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Updated 17 March 2014

12 facts on women and testosterone

Do women have testosterone? Can it increase and decrease? What are the effects and causes of its presence in the female body?

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Do women have testosterone? Can it increase and decrease? What are the effects and causes of its presence in the female body?

Here are some quick facts:

  • Young women generally have about 10% of the testosterone men have, but by the age of 40, they have roughly half. After menopause, some women can have higher testosterone levels than men of the same age.
  • Testosterone is a natural hormone, but it has also been abused in the past for doping female athletes, notably in former East Bloc countries. It is not legal to do this, but can be quite difficult to detect, as natural hormone levels can differ significantly from person to person.
  • The presence of testosterone boosts strength and decreases the levels of body fat. Women with low testosterone levels will not be able to bulk up no matter how hard they train. A higher testosterone level allows a female athlete to train longer and harder.
  • Women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have much higher testosterone levels than other women do. They can develop menstrual irregularities and facial hair and acne. This affects about one in every 10 young women.
  • Testosterone is necessary for the survival of both men and women and a shortage of it can cause memory problems, spatial disorientation and a lack of interest in sex in everyone.
  • Mary Decker-Slaney, world champion long-distance runner from the early 80s had a testosterone level that was much higher than the 6:1 ratio allowed by the IAAF.
  • With age, women's testosterone levels increase significantly, while those of men drop. Eventually, with increasing age, everyone's testosterone levels decrease.
  • In female athletes, testosterone rises in anticipation of competition more in women than it does in men, researchers say.
  • Young women who have high testosterone levels have lean bodies, high energy levels and a flat strong abdomen. They do not necessarily look particularly masculine.
  • Men's testicles produce testosterone, but the testosterone production in women is divided between their ovaries and their adrenal glands.
  • When women develop higher testosterone levels, they can become more masculine, but they can also be at increased risk of diabetes, breast cancer and heart disease if they are overweight. Testosterone generally decreases fat mass, but also increases insulin resistance, which could lead to weight gain. In short, it does different things to different women.
  • Optimal testosterone levels vary incredibly widely from one man to another, and from woman to woman. The testosterone levels in one person can also differ widely when measured at different times.

(References: Health24.com, MedlinePlus, WellnessMD)

(Susan Erasmus, Health24.com, updated February 2013)

Read more:
Men influenced by oestrogen too
Men and testosterone

 
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