I am often asked about the benefits and drawbacks of testosterone supplementation for women. Thought of as the quintessentially male hormone it is nevertheless present in the female body and progesterone is the precursor for its production. There is a peak in production just before ovulation and is also produced in small amounts in the adrenal glands. At menopause it can be noticeable in some of the hormone changes such as increased facial and body hair.
One of the factors associated with testosterone that is known from several studies is it can enhance a woman’s libido, which is why supplementing with progesterone can help improve sex drive in women.
How else can testosterone work in women?
What is not so well known about testosterone, is that apart from that traditional role, it also appears to have some effect on how much or how little we trust other people. Researchers at Utrecht University in Holland have investigated how our hormones influence how likely we are to trust, or distrust, other people.
This effect is managed in the body by a hormone in our brains called oxytocin so that when we receive a caress or soft touch a pulse of oxytocin is sent straight into the bloodstream. Interestingly, as far back as 2005 Swiss researchers found that when people experienced a rise in oxytocin levels when playing an investment game they were more willing to hand over their money to strangers.
Trust is a fundamental element of society operating at its best, so it might not be too fanciful to say that natural selection has generated a hormonal basis for it. However, we also know that being too trusting is to make yourself vulnerable. So has nature provided us with a safety belt to prevent us from indulging our trusting self under inappropriate circumstances?
Well it certainly seems that it has, and that antidote is testosterone. The Dutch researchers gave young women a dose of the hormone in the form of a drop of liquid placed under the tongue and they were then shown photographs of a series of men’s faces and asked to judge them on how trustworthy they seemed. The women who had been given the testosterone were significantly less inclined to trust a face than the control group who had been given a placebo.
So if you are tempted, before buying life insurance or a used car, to turn to testosterone to help you out there is a drawback. The effect of being made more aware or alert to a person’s trustworthiness was not the same for all the women and certainly if you are of a suspicious nature anyway it will not have the least effect. But if you are the despair of your friends for eagerly buying a pig in a poke or lifetime rights to Tower Bridge, then you are in the group who is most affected and whose attitudes are changed significantly by using testosterone.
Perhaps this is another example of Mother Nature protecting the more vulnerable? This research certainly broadens that narrow role that is usually assigned to testosterone; that of promoting aggression and competition. The Dutch researchers see the job of the hormone as being far more of a motivator for rational decision-making, social scrutiny and cleverness – not often a combination we necessarily associate with testosterone!
So would it help you?
It has to be said that as there is no currently available form of testosterone for women available in the UK nor is it approved for use in women in the USA. The only exception in the USA is it can be given only for women with high oestrogen levels, and of course this in itself has other consequences.
This is because the currently available forms are for men and too high a dosage for women, which is why it should only ever be taken under the direct supervision of a doctor who is able to monitor your dosage and response.
The side effects associated with taking testosterone for women include:
- Hoarseness or a deeper voice.
- Decreased breast size.
- An increase in the size of your clitoris
- Hair growth on the face and body
- Hair loss on scalp
- Acne or oily skin
If you feel you would benefit then speak to your doctor first, but the main reason most women look to testosterone is to improve their sex drive so supplementing with bioidentical progesterone is a safer option.