What are these things called hormones?
You can think of hormones as interdepartmental email, i.e., a system that delivers messages among the internal parts of your body.
The word hormone is derived from the Greek work impetus, which means the force that makes something happen–hormones make things happen, like puberty, a viable pregnancy, menopause, and more.
A hormone is secreted by one tissue and travels via bodily fluids to affect another tissue. Hormones affect growth and behavior and exist in men and women.
According to Zmescience, hormones are all molecules that serve as chemical messengers inside our organisms.
In animals, hormones are produced in the endocrine glands, which secrete into the blood. They control hydration, hunger, reproduction, sleep, mood, and not surprisingly, your emotions. You can find hormones in plants too.
What do hormones do?
Hormones coordinate processes, including growth, metabolism, puberty, and other development phases.
Hormones dictate when a cell needs to die, and so can clue in both the immune system and the metabolic system to get going. Without hormones, you would never know when to go to sleep or wake up.
Perhaps most importantly, hormones initiate your fight or flight reflex and enable you to run for your life or punch a shark in the nose.
Anyone who’s been through puberty knows that hormones regulate emotions, for example, they can cause mood swings, sexual arousal, and even have an impact on your organs.
For example, a hormonal condition in American women, called PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), can cause an array of symptoms, like irregular periods, temporary infertility, abnormal hair growth, weight gain, acne, and cysts on the ovaries.
You may have seen people with gigantism, which is caused by far too much growth hormone.
Do women produce testosterone?
You might be surprised to learn ovaries produce estrogen and testosterone. In addition, the adrenal glands release small quantities of testosterone.
The ovaries and the body’s fat tissue produce estrogen. Sex hormones influence more than growth, maintenance, and repair of reproductive tissues; they also influence other body tissues and bone mass.
Women have one-tenth the amount of testosterone occurring in men, and this level increases as women age.
According to experts at the Monterey Preventive Medical Clinic, by age 40, women’s testosterone levels can increase to as high as 50% of the levels occurring in 20-year-old men.
Hormone levels and the amounts secreted change with the sunrise. Estrogen and testosterone are secreted in pulses, and they change minute to minute, hour to hour.
Hormone levels change rapidly, from day to day and from one menstrual stage to the next.
And, although high testosterone levels can have some beneficial side effects, like increased muscle mass and increased libido, they may be overshadowed by the negative side effects.
What are the symptoms of high testosterone in women?
If you’re a woman whose body produces too much testosterone, you may experience the following:
- Irregular periods or no period
- Increased facial and body hair
- Frontal baldness
- Enlarged clitoris
- Increased sex drive
- Deepening voice
- Increased muscle mass
What is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)?
High levels of testosterone can also lead to infertility and are commonly seen in PCOS.
The syndrome is caused by an upset endocrine system and is usually seen in women of childbearing age who are having a hard time becoming pregnant.
Women who have PCOS incur similar symptoms to women who have elevated testosterone.
Research shows PCOS causes low-grade inflammation that stimulates polycystic ovaries to overproduce androgens.
According to Anne Cappola, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, premenopausal women with PCOS have increased health risks like cardiovascular disease and metabolic disturbances.
According to the Mayo Clinic, excess insulin is one of the symptoms of PCOS. If your cells become resistant to insulin, your blood sugar levels can rise and your body might produce more insulin. Excess insulin can increase androgens, which interferes with ovulation.
Some annoying symptoms of elevated testosterone occur in women with PCOS, like persistent acne.
This is generally seen on the lower third of the face, dotting the cheeks, chin, and jawbone.
If the acne erupts in large bumps below the surface of the skin instead of emerging as small bumps on the surface, you may have elevated testosterone.
Many women with PCOS say the acne is one of the worst side effects of the hormonal imbalance. Always talk to your health care provider and ask questions.
It may feel like you’re the only person who’s ever experienced high testosterone, but it’s actually fairly common.
How do I find out if I have high testosterone?
Everyone produces testosterone, no matter their sex or size. However, the amount varies between cisgender women and cisgender men (cisgender means your sex corresponds with your gender).
If your levels increase and you start to see the aforementioned symptoms, visit your doctor and see if there might be another health issue.
According to Bustle, increased acne, i.e., persistent, visible, stubborn acne is one of the most salient signs your body is producing too much testosterone.
When a woman enters menopause, her testosterone levels decrease and they can cause a decrease in sex drive.
Fortunately, findings from Healthline.com suggest testosterone replacement therapy may help the decreased libido in certain premenopausal and postmenopausal women.
Please note: if you have breast or uterine cancer, you want to avoid testosterone replacement therapy.
It could increase the chances of other severe health issues, including cardiovascular or liver disease.
If you notice perceptible hairs on your face, chin, or chest, in other words, where you expect to see them on men, and the growth is obvious enough you feel you need to shave or bleach, you may want to visit your doctor and ask to get tested for high testosterone.
This condition, known as hirsutism, can be extremely annoying and embarrassing, but can easily be treated through a variety of natural remedies.
According to research from the bustle, cis women with high levels of testosterone may experience radical mood or personality changes.
Aggression, severe irritability, lack of impulse control, or other odd behaviors could be side effects of elevated testosterone.
These behaviors resemble the sometimes-erratic behavior demonstrated by cis teenage boys when they are in the throes of puberty.
Why Is This Happening to Me?
The most common causes of high testosterone levels in women include hirsutism, PCOS, and congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
In women of childbearing age, PCOS can occur from an excess of androgen hormones.
If you have PCOS, you may have irregular or prolonged periods, increased body hair, and enlarged ovaries that function improperly. Other common complications may include the following:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Endometrial cancer
What is CAH?
According to Medical News Today, A condition caused by a combination of genetic disorders, congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), negatively affects the adrenal glands, which rest on top of each kidney.
The adrenal glands produce cortisol and aldosterone, but CAH prevents the adrenal glands from producing cortisol or aldosterone.
You may know cortisol as the stress hormone, but it also controls blood sugar.
Aldosterone promotes healthy kidney function and balances your electrolytes. In many cases of CAH, women can experience the following symptoms:
- Masculine characteristics
- Early pubic hair
- Severe acne
There are two types of CAH, classical and nonclassical, or late onset. Most cases, up to 95% according to the National Adrenal Diseases Foundation, are classical CAH.
This specified disorder mainly occurs in infants and children. When the adrenal glands produce cortisol and aldosterone, it is with the aid of an enzyme: 21-hydroxylase.
However, if you have classical CAH, you lack 21-hydroxylase, so the adrenal glands will not work properly. As a result, your body makes too much testosterone.
Children who have classical CAH enter puberty earlier and move through faster than their peers move from the same age group. By adulthood, these people end up being shorter in stature than their peers are.
As you might assume, women who have classical CAH have irregular periods and may experience infertility.
The following characteristics are often denoted in those with classical CAH:
- Being tall for your age
- Having a deep voice
- Early growth of armpit or pubic hair x
The other type of CAH, nonclassical or late-onset, is milder than classical and occurs in older children and young adults.
The reason for the disorder is the same, a deficiency of an enzyme. The difference is when you have nonclassical CAH, your adrenal glands make a sufficient amount of aldosterone, but not enough cortisol.
In addition, testosterone levels are lower than usual. If you have classical CAH, it can wreak have on your adrenal glands.
Fortunately, the condition is rare and treatable. As with any medical condition, be sure to seek medical help.
What if I’ve been through menopause?
According to a study forthcoming in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, postmenopausal women can have elevated testosterone and it can cause an increased risk of heart disease, insulin resistance, and metabolic issues.
Researchers measured testosterone levels in over 340 women between 65-98 years old.
The women with the highest testosterone levels were three times as likely to have metabolic risk factors and coronary heart disease.
Insulin resistance is a possible explanation of why higher levels of testosterone can cause the aforementioned health risks.
Separate from elevated testosterone, insulin resistance can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and metabolic disturbances.
Fortunately, the relevance of testosterone in women over 65 was uncertain until this study.
“For many years,” Dr. Anne Capola said, “androgens like testosterone were thought to play a significant role in men only and to be largely irrelevant in women.”
Yet, even though researchers know studying the effects of high testosterone in women is important, they have been unable to definitively claim it is a direct cause of cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Capola posits that further studies are needed to determine the role if any of high testosterone, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease in women.
What are my treatment options?
If you’ve been diagnosed with elevated testosterone, don’t despair–there are treatment options.
Perhaps one of the easiest and most convenient treatments is taking birth control pills. Schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Together, you and the doctor can discuss your symptoms and he or she can prescribe contraception for you.
It may take a couple of tries to level your hormones and get you back to feeling normal.
If you want to lower your testosterone without chemicals, livestrong.com recommends the following foods to reduce testosterone naturally:
a. Nutritional supplements can lower your testosterone.
For example, diindolylmethane, a supplement made from cauliflower and broccoli can reduce androgens, including testosterone.
b. Sipping herbal teas or taking them in capsule form can help you lower testosterone levels.
Spearmint tea is effective, and for many people, a delicious way to reduce testosterone. Other helpful herbs include black cohosh, palmetto, and chaste tree.
c. Another helpful treatment includes acupuncture.
The evidence has yet to be solidified; however, many women do experience positive results from this treatment.
Some studies at the University of Maryland Medical Center suggest some women have experienced reduced hirsutism after being treated with acupuncture.
Watch this testimonial from a woman with congenital high testosterone. She offers advice on supplements.
What have we learned here?
Hormones are essential to keeping the human body functionally well. Therefore, it makes sense that too much or too little of a particular hormone can wreak havoc on body systems.
If all is working properly and your system is in balance, you will feel like your regular self.
When life throws you a curveball, or perhaps a speedball, your hormones help you stay on an even keel–you can handle stress, anger, sadness, and fear.
Hormones enable you to feel love, passion, desire, and hunger. Hormones make life worth living.