testosterone (molecularly identical to that produced by the human body)
- Improved testosterone delivery systems such as creams, gels, patches, and sublingual tablets
- Increased recognition that the bioidentical testosterone formulations available today are far better, safer, and more convenient than those used by earlier generations
Functions of Testosterone in Women
Through ongoing research, the medical community is learning that testosterone serves many purposes, ranging from the commonly understood sexual functions to surprising findings that it may help to control blood sugar and may also have an anticoagulant effect. In addition, testosterone’s well-known role in building muscles and bones is especially important for women facing age-related disorders such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
Testosterone’s most obvious purpose for men and women is sexual. During puberty, it stimulates the physical development of the sexual areas of the body, such as the growth of pubic and underarm hair. Female testosterone receptors are found in the nipples, vagina, clitoris, and brain.
In the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan and Trude Owett, CSW, state that testosterone levels dictate the desire (or lack thereof) for sexual activity. They report that our reproductive behaviors are stimulated in much the same way as our eating behaviors. Our sex hormones drive our “sexual appetite” similar to the way that blood sugar drives our appetite for food. Simply put, testosterone’s effect on the brain is to make women more sexually receptive.
Many post-menopausal women lose interest in sexual activity, primarily due to diminished testosterone levels. Yet, research over the last 50 years clearly indicates that testosterone supplementation produces a marked increase in libido for women.
Researchers have consistently reported that women who receive testosterone replacement therapy after menopause have an increase in:
- Sexual drive and response
- Frequency of sexual intercourse
- Number of sexual fantasies
- Level of sexual arousal
But, there’s no reason to wait for menopause before investigating the issue. Many women may be able to regain a more joyful and satisfying sex life with testosterone replacement.
Medical research has yielded accumulating evidence that testosterone plays an important role in cardiovascular health, especially in protecting us against atherosclerosis and heart disease.
Dr. Wright’s summary of Danish research indicates that bioidentical testosterone actually decreases cholesterol levels, improves circulation, and slows the tissue break down associated with aging. As a result, bioidentical testosterone supplements can help to restore the body to a more youthful condition.
Dr. Wright also notes that cholesterol-reducing drugs may sometimes do more harm than good, since testosterone and other steroids are derived from cholesterol. By reducing cholesterol, such drugs can actually throw the body’s hormones off balance and lead to other disorders, such as chest pain and impaired cardiac function. Bioidentical testosterone supplements may be able to reduce circulating cholesterol more safely than these drugs.
It’s a well-known fact that athletes and bodybuilders have used testosterone-like drugs for years to strengthen and enhance muscles and bones. While we still don’t know how it works, recent research suggests that testosterone may increase the bone’s ability to retain calcium. What we do know is that women who experience rapid bone loss are typically deficient in both estrogen and testosterone.
According to Dr. Wright, a recent study indicated that “women with osteoporosis who took a combination of estrogen and testosterone increased their bone density, an effect previously only demonstrated with progesterone.” In The Testosterone Syndrome, Dr. Eugene Shippen and William Fryer concur that the total hormone picture increasingly shows that both testosterone and estrogen are “independent and additive determinants of bone density.”
Muscle Tone (Leaky Bladder)
Testosterone contributes to our overall muscle tone. Well before menopause, some women begin to suffer from the confusion and embarrassment of a leaky bladder. This problem most likely relates to diminished testosterone levels, because the pelvic muscles are particularly dependent on testosterone. Many women find that using a testosterone cream, coupled with Kegel exercises, helps to strengthen and tone those muscles again.
Symptoms and Causes of Testosterone Deficiency in Women
Although primary symptoms for women are decreased libido or other sexual complaints, other signs of testosterone deficiency are a general lack of energy and overall vitality and a loss of muscle tone. Most women begin to experience these symptoms after menopause when their testosterone levels typically decline by approximately 50%. This decline is largely attributed to the fact that menopause causes the ovaries to stop producing testosterone, but it is further compounded by the fact that the adrenal glands also stop producing two other hormones, androstenedione and DHEA, which are converted to testosterone within cells throughout the body.
However, a variety of other conditions may cause a decline to begin long before menopause, and some women begin to experience these signs as early as their 30s. Dr. Shippen and Fryer identified some of the conditions that can contribute to a pre-menopausal decrease in women’s testosterone levels, including:
- Birth control pills*
- Medications* that interfere with the bio-availability of testosterone such as:
- Norlutate (Provera) and nolvodex (Tamoxifen)
- Drugs such as Prozac or Zoloft that alter the brain’s serotonin transmitters
- Some psychoactive drugs or other antidepressant and antipsychotic medications
- Psychological trauma and depression
- Surgery (adrenal stress)
- Chronic abuse of substances such as alcohol, cocaine, or narcotics
- Normal aging
*NOTE: With these medications, the level of “free” testosterone is often low, despite lab results showing a “normal” testosterone level.