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.
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!