Testosterone is often referred to as a male hormone, yet it is found in women as well. Just as men's bodies produce small amounts of estrogen, women's bodies manufacture testosterone through the ovaries and adrenal glands. It is one of the hormones that contributes to healthy sexual function in women; it can boost both libido and energy, maintain muscle mass, strengthen bones and ensure nipples and clitorises remain sensitive to sexual pleasure.
As we age, our bodies produce less testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. By age 40, we produce about half the testosterone we did in our twenties. With the onset of menopause or for those who have had their ovaries removed, these levels drop even further. Many doctors believe diminished energy and decreased sexual desire some women experience during and after menopause are directly related to declining levels of testosterone.
There's little consensus among doctors about the benefits and risks of testosterone therapy for menopausal women. In general, testosterone therapy is prescribed for women who have sufficient estrogen levels. It isn't typically recommended for women who are postmenopausal and can't, or choose not to take estrogen. Testosterone therapy isn't appropriate for postmenopausal women who have a history of breast or uterine cancer or those who have cardiovascular or liver disease.
Doctors traditionally respond to menopausal complaints by prescribing estrogen and progesterone because they address some of the discomforts of menopause and provide the added advantage of protecting against heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and osteoporosis. Although estrogen can quiet hot flashes and ease vaginal dryness, it does not do much to enhance libido or energy. Testosterone may be the answer. Testosterone therapy may be considered for postmenopausal women taking estrogen who have a decreased sex drive with no other identifiable causes.
There are several studies underway about testosterone for women. Unfortunately some of them are conflicting. One suggests that small amounts of testosterone added to estrogen replacement therapy can restore sexual desire, improve energy and promote a sense of well-being. It also says testosterone has been know to help prevent bone loss, improve body composition and supports cognitive function. Yet another study found that high levels of testosterone can also triple heart risks for older women.
The best advice is to do your own research, talk to your doctor and make a decision that is right for you.
Stacy Lloyd is a writer and video producer in Phoenix, Arizona. A former television news journalist, she covered stories around the world. Currently, she produces corporate and non-profit videos and broadcast programming.