Many women know that their bodies naturally produce testosterone. But what happens when your testosterone levels fall abnormally low? You might have wondered this when researching a troubling combination of symptoms—including low libido, fatigue, and lowered mood—and coming across popular health sites that proclaim low testosterone to be the root cause of them all.
While testosterone does play an important role in your body’s overall hormone balance, the extent of its impact is still unclear. Some medical professionals claim that lowered testosterone directly causes low libido in pre- and post-menopausal women, but this and other effects of low testosterone have yet to be proven conclusively.
If you’re experiencing uncomfortable symptoms before, during, or after menopause, it’s important to understand and identify all the possible causes before starting treatment. By consulting with expert practitioners in hormone health, you can learn more about your symptoms and receive treatment that helps you feel healthy and vivacious once again.
The Potential Effects of Low Testosterone in Women
The effects of low testosterone in men are widely discussed. As testosterone naturally falls gradually as men age, it’s common for men to feel lethargic, struggle sexually, and experience bodily changes that some find to be uncomfortable or even embarrassing.
Because women also produce testosterone, and testosterone levels naturally fall during menopause (as do estrogen and progesterone), it only makes sense to question whether a lack of testosterone produces the same effects in women.
The symptoms most commonly discussed in connection with female low testosterone include:
- Low libido
- Loss of strength and muscle mass
- Lack of motivation
- Depressed mood
- Decreased subjective well-being
Unfortunately, while low testosterone might be a seemingly logical culprit for these symptoms, they could easily be caused by a number of other medical conditions. Major depression, PCOS, and hypothyroidism all include these symptoms in their diagnostic criteria. Other possible causes include anemia, iron deficiency, and certain auto-immune disorders. In addition, many of the symptoms of low female testosterone overlap with the symptoms of low estrogen.
If you’re concerned about symptoms like these, seek help from a qualified medical professional. Your experiences might be caused by low testosterone—but they could also be caused by a far more serious issue.
Does Testosterone Actually Impact Libido in Women?
Of all the supposed effects of low testosterone, low libido is the symptom that’s talked about the most. Female hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) could be influenced by a multitude of factors, including reproductive events (like pregnancy or hysterectomy), emotional health, and mental state, in addition to hormones like testosterone. Significantly, research has found that HSDD could be caused by an imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory hormones—but testosterone is only one of six participatory hormones that could be part of this process in the brain.
So does testosterone actually have any impact on women’s libido? The answers in the literature are mixed. One review on postmenopausal women found that transdermal testosterone did increase desire, orgasms, and total sexual satisfaction episodes in women. Another brief study found combined estrogen and testosterone therapy to be more effective than estrogen alone at improving the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) score in postmenopausal women. But other recent research failed to produce any connection between testosterone and libido in women at all.
In short, it’s safe to assume that your low sex drive could possibly be caused by an imbalance of testosterone—but it’s also possible that it’s caused by plenty of other factors in your life. This makes it unclear whether testosterone replacement therapy would be beneficial.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy for Women
Androgens like testosterone are naturally produced by the ovaries, adrenal glands, and cells/tissues throughout the body. If you are found to have lowered levels of testosterone, this could be linked to any number of factors, including:
- Menopause and the natural aging process
- Ovarian dysfunction (due to hysterectomy, medication, or natural causes)
- Amenorrhea or other menstrual cycle problems
- Medications (including hormonal birth control)
- Inflammation in your body
- Adrenal failure
Depending on the cause of lowered testosterone and the symptoms you experience, your doctor may suggest testosterone replacement therapy. Similar to male TRT, the goal would be to restore your levels to the amount of testosterone that’s naturally present in healthy women of child-bearing age.
No testosterone preparations have yet been FDA-approved for use in women in the United States, but you can receive a prescription for these medications from compounding pharmacies, usually in the form of pellets, creams, or gels. Some hormone practitioners might also prescribe a DHEA medication in order to supplement the precursor hormone to testosterone in the female body.
Other Benefits and Risks of TRT for Women
The benefits of female testosterone replacement therapy have not been extensively studied. Some research has linked testosterone therapy with preventing obesity and coronary heart disease. It’s also possible that testosterone therapy could help elevate your sex drive, increase your energy levels, or help you to feel more motivated in your everyday life—but none of these effects have been proven.
Testosterone therapy may also come with risks. TRT is not recommended for women who are at risk for or have had some hormone-related cancers, because TRT can potentially augment those risks. Some studies indicates that high testosterone might cause cardiovascular disease in some women, but there is ample research in men that low testosterone is linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, so many providers feel the risk is low. Testosterone therapy is also highly inappropriate for premenopausal women who are or intend to become pregnant, as high testosterone levels are known to cause complications with pregnancy and significantly increase the risk of miscarriage.
Aside from these serious risks, the most common side effects of TRT in women include acne, deepening voice, and bodily hair growth.
Seeking Professional Help to Achieve Hormone Balance
Clearly, there are so many unanswered questions about hormone balance and the effects of low testosterone in women. To make matters worse, testosterone tests for women are rarely accurate because the low levels naturally present in blood don’t reflect the active testosterone in skin and fat cells and other bodily tissues. Even if the tests were accurate, female hormone levels fluctuate throughout the month and even throughout the day. It’s almost impossible to say for sure whether you have a clinically low level of testosterone in your body at any given time.
It’s possible that testosterone therapy could help with some of the symptoms you experience, that the risks could be relatively low for you, and that TRT could end up being the best possible course of treatment. But considering all that’s still uncertain, you should consult with a qualified hormone practitioner who can confidently answer your questions before deciding if treatment is right for you. When it comes to testosterone, don’t take matters into your own hands. Reach out and seek help from a hormone health professional you can trust.
The expert practitioners in the BodyLogicMD network are some of the most highly qualified professionals practicing in the field of hormone health. We help women (and men) diagnose, treat, and manage the effects of low testosterone in order to feel their best and achieve their optimal level of health. Whether your symptoms are caused by low testosterone or some other hormone-related issue, their personalized treatment plans can help you get back on track through bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, nutrition advice, and lifestyle counseling. Contact a local practitioner to learn more about how testosterone may be affecting your body. We also encourage you to take the BodyLogicMD Hormone Balance Quiz to begin the journey toward understanding how your hormones contribute to your overall health.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. All content on this website is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent diseases.
Charlotte is a patient care coordinator specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. She is committed to helping patients who struggle with the symptoms of hormonal change and imbalance explore their treatment options and develop effective strategies to optimize wellness.