High testosterone levels in women is one of the most common hormone disorders. Literally tens of millions of women suffer from it in the United States alone. So how do you know if you have high testosterone?
Testosterone is elevated around ovulation cycles if you are menstruating which can lead to hormonal acne breakouts commonly around your jaw or chin. If you have PCOS you may be suffering from breakouts like these most of the time. (If you suffer from acne, my brand new program, 50% off this week, Clear Skin Unlocked: The Ultimate Guide to Acne Freedom and Flawless Skin, could be a great resource for you).
2. Irregular Menstrual Cycles
Having irregular menstrual cycles creates a hormonal balance allowing testosterone to become dominant or recessive. Another reason you may be having irregular menstrual cycles could be stemming from PCOS.
3. Blood Sugar Swings
Insulin encourages the ovaries to produce more testosterone.
4. Low Libido
Your testosterone levels can be high but if your other primary sex hormones are not balanced, then high testosterone will not result in higher libido.
5. Male Pattern Balding and Hair Growth
Another sign of high testosterone levels in women is male pattern balding and hair growth.
So what causes testosterone levels in women to be elevated?
1. Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
If you have type I or II diabetes or know that you are insulin resistant, high testosterone is probably a problem for you.
Approximately 25% of the testosterone in female bodies comes from the ovaries. This is natural. However, insulin in the bloodstream stimulates the ovaries to produce more testosterone. This can seriously increase the ovaries’ output of testosterone.Depending on the severity of the dysregulation, insulin can lead to a significant increase in testosterone in the bloodstream. This is as much as 2 or 3 times over the optimal and healthy testosterone levels.
This is very often the case in polycystic ovarian syndrome.
2. Thyroid Disorders
Sex hormone levels and thyroid hormone levels are intimately related in many ways.
One important way is through Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG). When thyroid function slows — as in hypothyroidism — SHBG levels fall. SHBG binds excess hormones to it in the blood. It is incredibly important for maintaining healthy hormone balance. When hormones like testosterone threaten to increase and there is bountiful SHBG then it can bind the testosterone and minimize its threat. Without SHBG, excessive hormones can become a real problem.
In healthy women, 80% of testosterone is bound by SHBG in the blood. With decreased SHBG however, significantly more testosterone runs free and causes testosterone-related issues.
Stress can have a wide variety of negative impacts on the female body. Many of these have the potential to elevate testosterone levels.For example, stress can cause hypothyroidism and the concomitant decreases in SHBG.Stress can also decrease levels of estrogen and progesterone in the blood. Estrogen and progesterone perform a counter-balancing function to testosterone. Without them, testosterone levels in women can rise to unhealthy levels.
Stress also causes a rise in DHEA-S, which is a male sex hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is not testosterone – but it is one of testosterone’s closest cousins. It acts in a chemically similar way and will often cause the same hormone disruptions. Read more about this process here, and about how stress negatively impacts hormone production here.
4. Fasting After Workouts
If you work out frequently and do not eat afterwards, your testosterone levels – specifically as a woman, can rise. After intense exercise, several hormone levels are elevated including Cortisol – the “stress hormone” – and testosterone.
Cortisol levels fall naturally after a workout. But testosterone levels do not. They remain very high and decrease much more slowly if you do not eat afterward. If you do this on a regular or even daily basis this can cause a chronic problem.
5. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Finally, the most common cause of high testosterone in women is PCOS.
Read about the in’s and out’s of PCOS
Now, it is not altogether clear what causes what: does high testosterone cause PCOS, or does PCOS cause high testosterone levels in women? There is no certain answer. But what is certain is that the two are inextricably linked for many women. It may very well be the case that they both cause each other: high testosterone causes PCOS and PCOS causes high testosterone.
PCOS stands for Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and is the condition of having multiple cysts on one’s ovaries. There are three criteria used in diagnosing PCOS. In order to be diagnosed you must meet two of the three criteria:
- irregular or absent menstrual cycles
- elevated testosterone or other male sex hormone levels
- cysts on the ovaries as demonstrated by an ultrasound
PCOS affects as many as 15% of in America today, and is actually the leading cause of infertility, by a long shot.
So if you suffer from symptoms of high testosterone, from any of the above conditions such as hypothyroidism, stress, or insulin resistance / diabetes, you may want to investigate PCOS as a potential underlying cause or secondary effect of your condition.
PCOS may be a complex condition but this does not mean that it is insurmountable. I myself overcame my own PCOS (despite receiving terrible medical advice). So many of the women I have worked with on the issue have, too.
To read more of my work on PCOS and find out how it’s unique from what other people have done, check out any of these posts: What is PCOS? PCOS Treatment Options, The PCOS Diet, or my program on overcoming PCOS, PCOS Unlocked: The Manual.
To read more about acne and it’s relationship to testosterone and other hormones, check out my most popular posts on acne, or my program, Clear Skin Unlocked: The Ultimate Guide to Acne Freedom and Flawless Skin.
So that’s it for common causes of high testosterone levels in women. Do you have other ones in your own experience? Questions, concerns? I’d love to hear about it – please let me know!
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Can high testosterone also be a hormone imbalance and actually be normal but appear as high because female hormones are lower than they should be? (Similar to how high estrogen often turns out to be normal estrogen but low progesterone.)
I typically wait 3 hours to eat after a workout. It’s not an intense workout (usually walking, circuit training, light weights, etc.) Is that too long?
Please show ANY evidence for the opening sentence “High testosterone in women is one of the most common hormone disorders” or indeed anything in this article.
Please check the source of what you are reading people! Better to refer to websites from credible sources like university medical centres. Not all experts agree but at least it’s factual information.
I would like to see what studies that you referenced when writing this article, particularly your statements on the relationship between insulin and female testosterone production and also on fasting and testosterone levels. Please update your article to include all of your references.
I have some stray chin hairs that bother me and my doctor has mentioned PCOS since I used to suffer from irregular periods but I don’t have acne or hair loss or anything else. Is this Hirsutism or PCOS or what?!
hirsutism and pcos are not mutually exclusive. could be an underlying issue with inflammation or hormone balance that leads to a little or a lot of each 🙂
There is another reason that females can have high T which is genetic adrenal disease such as classic or non classic congenital adrenal hyperplasia. This is what causes mine /:
Great read! Thank you for sharing this! Tho I have a few questions. Is having high testosterone heritable? My wife has PCOS since she was in college. After a years of trying to have a baby, God gave us a beautiful baby girl. Now she is 16-years old, her menstrual cycle is irregular. We think that she also has PCOS just like her mom.
There is another reason that females can have high T which is genetic adrenal disease such as classic or non classic congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
Yes; this went unmentioned simply because its much less common than the items listed. Thanks for drawing attention to it; it’s also best I think to err on the side of being more rather than less thorough <3
I have health issues for about 5 yrs. CF Fibermyalgia, connective tissue disease, spinal stenosis, chronic inflammation ect. My T level is 3x what it should b and my DHEAS is O! None…! I’m 52 and my skin looks the best ever but I look like a body builder. Drs. Have a hard time believing I have CF when I look like I’m in the gym everyday. I sleep till 2-3 pm. Woman at 52 don’t look like me especially being that I due little activity! Any help would b appreciated. Thx u
Thanks for sharing these health blogs, Amelia! It is very helpful for me as I am just starting my personal plan to get fit and make my stomach fit again. I need creative recipes to eat right and start my calorie count. I was going to the gym but stress came over me and I started to suffer from stress. So for next year, the motto will be “New Year, New Ways to Be Healthy.” Thanks again for creating this blog! I feel very encouraged to be healthy again. These are precious to me. Hello!