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The Hormone You’re Missing Out On: Testosterone For Women

The stereotypes surrounding testosterone levels in women are many and varied: too much will give me a beard, high levels will make me angry all the time, I don’t want to get bulky like a man! Let’s put all of those myths to rest by investigating this hormone & what it can do for women searching for ways to look, feel, and move better.

What is testosterone?

Testosterone is a sex hormone produced by men in the testes and by women in the ovaries. Men produce testosterone at about 20x the rate of women; production is controlled by the pituitary gland. Testosterone plays an important role in sex drive, brain function, bone and muscle mass, fat distribution, the vascular system, and energy levels. Low testosterone in women usually strikes around menopause, but can also creep up on young women who are on hormonal birth control for long periods of time. Women with low testosterone usually fall into the category of being estrogen dominant. Let’s lay down some symptoms of low testosterone in women:

  • Low energy
  • Low sex drive
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Osteoporosis
  • Depression

Bringing testosterone levels back up to normal levels can have profound effects on a woman’s energy levels, confidence, her ability to gain muscle mass and lose fat, and increasing her libido. With optimal testosterone levels, you can build more muscle, have more energy and focus, improve your sex drive, and sleep more soundly.

 You can bring your testosterone levels up without any kind of medical intervention like hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It takes steady, sustained attention to alter testosterone levels in women, however, so stick with it!

Here are FIVE ways to raise your testosterone levels.

  1.  Change the way you work out. Studies have found time and again that certain types of training elicit certain hormonal responses. In this case, we want our workout to stimulate testosterone production. The key is high-intensity interval training coupled with resistance training. High-intensity intervals generate a more favorable response than steady-state endurance exercise. [1] Similarly, training with multi-joint, compound exercises like squats and deadlifts (which stimulate a huge number of muscle fibers at once) elevates testosterone.[2] Focus on moving some heavy weights several times a week and step away from the long, low-intensity runs if you want to bring your testosterone levels up.
  2. Sleep well. Losing sleep can drastically throw off your testosterone levels.[3] As sleep research progresses, we are learning that sleep is incredibly important for normal hormone functioning. Testosterone levels tend to dip when we are sleep-deprived so make your sleep a priority. Set a time to go to sleep & stick to it. Make your bedroom as dark as possible, wear ear plugs if you must, but let nothing disturb your sleep or cut into your 8-10 hours a night.
  3. Eat garlic, fat, and protein. Garlic has been shown to increase serum testosterone levels. [4] Eating a diet higher in protein has also been shown to elevate testosterone[5]. Cook up some garlic (you can buy little jars of chopped garlic) in coconut oil and then fry up some eggs– it’s pretty fantastic. Getting some quality saturated fat into your daily diet has also been shown to raise testosterone levels.[6]
  4. Kick out the estrogen. When you are exposed to certain chemicals in your daily diet or environment, they have the ability to act as estrogen in your body, creating an environment of estrogen dominance that practically drowns testosterone. These are known as xeno-estrogens or phytoestrogens. Xeno-estrogens are chemicals found in pesticides and herbicides, plastics, cleaners, makeups, lotions, shampoos, and countless other places. Phytoestrogens are found in foods, such as these common culprits: soy, dairy, flax, potatoes, and wheat. Wheat is the biggest offender here because it is EVERYWHERE in our daily diet. Check out this book, “Wheat Belly” for more information on cutting grains out of your diet.
  5. Reduce stress. This last tip is linked to my previous 2-part article on cortisol, a steroid hormone that rises as stress levels go up. Cortisol has the ability to block testosterone.[7] Read up on my article “Are my cortisol levels too high?” to learn how to better control your cortisol levels.

Those are FIVE ways to bring up your testosterone, a hormone that builds muscle, burns stomach fat, & gives you strength and confidence. Leave a comment below if you have more ideas on how to raise testosterone levels or to share your experience with estrogen dominance.

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[1] Testosterone responses to intensive interval versus steady-state endurance exercise. J Endocrinol Invest. 2012 Dec;35(11):947-50.

[2] Loebel, C.C., and W.J. Kraemer. A brief review: Testosterone and resistance training in men. J.Strength and Cond.Res. 12(1):57-63. 1998

[3] Sleep deprivation lowers reactive aggression and testosterone in men. Biol Psychol. 2012 Oct 6;92(2):249-256

[4] Garlic Supplementation Increases Testicular Testosterone and Decreases Plasma Corticosterone in Rats Fed a High Protein Diet. J. Nutr. August 1, 2001 vol. 131 no. 8 2150-2156.

[5] Diet and Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. January 1, 2000 vol. 85 no. 1 293-296

[6] Dorgan JJF, Judd JJT, Longcope CC, Brown CC, Schatzkin AA, Clevidence BBA, Campbell WWS, Nair PPP, Franz CC, Kahle LL, Taylor PPR. Effects of dietary fat and fiber on plasma and urine androgens and estrogens in men: a controlled feeding study. The American journal of clinical nutrition 1996;64:850-5.

[7] Horm Behav. 2010 Nov;58(5):898-906. Epub 2010 Sep 15.


3 responses »

  1. Are there other foods that increase testosterone levels? How can vegetarians ensure they are intaking enough protein to prevent low testosterone levels?

    • Hi Allie! Thanks for reading.

      Since foods high in saturated fat appear to increase testosterone, select foods that have higher saturated fat content. Those are coconut oil, grass-fed red meats, eggs, organic grass-fed dairy, etc. It is the high-carb, high-sugar foods that will tank your testosterone levels.

      For vegetarians, they can focus on consuming grass-fed dairy, fish, and eggs. They need to be careful not to consume the types of ‘fake meats’ that contain high amounts of soy protein as well as high amounts of salt and coloring. Check the labels on these fake meats/burgers and be sure that soy protein is not the main protein ingredient. If you’re vegan, you’re sort of out of luck when it comes to upping your testosterone through diet.

  2. Great article! I was not aware of the drop in testosterone during menopause, and since I am in that position I am going to see if my dr. can check my levels during my next annual physical. Good to know!


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