Your Hormones in Harmony | Part 7

Testosterone: The French Horn

It’s Undervalued Role in Women’s Health

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Dr. Aaron Hartman

March 12, 2024


    We often associate testosterone with men’s health, but it’s crucial for women’s health as well. And sometimes, testosterone is overlooked as a therapeutic option in treating women’s hormone issues such as bone health, mood issues, memory function, fatigue, and thinning hair — to name a few.

    The Many Functions of Testosterone in Women’s Health

    Testosterone supports many functions in our body, some of which are neglected in traditional medicine:

    • Muscle mass
    • Bone strength
    • Memory function
    • Mental health
    • Libido
    • Skin elasticity
    • Hair health
    • Energy
    • Weight management

    Testosterone is needed for maintaining muscle and bone health. Low levels of testosterone are associated with the formation of osteoporosis and loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) as women age. People often associate testosterone with increased libido and sexual interest. It’s supporting role in emotional well-being, self-confidence and motivation are sometimes neglected. This key hormone supports cognitive functions such as memory and mood levels. Testosterone elevates norepinephrine levels in the brain, causing an antidepressant effect in women. So not only are estrogen and progesterone important to consider for women’s mental health, but testosterone also plays an important role.

    Low Testosterone

    Symptoms of Low Testosterone

    • Anxiety
    • Decreased libido
    • Droopy eyelids
    • Fatigue
    • Thinning hair
    • Thin lips
    • Weight gain

    What are some common signs and symptoms that your testosterone may be low?

    Inadequate testosterone can cause a loss of elasticity in the skin, and may also be an underlying cause of thinning hair.  So not only are estrogen and progesterone important for hair health, testosterone is as well. As women age, and testosterone levels drop, they may notice their lips thinning and a tendency to gain weight.

    Causes of Low Testosterone

    Some reasons for inadequate testosterone are:

    • Aging
    • Chronic stress
    • Oral contraceptives
    • Poor sleep quality and duration
    • Depression

    There are several big causes for low testosterone levels in women. Levels typically do drop as women age. Chronic stress, through its effects on the adrenal gland, can reduce testosterone and is frequently passed over as a cause.  So not only does testosterone support positive mood and cognitive function, but in the reverse, chronic stress can feed back and cause lowered levels of testosterone. Other causes include the use of oral contraceptives, poor sleep quality, and depression.

    Addressing Low Testosterone

    What can you do to help your body produce more testosterone naturally?

    • Get at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep
    • Effectively manage stress
    • Exercise
    • Lose weight
    • Eat a nutritious diet for proper nutrition, which may include supplementation

    The best thing to do to increase testosterone, as well as to balance hormones in general, is to get a good night’s sleep if you are not sleeping well already. Stress reduction supports the balancing of your adrenal gland, which in turn aids in healthy hormone levels. Exercise is a great way to boost testosterone and, actually, caloric restriction has been associated with elevation of levels of testosterone also.

    Nutrition plays a key role in all areas of health and is no exception here.  Eating a balanced diet of whole, unprocessed foods with healthy fats, protein, and colorful plants is a foundational way to support your body’s hormone production.

    Getting started with nutrition can be overwhelming. That’s why I’ve broken it down into bite-sized, actionable insights. If you haven’t yet watched my free micro course, “Real Food Diaries,” you have my permission to leave this article now and go straight there!

    Finally, certain supplements such as arginine, leucine, glutamine, and zinc have been shown to help increase testosterone levels in women.





    Elevated Testosterone

    Low testosterone is a commonly associated with 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
    • Anger
    • Anxiety
    • Cravings
    • Fluid retention
    • Infertility
    • Irregular periods
    • Mood swings
    • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
    • Weight gain

    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

    Several medications, for example Metformin and Spironolactone, 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:

    Green Tea

    Licorice Root


    Saw Palmetto

    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’ve progressed through this series, hopefully you begin to see the interconnectivity of hormones. A truly holistic, individualized approach to hormonal health is absolutely necessary to maximize your health potential.

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