The Hormone Shop
Women & Testosterone
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Testosterone and Female Body Composition
A women in her late twenties, came to see me complaining about her difficulty in losing weight. After taking a medical history , it was very difficult to tell what the basis of her problem was. She was working out daily, with a balance of aerobic exercise and weight training under the guidance of a qualified personal trainer. Her diet was a basic low carbohydrate/ high protein diet. Even more perplexing, she had been taking a caffeine/ephedrine thermogenic stack and had
previously experimented with some diet drugs as well. Something was obviously wrong. I did blood tests to check all of her hormone levels. When the results came back, all of her hormones were in the normal range except for, you guessed it, testosterone! She had very low free testosterone level. It was equal to that seen in a postmenopausal women. This was an obvious source of her fat loss problem.
While the role of testosterone in maintaining muscle mass and losing body fat may be obvious to bodybuilders and athletes, it is a basic hormonal fact that is often absent in the medical community. It is known that many women begin to gain fat rapidly about ten to fifteen years
before the menopause and also after.The connection between low to absent testosterone production and the deterioration of a healthy body composition is rarely made. Most women are often only given estrogens and progestins as hormone replacement therapy, but not testosterone. I have found in my medical practice that giving women estrogen and progesterone and not testosterone makes it almost impossible for them to lose weight/fat. With the scourge of increasing obesity in the USA , one would expect the medical community to pay closer attention to these issues. Yet the connection between sex hormones, and body composition is highly controversial.
Why is there such a controversy? Why is a hormone commonly used by farmers to fatten up livestock given to postmenopausal women at risk for obesity? Many doctors point to a recent study showing that when postmenopausal women given estrogen actually gained less weight than
those not given estrogen (Espeland, et al, 1997). In this study 875 women were either put on .625 mg of oral estrogen a day or a placebo for three years. So does this mean that estrogen is actually a good fat-loss agent? Hardly! In this study, in spite of the publicity it was given, the authors note that when you control for lifestyle factors such as physical activity the effects of estrogen replacement therapy were insignificant.
From my clinical experience I have found that on the average when a young woman goes on birth control pills a 3-5 pound gain in fat mass can be expected, and at menopause with oral estrogens 4-8 pounds of fat mass gain can be anticipated - especially when oral estrogens are used. A recent controlled study showed that oral estrogens caused a gain in fat mass and loss in muscle, with a decrease in IGF-1 levels (O'Sullivan et al, 1998). This study is more consistent with my clinical observations.
So why isn't testosterone more commonly given for weight loss in women? The medical community actually commonly believes testosterone causes obesity. This is due to a number of studies linking upper body obesity /abdominal obesity in women to elevated testosterone levels. Once again, this is a case of blaming one hormone as a "villain". In these women, they do in fact have higher than normal testosterone levels but their whole hormonal system is out of balance. Not only do they have high testosterone levels, but they also have poor insulin sensitivity as well
as high insulin levels. Often these women have a metabolic problem of insulin resistance-which is associated with obesity. There is no serous evidence that testosterone replacement therapy for women will result in greater body fat - in fact the opposite is true.
With the social stigma against testosterone and anabolic steroids in general, and it is difficult enough to get a study approved on testosterone in men. Imagine how difficult it is to get a human use committee to approve a study on testosterone in women! However, there is one study that helped to illuminate the potential for androgens to help women lose fat. Lovejoy et al, in 1996 compared the effects of nandrolone decanoate and the anti-androgen drug spironolactone on body composition in obese, postmenopausal women. The dose given the nandrolone group was low - 30 mg every other week. All women in the study were put on a calorie restricted diet (500 calories below lean mass maintenance), and were told not to change their exercise habits.
After nine months, the women receiving nandrolone lost an average of 3.6 percent of their bodyfat while the placebo group lost only 1.8 percent and the spirolactone (an anti-androgen) only .5 percent. Nandrolone doubled the rate of fat loss over the placebo and the anti-androgen
group barely lost any fat at all - the role of androgens in fat loss is clearly demonstrated. Even more impressive, the nandrolone group actually gained an average of roughly four pounds of lean mass in spite of the calorie restriction while the placebo and anti-androgen groups lost over two pounds of lean mass. Nandrolone also did not produce insulin resistance as androgens have been previously believed to do.
Lovejoy's group were impressed by the ability of nandrolone to produce increased muscle mass in spite of overall weight loss. Keep in mind that dose was fairly small and only given every other week, and that these women were put only somewhat extreme calorie restricted diets without being put on a weight training program. Imagine the improvement in body
composition had these women been put on a balanced exercise program and were given a high protein diet in addition to their nandrolone!
Despite the positive result, the authors cautioned against using nandrolone decanoate as a weight loss therapy. There was a mild abnormality of blood lipids and a slight increase in abdominal fat in the nandrolone group. While these side effects were minor, I believe that if testosterone was used in this study instead of nandrolone, these effects would be smaller or non-existent. I also think that daily use of a testosterone gel would be more effective than a bi-monthly shot, since the gel would keep testosterone at a more physiological and consistent level whereas injections lead to huge up and down fluctuations.
It is clear to me, both from my clinical practice and from research, that testosterone is vital for women to preserve their lean mass and to prevent obesity. Not only will testosterone help mobilize body fat and negate some of the fat storing effects of estrogen, it is also extremely
effective in building lean mass in women - even at small doses. Hormone replacement therapy that only includes estrogen and progesterone but leaves out testosterone is a curse of many a women's fat loss program. This is not only a concern for postmenopausal women. Young women should think twice about using birth control pills. Birth control pills elevate estrogen and progesterone levels while drastically lowering testosterone levels. This is reason why many women experience large gains in fat as well as a decreased libido when using birth control pills.
Energy, Mood, and Libido
Far from being the cause of irritability and "roid rage" as widely believed, I have found that restoring testosterone levels to normal can tremendously improve energy levels and mood in women. Estrogen is sometimes believed to be energizing, but most women do not feel much of
an "energizing effect" from estrogen. Natural progesterone can have a calming, relaxing effect on women, but the nasty synthetic and potent progestins like Provera (medroxyprogesterone acetate) or the more potent, nornorethindrone can actually cause irritability, aggressiveness, and even acne.
Libido is one area of use for testosterone in women that is starting to gain larger acceptability. One pharmaceutical company (Unimed) is close to getting a testosterone gel for women approved for use as a libido enhancing drug. While the thought of horny postmenopausal women may cause you to snicker, I believe that libido is a serious medical issue. The infamous study on sexual dysfunction funded by the Ford Foundation and the U.S. National Institute of Health showed that low interest in sex was the number one cause of sexual dysfunction in women (Laumann, et al, 1999, JAMA , Feb., 10, 199, Vol 281. No 6:pp537-544). Restoring a healthy libido in women can help bring back the spice in marriages, relationships, relieve stress and depression, and even improve body composition through increased sexual interest and activity. Testosterone is the primordial hormone for promoting both a sexy body and a better
Testosterone and Skin
Do you have dry and thin skin? This may be a sign of lack of oil production from your sebaceous glands. A lack of oil production can be related to a decline in testosterone . Also thinning, atrophy , or inflammation of the the introitus (the vaginal opening) can be from a hormone imbalance. Even painful intercourse can be due to the lack of estrogen and testosterone. I have treated young and older women with testosterone creams to thicken the vaginal entry so that they may be able to enjoy sex without pain. Using small and balanced doses of T gels and creams I have improved the quality of aging skin without the side effects of acne, hair loss or masculinizing effects.
The role of testosterone on skin condition is often ignored, even though this should be of obvious concern to anybody using testosterone to improve overall physical appearance. Normally it is believed that testosterone can only worsen skin by causing breakouts of acne. However,
low testosterone levels can only lead to worsening of skin conditions as well. Restoring testosterone to normal levels can make skin look much thicker and smoother than it was before.
Protocols for Female Hormone Replacement
Use in Woman
If a woman would like some help in the area of building lean mass, what products are considered safe and at what dosages? Most products don't specify if they are safe for women or not and the dosage is based on a 180 - 200# man, not a 120# woman.
Before explaining this it is important that your readers understand the difference between anabolic and androgenic. In simple terms, anything that is anabolic provides for tissue growth and recovery from injury while anything that is androgenic pertains to the more masculine related features such as hair growth, deepening of the voice, thicker skin, libido etc.
The Nor products (nor-diol and nor-dione) would be considered the safest for women as they are less androgenic than Andro products. The reason being is that the Nor products convert into nortestosterone which is strongly anabolic but weakly androgenic. Andro products convert into the "male" hormone testosterone which is both anabolic and androgenic. It is because of this conversion to testosterone that all Andro products should state they are not intended for women because they can potentially cause unwanted masculizing effects.
But if a woman wanted to use these products to build lean mass, I recommend that women start with about 1/4 of the male dose. But at the same time, there is so little research on these products with women that I would not personally recommend using any of these products for women without monitoring hormonal levels. This is best done under the care of a doctor with knowledge of hormonal therapy but the availability of salivary hormonal testing now allows for self monitoring of hormones including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and melatonin. Kits can be obtained from our on-line testing lab.
How do these products work in the female body?
Basically the same way they do in men. But because women normally have only about 1/10th the amount of testosterone in their systems the positive and negative effects can be much more pronounced.
How would a woman know if she were building up too much testosterone in her system? What side-effects would manifest themselves?
Facial hair growth would be one of the first signs. Some women have reported just this effect from using some of the Andro products without proper supervision and instructions. Other signs would be increased acne, deepening of the voice and abnormal menstruation.
As I mentioned earlier an excellent way to monitor use of this products is through the use of salivary testing which allows you to take a sample at home to mail in to the lab.
Do you think that supplementing with these products or using anabolic steroids is the only way women can get "big"? Do you think that all female bodybuilders are supplementing with something of this nature in order to compete?
As a rule, women do not produce enough natural testosterone to get very muscular without the use of anabolic agents. However, "big" is a relative term. I really don't know if all female bodybuilders use steroids or not but I do know some natural female bodybuilders who are both muscular and attractive.
The most important factor to consider for woman in becoming lean is to provide the body
with adequate protein and limit the amount of starchy carbohydrates and simple sugars. I
recommend woman who are very active consume about .8 grams of high quality protein per
pound of lean body mass in 4 to 5 meals daily.
What is the worst that could happen to a woman if she abuses products? Are any
side-effects reversible or are they there for the duration of her life?
Since the female fitness/bodybuilding market is growing, why do you think that the supplement companies don't include women in the marketing of their testosterone-boosting products?
Because they probably know most women are not looking to boost testosterone or possibly suffer the side effects of too much testosterone such as facial hair growth.
Due to the growing awareness and increased knowledge of the importance of testosterone for libido and sexual function, more and more woman are considering testosterone replacement therapy. I frequently recommend AndrosteDERM for woman who test low in testosterone and are suffering from loss of libido. And it has worked quite well for them! There has also been well documented research showing the positive benefits that testosterone and nortestosterone on bone density and preventing osteoporosis.
Any thoughts on Human Growth Hormone? Any new products on the horizon that may be beneficial to women?
In my experience injections of HGH have helped a number of people who have tested low. But the therapy is very costly and requires daily injections.
Any new products on the horizon that may be beneficial to women?
After use in clinical medical practice two new products, AndrosteDERM and NorAndrosteDERM have recently been introduced to the market. These products significantly improve the effectiveness of prohormone therapy.
Developed by a physician experienced in hormonal therapy, these products provide for topical administration of the Nor and Andro prohormones. This provides for two significant advantages over oral administration. With only a once in the morning application topical use of prohormones provides for steady state levels of the prohormones. Topical application is also the most effective means of providing the body with these hormones as they avoid the first pass of the liver which will break down up to 95% of hormones ingested orally.
So for a woman who is lifting weights and interested in increased strength, lean muscle and losing body fat, in small doses and with cyclical use, NorAndrosteDERM should prove to be very effective tool for many woman since it is anabolic but not androgenic.
For woman with loss of or low libido or sexual dysfunction, in low doses AndrosteDERM which supports testosterone production can be very helpful.
Are clinical studies and research being conducted on andro and similar substances and how they affect muscle growth, strength, etc?
There has been a handful of studies recently that looked at the Andro products to see if they at least raised testosterone or nandrolone (what the nor products convert to) in young men. The next studies will probably look to see if that raise in testosterone or nandrolone in fact increases muscle mass, strength, or body fat levels. Medlean has been doing blood work and saliva tests on people using AndrosteDERM for months to see what effect it has on women's and men's hormones.
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