Hormones do a delicate dance and having too much or too little can cause symptoms. In last month’s blog post, we discussed estrogen and what happens when you have a little too much of it. But perhaps estrogen is not your troublemaker. Perhaps you’re a lady with too much testosterone. First of all, it’s important to note that all ladies produce testosterone, which stems from a group of hormones called androgens. Androgens also include androstenedione, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and DHEA-sulfate (DHEA-s). I dare you to say those out loud three times fast.
Androgens are produced by the ovaries, adrenal glands, and fat cells and are mostly converted into estrogen in a woman’s body.
Androgens like testosterone are responsible for typical male characteristics, like facial hair and aggression. But, as we saw with estrogen, it actually does a whole lot more – it helps with libido, assertiveness, and confidence. It also plays a role in bone density, stress management, cognition, energy levels, and muscle mass.
What Causes Excessive Androgens in Women?
Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) tend to have androgens to spare, and then some. Other factors that may lead to androgen excess include using certain types of birth control (those with androgenic progestins), extra sensitive androgen receptors, congenital adrenal hyperplasia (a genetic condition that affects the adrenal glands), elevated prolactin, stress, and inflammation. So determining that you have androgen excess is only part of the hormone puzzle.
Physical Symptoms of Androgen Excess
- Acne, oily skin
- Insulin resistance
- Hair loss on the head
- Excessive hair growth on the face, chest, back (known as hirsutism)
- Irregular periods
How to Naturally Reduce Androgen Levels
Address the Stress
If you are an avid reader of my blog (and if you are, thank you!), then you’ll probably see that I am always looping back to stress. Stress triggers the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands as well as DHEA, DHEA-S, and androstenedione.
For someone with high androgen levels, I would first look at managing stress. Having a routine stress-reliever is so vital for managing hormones. I try to meditate, walk, and/or drink herbal tea every single day. Spot treating doesn’t usually work when it comes to managing stress, so try to incorporate this into your daily routine, like brushing your teeth. This will help reduce cortisol levels long-term.
These are my favorite stress busters:
Kick Sugar to the Curb
You may know that eating sugar and refined carbohydrates (white breads, white pastas, pastries, white rice) causes blood sugar spikes (cue the “hangry”). In response to this, insulin comes in to clean up the mess, ushering the sugar from the blood into the cells. Insulin stimulates androgens, which can trigger symptoms like acne by increasing sebum production (2,3).
Diets low in sugar can help reduce androgen levels. So next time you’re reaching for that donut in the break room, try to remember that sugar is not a friend to any of your hormones.
Get More Quality Sleep
Sleep is one of my favorite activities! I prioritize most things around sleep because it is such a vital part of overall health. Having a healthy sleep schedule helps to buffer stress, keeps us feeling refreshed and energized, regulates our circadian rhythm, reduces inflammation, and even helps with weight.
Yes, there’s a tea for that! I highlight spearmint tea in a previous blogpost for lowering androgens and helping with hirsutism. Just another excuse for me to brew a hot mug of herbs!
My Beef with Birth Control and Androgen Blockers
The reason I promote natural healing is because it causes little-to-no side effects down the line. Sure, birth control can be quite effective for managing painful periods, clearing skin, and “hiding” other symptoms of PCOS and menstruation woes, but it is not without its possible side effects (many of which I have personally experienced). Birth control tricks the body into thinking it’s having a period and sweeps the rest of your symptoms under the rug.
Similarly, androgen blockers interfere with the body’s natural hormonal process, good or bad. If we aren’t aware of the news our body is trying to share with us, we could be missing out on key messages for optimal health or the opportunity for correcting imbalances. Popular anti-androgens like spironolactone block the action of androgens and interfere with adrenal functioning. Side effects can include headaches, depression, electrolyte imbalance, fatigue, irregular menstruation, risk for tumors, and impairment of fetal development (4,5,6)
Women can also experience low testosterone, which comes with a different set of maladies. Stay tuned for how to address symptoms of low testosterone!
For More Support
Trust me, I understand that hormones are complicated. Knowing where to start is a puzzle that takes time, patience, and determination! That’s why it’s helpful to gather a team of supporters and healthcare practitioners around you to help put the pieces together. If you’d like to learn more about how your symptoms could be managed naturally and you’re ready to put in the work to start seeing results and feeling better, let me support and guide you.
Do you have symptoms of androgen excess? I’d love to hear what has worked for you!