Testosterone is commonly associated with masculinity, aggression, strength, and sexuality. With the recent popularity of testosterone replacement therapy, more older men than ever are asking their doctors to test their hormones and to prescribe hormone therapy. While a number of men have climbed on the testosterone bandwagon, the same can’t be said for women. Some women are aware that they, too, produce testosterone, but in much lower quantities than men. And like in men, their testosterone production decreases with age. Women are discussing hormone replacement therapy with their doctors more often these days, but testosterone is rarely mentioned. Many doctors are hesitant to prescribe it, fearing scrutiny or lacking knowledge of the role it plays in women’s health.
Testosterone Improves Sexual Function, Libido, Mood
In men, low testosterone levels have been associated with heart attack, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, depression, and even belly fat. In women, the role of testosterone is not as clear-cut; however, research has shown that increasing its levels may improve libido, sexual arousal, and mood. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, women with surgically induced menopause, who were given 300 micrograms of testosterone daily (delivered by a skin patch), reported better sexual function after 12 weeks. They also experienced improvements in well-being and mood.1
Testosterone may also protect aging women and men from muscle loss and increased body fat. In a clinical trial, postmenopausal women who received estradiol and testosterone for two years experienced leaner body mass as well as decreased cholesterol levels.2
Can Testosterone Replacement Increase the Risk for Breast Cancer?
Some research suggests that high testosterone levels in women could
increase the risk of breast cancer.3
Testosterone can act as a precursor to estrogen, which, when elevated, may fuel the growth of breast cancer cells. Other research shows that testosterone may actually protect against the disease. One study showed that tamoxifen (a breast cancer drug), when given in conjunction with testosterone, decreased the growth of cells exposed to estrogen.4
In a different study, which was performed on monkeys, testosterone inhibited the growth of breast cells.5
DHEA is a Testosterone Precursor
Testosterone is available by prescription, but another hormone, DHEA, is available over-the-counter. Like testosterone, DHEA declines with age. It has its own health benefits, but it also acts as a precursor to testosterone and estrogen. In a study published by the journal Maturitas
, postmenopausal women who took DHEA experienced an increase in testosterone and other hormones.6
Other researched showed that taking DHEA daily produced a small increase in estradiol and testosterone levels, particularly in women.7
Is Testosterone Therapy Right for You?
A doctor who is familiar with bioidentical hormone replacement is the best person to assist you with this decision. If you are at an increased risk of breast cancer, testosterone replacement should be used with caution.8
Testing the levels of DHEA and testosterone in your blood is suggested prior to use.
N Engl J Med. 2000 Sep 7;343(10):682-8.
Menopause. 2000 Nov-Dec;7(6):395-401.
J Natl Cancer Inst. 1996 Mar 6;88(5):291-6.
FASEB J. 2000 Sep;14(12):1725-30.
Menopause. 2003 Jul-Aug;10(4):292-8.
Maturitas. 1998 Jan 12;28(3):251-7.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Apr 11;97(8):4279-84.
Breast Cancer Research. 2013,15:R46 doi:10.1186/bcr3438.