High testosterone in women is a real concern for many women. In fact, the question shows up on my Instagram page about once per week, which means we are long overdue for this article. In this guide, we’ll look at how you can recognise if your testosterone levels are too high and if so, what you can do to tackle them.
Testosterone Levels in Women
Testosterone is a male sex hormone that regulates fertility, muscle mass and fat distribution for men. However, it also exists in women to support sex drive and muscle density.
It’s important to keep in mind as we dive into this topic that testosterone in women is good and healthy. But like all hormones (and most things in life) too much of a good thing can be big trouble.
Normal Testosterone Levels in Females
To ensure you’re avoiding any nasty symptoms, try to keep your testosterone levels within the healthy regions shown on this graph. If your testosterone is too high, chances are you’ll know from possessing some of the many symptoms. However, a simple blood test can tell you how much testosterone you have. Be aware that the levels will fluctuate throughout the day and the best time to get tested is in the morning when testosterone levels are at their highest.
Symptoms of High Testosterone in Women
- Hair loss on the scalp
- Excess body hair (especially upper lip, chin, chest and abdomen)
- Oily skin
- Increased body odor
- Sleep disturbance
- Irritability, aggression
- Decreased breast size
- Increased muscle mass
- Lowering of the voice
As well as this, severely high cases may lead to irregular menstrual cycles and even infertility.
These symptoms were very present in 36-year-old Shannon: “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”. 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.
High Testosterone and Hirsutism
Excessive testosterone can lead to hirsutism. If you notice excess hair on the back, face or chest, or signs of acne, this can be a clear symptom of the condition which is cause by an imbalance of androgen hormones.
What Causes High Testosterone in Women?
There are several mechanisms at play that can lead to women with high testosterone. Mainly are certain conditions that affect the ovaries, insulin levels or the adrenal glands.
1. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
One of the most common causes of elevated testosterone levels in women is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This is a common hormonal disorder that affects women from their teens to their 50s. If you have PCOS, you may notice excess body hair or infrequent periods. This can lead to certain complications such as infertility or obesity.
3. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
This is a condition that directly affects the adrenal glands, which is where the body produces hormones. Due to CAH, the adrenal glands can overproduce testosterone, leading to severe acne or a masculine appearance.
4. High Insulin & Blood Sugar Levels
Blood sugar dysregulation is at the crux of many hormone imbalances, with elevated testosterone being no exception. As insulin climbs it can stimulate the adrenals to produce testosterone. While many body tissues will begin ignoring insulin signals, your ovaries are among the few organs that will continue to remain sensitive to insulin.
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.
This was true of Shannon. Shannon was an ‘eat on the run’ kind of girl and often ate a bag of gluten-free pretzels or fruit when feeling “desperately hungry.” It was these spikes and dips in blood sugar that were creating strain on Shannon’s adrenals 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.
Read more: 5 Blood Sugar Balancing Strategies for PCOS
How to Lower Testosterone in Women
If you’re noticing the dreaded symptoms associated with his condition, don’t panic. High testosterone in women can be targeted in a number of ways. This includes hormone medication, or diet and supplements if you don’t want to worry about the side effects of pharmaceuticals.
Medication to Lower Testosterone in Females
This is a medicine used to treat type 2 diabetes and helps with high testosterone by lowering your blood sugar levels and helping your body regulate insulin. This is also often used for treating PCOS.
These are a type of steroid hormone that help reduce inflammation in the body. Glucocorticoids naturally exist within the body to help your cells use sugar and fat. However, in cases of high testosterone, additional glucocorticoids are needed.
This is a diuretic that helps regulate water and salt levels in the body. It is often used to reduce excessive female hair growth. It does this by slowing down the production of male sex hormones, including testosterone.
If you’re not trying to get pregnant, certain both control is an effective treatment for blocking testosterone. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, look for birth control that uses low levels of norgestimate, gestodene, and desogestrel. Bear in mind that this treatment will come with its own side effects, such as decreased libido and mood.
Read more: Treating PCOS Symptoms With The Pill
Diet & Natural Therapies
Simple diet changes can also have effective results on your testosterone levels. For example, increasing the levels of fat and protein in meals, while reducing sugar.
With Shannon, 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.
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.
Supplements for High Testosterone
As well as diet, certain herbs such as Saw Palmetto, Vitex, and Licorice help to support adrenal, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone production. I generally recommend women begin with 4 key supplements to get their intake: Balance, Adrenal Support, Saw Palemetto Plus, and N-Acetyl Cysteine because of their synergistic benefits.
1. DIM for High Testosterone
Balance contains Vitex, in addition to green tea extract, DIM, and calcium d-glucarate to support estrogen and testosterone metabolism. Learn about Balance here.
2. Licorice for High Testosterone
Adrenal Support contains licorice, which has been shown to have great benefits in women with PCOS and excess testosterone symptoms. Because the adrenal glands can be a source of excess androgens, optimizing adrenal health can be tremendously beneficial for women who have high testosterone. Learn about Adrenal Support here.
3. Zinc & Saw Palmetto for High Testosterone
Saw Palmetto Plus contains zinc and Saw Palmetto, which are important for keeping high testosterone symptoms in check. Saw Palmetto is an herb that prevents the conversion of testosterone to DHT, a potent form that causes hair loss on our head and growth on our chin and chest. Learn about Saw Palmetto Plus here.
4. N-Acetyl Cysteine for Clear Skin
N-Acetyl Cysteine is an important amino acid for optimizing weight, improving hair and skin, and creating clear skin. Learn about N-Acetyl Cysteine here.
All of these supplements together support a healthy menstrual cycle, glowing skin, and easier to manage weight. I've bundled Balance, Adrenal Support, and Saw Palmetto Plus into one package called the PCOS Basic Kit, which is designed to help maintain a healthy hormone balance.
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- Hunter M, Carek P. Evaluation and Treatment of Women with Hirsutism. American Family Physician. 2003.
- NHS. Metformin.
- Web MD. What Are Glucocorticoids?.