In our first post on testosterone for women, we talked about how low testosterone is a common finding caused by stress and aging in women. Conversely, elevated testosterone can actually be problematic, most often, in young women. The most common problem caused by too much testosterone is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). We also sometimes see elevated testosterone during perimenopause or in women who over exercise, which can cause so much stress in the body that the body responds by increasing testosterone. Like the other “Goldilocks hormones”, optimal testosterone needs to have the right balance.
Symptoms of Elevated Testosterone
PCOS is a topic unto itself, deserving its own discussion. Below are some of the symptoms associated with generally elevated testosterone:
- Acne or oily skin
- Mood swings
- Fluid retention
- Weight gain
- Irregular periods
Fluid retention associated with PCOS is often seen around the ankles and hands. Women with elevated testosterone sometimes report sugar and salt cravings. Irregular periods and infertility can be caused by elevated testosterone, which can be a part of PCOS.
Health Concerns Connected to High Testosterone in Women
There are other effects of elevated testosterone that people sometimes don’t think about. These include an increased risk of developing breast cancer, poor prognosis in breast cancer, insulin resistance, and diabetes. PCOS falls into the category of metabolic syndrome, which we see associated with diabetes, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, osteoporosis, gout, sleep apnea, and a whole host of other issues that can drive up testosterone in women. What is interesting is that these similar things can make testosterone lower in men.
Rebalancing Elevated Testosterone Levels
There are several medications, for example Metformin and Spironolactone, that can lower testosterone levels in women, specifically with PCOS. However, I usually try to use more natural approaches that are more tonic in their ability to balance not only testosterone, but other sex hormones, as well as the immune system. These include:
- Saw palmetto
- Green tea
- Licorice root
- White peony tea
An active ingredient in green tea, EGCG, and licorice root can affect testosterone levels in different ways. Green tea can increase a binding protein called sex hormone binding globulin, while the licorice root decreases testosterone synthesis directly. A more exotic tea called white peony tea has been shown to improve progesterone, reduce testosterone, and modulate estrogen and prolactin.
Food truly is medicine. There are so many ways we can use food to improve our health, especially in hormonal health.
You can see that considering the bigger hormone picture, testosterone, progesterone, estrogen, and the other sex hormones, is absolutely critical when addressing hormonal imbalances in women. From a functional medicine perspective, we also take a step back to evaluate cortisol, thyroid, and insulin, when assessing hormonal health.
As we progress through this series, hopefully you’ll begin to see the interconnectivity of hormones. A truly holistic, individualized approach to hormonal health is absolutely necessary to maximize your health potential.
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.
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