“I can’t keep up with the amount of hair on my chin! At this rate, I’m going to end up in the circus as the bearded lady,” 36-year-old Shannon shared.
In addition to hair on her chin, she was now shaving her belly, experiencing terribly oily skin and acne. Shannon’s symptoms pointed to high testosterone.
It’s important to keep in mind as we dive into this topic that testosterone is good for women. But like all hormones (and most things in life) too much of a good thing can be big trouble.
High Testosterone in Women Can Cause…
- Hair loss on the scalp
- Excess body hair (especially upper lip, chin, chest and abdomen)
- Oily skin
- Increased body odor
- Sleep disturbance
- Irritability, aggression
What Causes Excess Testosterone levels in women?
There can be several mechanisms at play, but one of the most common causes of elevated testosterone levels in women is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
But here’s the tricky part… not every woman with elevated testosterone has PCOS.
This was true of Shannon.
All of Shannon’s google searches were turning up PCOS. “But I’ve never missed a period in my life!”
She explained her periods had always been regular and remained regular. Her skin had been clear for the majority of her adult life. It was only in the last couple of years the pimples began to crop up, especially around her jawline.
She had noticed the darkening of her facial hair. The need to blot her face more often due to excess oil. Then the acne became a regular resident and the chin hair took a sharp turn towards dark, thick and coarse.
Unfortunately, the hair change is irreversible, you have to get it professionally removed once it becomes thick and coarse. This didn’t mean she had to live with it! It certainly didn’t mean we weren’t going to try to prevent her from getting more!
How Insulin & Blood Sugar Issues Cause High Testosterone in Women
I explained to Shannon that the same mechanisms that cause high testosterone in women with PCOS were likely at play. Shannon was an ‘eat on the run’ kind of gal and admitted that she was pretty inconsistent about meals. Although she was eating dairy and gluten-free, she often ate a bag of gluten-free pretzels or fruit when feeling “desperately hungry.”
Blood sugar dysregulation is at the crux of many hormone imbalances, with elevated testosterone being no exception. That means this missing meals business was wreaking havoc on Shannon’s complexion and mood.
It was these spikes and dips in blood sugar that were creating strain on Shannon’s adrenals. Her lab testing revealed HPA dysregulation and elevation of inflammatory markers. Shannon’s adrenals were struggling and as a result her inflammation was climbing. Her insulin levels were mildly elevated, along with clear signs her blood sugar was often higher than it should be.
As insulin climbs it can stimulate the adrenals to produce testosterone.
While many body tissues will begin ignoring insulin signals (insulin resistance), your ovaries are among the few organs that will continue to remain sensitive to insulin. Even when insulin just will not quit bugging that cell!
This stimulation causes the ovary to produce testosterone. In women with PCOS (and the chronic insulin overstimulation that accompanies it), this can lead to the typical structural changes that are seen in PCOS.
What to Do About That High Testosterone…
While Shannon’s doctor strongly encouraged her to get on the birth control pill to drop her testosterone, Shannon was concerned about the other side effects. And rightly so! The pill can definitely lower testosterone, but at the expense of your libido and mood.
Shannon’s goal was to get to the root cause of her symptoms without suppressing her body’s normal hormones function. I explained that in order for us to have a clear understanding of where her hormones and body were imbalanced we couldn’t introduce a pharmaceutical that masks the underlying cause. So we got to work quickly with lab testing and natural therapies.
One of our first steps was to get Shannon on a regular meal schedule, including fat and protein with meals. We swapped out her 3 cups of black coffee for green tea. Green tea increases Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG), a protein that grabs onto excess testosterone. We also got her going with fresh ground flax seed, which is a great source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and has been shown to also raise SHBG.
Shannon had lifestyle homework too. Regular sleep, meals, and a daily journaling practice to help her release the stress of the day.
With the help of my clinical team, Shannon was able to bring her testosterone back into balance. Along with her other hormones, she was able to get clear, beautiful skin. After having electrolysis to remove the unwanted hair, Shannon was happy to report there was no new growth. (Remember, once it has gone course there is no going back without professional hair removal. That’s why Shannon’s hair troubles required an additional healthcare team member – the esthetician).
Does talk of excess testosterone conjure up images of a bearded lady for you too? Grab my free hormone starter kit along with my hormone balancing meal plan to optimize your hormones!