Testosterone is often touted in the media as a “cure-all” for everything from ramping up sex drive to quelling menopausal symptoms. Advertisements will say it adds energy and a youthful glow. Some women are told it’s the antidote for saggy muscles and midlife weight gain. Many wellness and healthcare providers propagate this information or try to sell testosterone in everything from pellets to pills and patches to vaginal inserts.
So let’s set the record straight! Testosterone is a naturally occurring hormone and the truth is, our body knows how much to make, when to make it, and when to slow down production. While it’s true that menopausal women can benefit from taking estrogen and progesterone to quiet menopausal symptoms, testosterone just isn’t one of those hormones that we all need, in fact, very few of us would fit the bill or warrant the risk.
A bit of background
Testosterone is, essentially, a male hormone, responsible for male characteristics and supporting male physiology. In women, it is produced by the ovary and the adrenal glands and partners with estrogen to repair tissues like blood cells and to stimulate libido. Testosterone is vital during the younger years for reproduction, pregnancy, and childbirth. When a woman reaches menopause, both the ovaries and the adrenals have the ability to continue pumping it out and the brilliance of the body to know what we need and when we need it is to be trusted when it comes to testosterone.
One of the reasons we can trust the body more than the lab is that it is very hard to get accurate testosterone levels for women. Most labs don’t run the right tests, and only certain healthcare providers actually know what to ask for when sending a request. There are three types of testosterone: Total testosterone, free testosterone and bioavailable testosterone—and the jury is still out on which number to check, but most votes are for total levels. To make things more complicated, there are many ways to test testosterone and only one assay is truly reputable. It’s called L/GC-MS. It has to be asked for by name and can only be run in well-equipped labs.
Even after you know your number, testosterone fluctuates so much that it could be different tomorrow, especially when menopausal symptoms are making life difficult.
Why supplementing with testosterone often isn’t helpful
There are no known symptoms that testosterone will effectively or safely treat except one very specific situation known as hypoactive sexual desire disorder (or female sexual arousal disorder). Studies are very clear that this condition is more than just a waning desire for sex. and it’s associated with important indictors that your healthcare provider can evaluate you for. If you don’t qualify exactly, however, testosterone won’t be helpful to take and you may be subjecting yourself to risks you don’t want or need.
As much as we would like it to, testosterone has not been shown to help with stronger or more shapely muscles, better heart or breast health, or improved depression or anxiety—and it definitely does not create an overall sense of well-being in or outside the sheets
In fact, studies are looking at the possibility that testosterone contributes to heart disease, breast cancer, or uterine cancer. A jolt of testosterone may feel nice for a while, but take it for too long and the risks include acne, anger, aggression/moodiness, a clitoris that starts to look like a penis, a raspy voice, and hair where you don’t want it.
When would testosterone be worth a try?
If a post-menopausal woman’s sexual problems are causing so much turmoil that she is willing to take the risks, testosterone may help. Sexual intimacy is complicated and all other factors must be ruled out or adequately treated before testosterone should be considered.
Testosterone for this purpose must be given in an FDA-approved male formulation and titrated down to about 1/10th of the dose and monitored regularly with bloodwork. If results aren’t seen within six months, it should be discontinued. If it’s working, your doctor will continue to check your blood levels every six months, making sure you stay safe and sound at your current dose.
Reducing the menopausal symptoms of hot flashes, night sweats and a dry vagina with hormonal therapies that are well-studied and proven to work, like estrogen and progesterone, may help with the body’s responses too so it is usually safer to start with what we know.
If you’re interested in seeing whether you are a candidate for Evernow’s menopause treatments, click here to start your free online consultation.