Group of older women with healthy testosterone levels swimming

Testosterone in Women: All You Need to Know

Do women produce testosterone? Yes, we do! Testosterone is a sex hormone well-known for its role in male traits and reproduction. But that doesn't mean that only men have testosterone—women's bodies need this androgen, too. Why? Healthy testosterone levels—in both men and women—are an essential part of the hormone assortment that supports mood, sex drive, energy levels, and other biological processes.

One key distinction: normal levels for us are about one-tenth of the amount men's bodies produce. So why is testosterone in women important? Here's everything you need to know.

What does testosterone do for women?

Women need small amounts of testosterone to support optimal performance of the different biological processes that the body goes through—from childhood to adulthood.

Here are three ways testosterone supports women's health.

  1. Healthy bones

    —Testosterone, along with estrogen, is necessary for bone formation, and it helps maintain bone health as women transition into menopause.
  2. Cognitive health

    —Studies have shown that androgens like testosterone and DHEA play an important role in cognitive health and performance.
  3. Sexual desire

    —Several studies have linked low levels of testosterone with a decline in sex drive, suggesting that healthy testosterone levels encourage a healthy libido. (More on this later.)

Testosterone vs. estrogen in women

Man and a women with healthy testosterone and estrogen levels for sexual health

Our bodies (be it male or female) need testosterone and estrogen in different ratios and for different purposes, but we need both (and other hormones) to stay healthy from head to toe. For us women, estrogen is the main sex hormone. It's responsible for the expression of female sexual traits, such as development of breasts and the start of the menstrual cycle.

What role does testosterone play in women's health? Women produce testosterone and other androgens in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and other tissues (even fat cells!). Your body will use these androgens in small amounts to maintain a healthy hormone balance. It's like "Goldilocks" and her pickiness about that porridge—the hormone ratio in your body must be just right—too much or too little testosterone or other androgens can cause changes in your body and impact your overall health.

Testosterone for women: Debunking myths

Two women talking about testosterone

Since so much is misunderstood about hormones, let's discuss some common misconceptions about testosterone and women.

Myth: Testosterone makes a woman more masculine.

Fact: The key is to have healthy levels of testosterone to be at your healthiest. Optimal levels of testosterone will not make you "manly"—in fact, by supporting a healthy libido, testosterone can help you steal a page from Aretha Franklin's songbook and "feel like a natural woman!"

Myth: Women only need to worry about their estrogen levels.

Fact: It's important that all of a woman's hormone levels are in balance—including estrogen and progesterone…and testosterone.

Myth: Testosterone supplements are just for men.

Fact: Indeed, women who want to encourage healthy testosterone levels can benefit from supplements.

What are hormones?

Hormones are a group of chemical messengers your body produces. They come in all shapes and sizes and play different roles in your body depending on where they are released. They relay messages to different (and sometimes distant) organs and tissues.

You're probably familiar with a few of them: estrogen, testosterone, melatonin, cortisol, but there are many more!

The amount and levels of hormones available to your body change daily. It's such a delicate balance that things like stress, smoking, inadequate sleep, and what you eat and drink affect hormone signaling and can impact your overall health. These chemical messengers help your body adjust and maintain homeostasis as it strives for optimal health throughout different stages of your life.

What is the normal level of testosterone in a woman?

Each body is unique, so some women may have higher or lower testosterone levels, but in general, normal total testosterone levels range from 15-75 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) of blood. A 2011 study analyzed data from healthy premenopausal women mentioned a 15-46 ng/dL range.

At Life Extension, we shoot for optimal numbers of 35-60 ng/dL for serum testosterone in women.

Do testosterone levels decrease as women age?

As with many other things in our bodies, total and free testosterone levels decline as we age. But testosterone isn't the only hormone to decline; estrogen and other hormones also decline over time. You can be proactive about your health by speaking with your doctor and building a strategic nutritional plan that meets your specific needs.

How do I know if I have normal testosterone levels?

There are two types of this androgen you can measure: free testosterone and total testosterone. Free testosterone is any testosterone that's not bound to any proteins. Total testosterone measures all testosterone in the body, including testosterone that's including free testosterone and any testosterone bound to protein.

A lab test is the best way to know your total and free testosterone levels, so you can discuss with your doctor what the best approach is to maintain healthy testosterone levels.

The link between testosterone and sex drive and libido

As a sex hormone that supports biological processes, yes, testosterone levels are key to sex drive! Healthy testosterone levels are crucial for a healthy libido. One of the reasons postmenopausal women experience less sexual desire could be linked to their testosterone levels. Testosterone can promote libido in postmenopausal women.

Can women take testosterone?

Yes! Randomized and placebo-controlled clinical trials have shown testosterone to be effective at supporting sexual desire in postmenopausal women. Wondering how many milligrams of testosterone a woman should take? In a small 2015 study, postmenopausal women took 5 mg of transdermal testosterone cream daily for 21 days. The results showed that peak testosterone levels in postmenopausal women reached typical premenopausal blood levels. However, more research is needed as there's currently no approved testosterone preparation for women.

What does taking testosterone do to a woman?

Testosterone may support your libido. But you might also end up with unwanted changes. This is why it's important to take a blood test to ensure you're getting exactly the right balance.

How to support testosterone levels after menopause

Menopausal woman who needs testosterone stretching at home

Once you know your testosterone levels, you and your physician can explore ways to help support your levels if necessary. It's natural for testosterone to decline as we go through the ups and downs of the menopausal transition. And smart lifestyle choices help us build the foundation for a testosterone-healthy tomorrow, especially as we age.

Here are a few ideas to help you keep your testosterone levels where you want them.

  • Eat balanced meals

    —Eat the right amount (portions are important) of nutrient-dense foods; make sure to include proteins and healthy fats. Think salmon, eggs, avocados, nuts. Your body takes the nutrients from these foods to make testosterone and other hormones.

    Pro-tip: Eat the rainbow. Add more nutrients (and color) by incorporating foods like purple cabbage, red bell peppers, broccoli and cauliflower to your meals.

  • Stay active

    —Reap the whole-body health benefits of regular exercise—aim for 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week. Make sure you mix it up and add resistance training to tone and target major group muscles. Engaging in physical activities like brisk walks, swimming, light weightlifting, and resistance training is the best way to get the full benefits of exercise.
  • Get supplements

    —A testosterone supplement can help you add nutrients that support healthy testosterone levels but that you may not be getting from your diet. Adding nutrients like ashwagandha or Tribulus terrestris can help enhance sexual desire and support a healthy libido.
  • Stay "zen"

    —Cortisol, your stress hormone, and testosterone are made from the same precursor molecule (cholesterol), so when you're experiencing a stressful situation, your body will produce more cortisol, which in turn affects testosterone levels. Practicing meditation, prioritizing restful sleep, and staying active are all great ways to help your body manage a healthy stress response.

It's never too early to be proactive about your health and build sustainable habits that will nourish you for years to come—and maintaining healthy testosterone levels is a vital part of supporting the warrior woman you are.

References

By: Jessica Monge, Health & Wellness Writer

Jessica Monge has a bachelor's degree in biological sciences & neuroscience and a master's degree in comparative studies and related languages from Florida Atlantic University. She worked as a tutor, freelance writer and editor before joining Life Extension as a Copywriter.

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD