Testosterone is seldom the focus of the menopause conversation.
At best, it’s thrown in at the end of a sentence, a quiet reminder that yes, we too have testosterone. Yet, testosterone is a really important part of the menopause puzzle.
Firstly, a quick crash course in hormones: Estrogen is arguably the most powerful hormone in the female body. The decline in estrogen is the main cause of almost all your symptoms. But it’s not alone. Progesterone is another female sex hormone produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands. It helps moderate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy and the decline in progesterone is the main reason that you might experience irregular periods during perimenopause. The production of estrogen and progesterone stops after the menopause, which is why HRT combined pills contain both estrogen and progesterone. Testosterone, a “male” hormone, is produced in small amounts in the ovaries and plays an important role in sexual arousal, libido, bone health, heart heath and energy levels. Testosterone peaks in a woman’s 20s and slowly declines thereafter. Interestingly, although during the menopause a woman’s testosterone levels will be half of what they were at their peak, the ovaries still produce it even after estrogen and progesterone production stops.
What Does This Mean For You and Your Symptoms?
The exact effects of the decline of testosterone are not fully known, however, it’s reasonable to say that it can explain some of your symptoms like loss of libido, osteopenia/osteoporosis, and fatigue. Additionally, if you’ve experienced a hysterectomy or an oophorectomy, you may particularly feel the effects.
What Can You Do?
If you’re really suffering from the above symptoms (or if you just want to treat them and HRT isn’t effective enough), then you can take testosterone via a patch or a cream. Jane Fonda and our very own Meg Mathews swear by it (and so do plenty of other women). It’s not just about sex: testosterone has been seen to help with stamina, energy, bone health and more. The problem? It’s not the easiest thing to get a hold of. Unlike HRT (which itself isn’t that readily prescribed by many GPs), there are no licensed testosterone products for women on the NHS, and GPs can be reluctant to prescribe it (especially for anything other than sexual dysfunction).
Nonetheless, it is possible to get it through private specialists. Typically, testosterone comes as a gel which you rub onto your skin for absorption, but there are a few other ways to take it. It shouldn’t be taken as a tablet as this can damage the liver. Additionally, while there’s no “right” level of testosterone, you can get a blood test to see if your testosterone levels are particularly low.
Is It Right For You?
It’s hard to say (sorry). There are a few factors to consider:
- Do you really need it?
- Are you undergoing surgical menopause?
- Do you have the option to get it through a private clinic?
- Have you spoken to your GP about it?
Simply put, testosterone can be incredibly beneficial for menopausal women beyond just increasing libido, but it can be tricky to get a hold of. If these specific symptoms aren’t getting better for you through HRT, alternative remedies, or anything else you’ve tried, it can definitely be worth the investment. There aren’t any major side effects although some women have reported growing a little bit of hair where they apply the gel. But fear not, you don’t need to worry about any massive changes like a deeper voice or growing a beard overnight as the amount of testosterone in gels is quite low. Above all, it’s important to know all of your options so that you can get the treatment that you need. Talk to your GP, talk to your friends, talk about it online and get informed as to whether testosterone is a good solution for you.