Balancing hormone levels is a delicate dance. Our endocrine system produces estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone, in addition to a long list of other hormones, all of which interact with one another, but achieving perfect equilibrium is something that, unfortunately, many women struggle with. "Our hormones play a major role in our body functions and metabolism. They regulate multiple chemical reactions and help us to maintain homeostasis and internal balance," explains Natalya Fazylova, a holistic health and wellness specialist at ReBalance NYC.
Women's main two reproductive hormones are estrogen and progesterone, but we produce a little bit of testosterone, too. "Sometimes, the ratio of these hormones gets imbalanced and causes a wide range of symptoms and discomforts," says Fazylova. One imbalance can come from an elevated production of testosterone, which can signal a number of health complications ranging from minorly annoying to legitimately concerning, so if you think you might have high testosterone, definitely keep on reading.
What causes high testosterone in women?
First, a little background on testosterone: In women, the hormone is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. Fat tissue can also produce a small amount. When too much testosterone is produced, it's usually due to one of a few causes: "The most common ones are PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia," explains Fazylova. PCOS, by the way, described as "a condition where a woman may have very irregular menstrual cycles, anovulation, difficulty getting pregnant, male pattern hair distribution, acne, and weight gain," explains Patrice Harold, MD, director of minimally invasive gynecology at Detroit Medical Center's Hutzel Women's Hospital. (Adrenal and ovarian tumors can also cause increased testosterone.)
What are the symptoms?
Elevated testosterone can present itself by way of many symptoms similar to the above: menstrual irregularities, excess body hair (or hair loss), acne, increased muscle mass, and changes in weight or body shape. High testosterone can also lead to certain complications: infertility, miscarriage, obesity, depression, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes are a few more serious ones.
What can be done about it?
Do any of these symptoms ring a bell? The next step is to get checked out by your primary care doctor or OB/GYN. "You would need to see a hormonal specialist who will order blood and saliva tests to measure the levels of your testosterone and other hormones," says Fazylova. Because the causes of high testosterone can be so complex and individualized, so will your treatment plan. "Treatment for high testosterone will include a detailed assessment to find the root cause of the problem, as well as lifestyle changes, medical prescriptions, and nutritional supplements," Fazylova says.
These lifestyle changes may focus on achieving a healthy weight, minimizing your consumption of sugar and processed food, exercising, managing stress, and improving sleep. "Medications and supplements needed will depend on the root cause of the testosterone imbalance," says Fazylova. "For instance, if it is related to PCOS, then treatment will be focused on regulating the blood glucose levels and managing irregular periods with oral contraceptives."
Next up: Learn how to boost your "happiness hormones."