What is testosterone?
Testosterone is a hormone found in humans and some animals. The testicles produce testosterone in men, although women also produce a small amount of testosterone in their ovaries. Though classed as an androgen, or male hormone, testosterone is important for both men and women.
Testosterone plays a role in:
- Sperm production
- Sex drive
- Body fat distribution
- Producing red blood cells
- Muscular strength
- Body hair growth
In women, testosterone can affect fertility, bone and breast health, and menstrual cycles.
What is oestrogen?
Oestrogen is the collective name for the female sex hormones estrone, estradiol, and estriol. Oestrogen is produced primarily in the ovaries, but it is found in men too, and is important for healthy development.
Oestrogen plays a role in:
- Regulating the menstrual cycle
- Bone formation
- Blood clotting
- Breast tissue growth
In men, oestrogen assists with sexual development and in producing healthy sperm.
Your brain controls hormone production across your body. An area of the brain called the hypothalamus signals glands to produce the hormones it thinks you need. These hormones travel around your body via your circulatory system, signalling what your body needs to do to function.
Your body maintains a balance of testosterone and oestrogen to function well. If testosterone or oestrogen levels are too high or too low, you may start to notice undesirable symptoms.
- Low testosterone levels in men can result in a reduced libido, weight gain, fatigue, stress, and depression. Your bone density can also be negatively affected. In women, low testosterone has a lesser impact, but can lead to decreased sexual function, particularly post-menopause.
- High testosterone levels have fewer symptoms in men, but can speed up the onset of puberty. In women, high testosterone levels can cause irregular periods, excess body hair, acne, muscle growth, and a deeper voice.
- Low oestrogen levels in women can lead to brittle bones, pauses in your menstrual cycle, loss of libido, vaginal dryness and moodiness. In men, low oestrogen can affect sperm production and sexual function.
- High oestrogen levels can affect a woman’s weight, menstrual cycle, mood, sleep quality, energy levels and sex drive. In men, high oestrogen levels can affect sperm production, cause breast tissue growth and erectile dysfunction.
Possible causes of a hormone imbalance between men and women
There are many things that can lead to an imbalance of testosterone or oestrogen.
In men some of the common causes are:
- Puberty (typically the ages between 12 – 16) (10 – 14 women)
- Ageing or Andropause (typically around 50 years of age)
- Prostate cancer
- Hypogonadism (low testosterone)
- Pituitary gland dysfunction
- Adrenal gland disorder
In women, some of the common causes are:
- Puberty (typically the ages of 10 – 14)
- Pregnancy, childbirth, breast-feeding
- Pituitary gland dysfunction
- Adrenal gland disorder
- Tumour on the ovaries
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Fatty liver disease
- Menopause (typically between the ages of 45 – 55)
- Gender dysphoria (the conflict one has with his/her gender identity and biological sex)
In addition to medical conditions that affect hormone production, your lifestyle can play a part. Overweight patients with a poor diet are more at risk of a hormone imbalance.
Men that are struggling with low testosterone can try the following for a natural boost:
- Get more sleep. Poor sleep can negatively impact testosterone and other hormone levels across your body.
- Increase exercise. Research shows that exercise, particularly high-intensity weight training, raises levels of testosterone.
- Reduce stress. Elevated cortisol levels lead to lower testosterone levels.
- Take supplements. Zinc and vitamin D may help improve sperm quality and boost testosterone.
- Cut out alcohol and drugs. This can decrease testosterone and affect overall health.
- Eat a healthy diet. Focus on protein, good fats and carbohydrates and reduce your intake of processed foot and unhealthy fats.
Excessive testosterone in men
Although less common, excessive testosterone is usually caused by tumours (usually adrenal and testicular) or drug use.
If it is the latter, reducing or stopping the consumption of anabolic steroids or testosterone supplementation can help with resolving the problem.
Women who want to increase their oestrogen levels can try:
- Consuming foods such as flax seed, nuts, red wine, soy and fruit, which may boost oestrogen levels.
- Reduce stress. Anxiety and worry can leave your hormones imbalanced.
- Avoid extreme exercise regimes, which can lower your oestrogen levels.
- Quit smoking, which also causes oestrogen levels to drop.
- Drink coffee. Studies show that caffeine helps to boost oestrogen production.
Women who have elevated oestrogen levels might want to try:
- Switching to a low-fat, high-fibre diet. Losing weight can help lower oestrogen levels.
- Take a probiotic supplement to improve digestion.
- Avoid soy milk, which contains oestrogen.
- Sleep more. The sleep hormone melatonin keeps oestrogen in check.
Testosterone and oestrogen are vital to the way your body works, in particular your sexual function. Some medications may also cause an increase / decrease in the levels of these hormones. You may want to discuss these possibilities and concerns with your doctor. Diet and lifestyle changes can help, but you might need hormone replacement therapy to treat your problem. If you have an underlying condition that’s causing too much or too little oestrogen or testosterone, it’s important to find out the exact cause and seek the right course of treatment.
Article reviewed by Dr Othello Dave, deputy medical director at Parkway Hospitals
Biggers, A. (2019, Mar 1) What is Testosterone? Retrieved 10/7/19 from https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-testosterone
Bergman, S. (2015, May 6) Can You Boost Low Testosterone Naturally? Retrieved 10/7/19 from https://www.webmd.com/men/features/can-you-boost-testosterone-naturally#2
Bradford, A. (2017, May 2) What is Estrogen? Retrieved 10/7/19 from https://www.livescience.com/38324-what-is-estrogen.html
Marengo, K. (2018, Nov 5) 7 Foods For Lowering Estrogen In Men. Retrieved 10/7/19 from https://www.healthline.com/health/low-testosterone/anti-estrogen-diet-men
Mawer, R. (2016, May 20) 8 Proven Ways to Increase Testosterone Naturally. Retrieved 10/7/19 from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-ways-to-boost-testosterone
Rettner, R. (2017, June 22) What is Testosterone? Retrieved 10/7/19 from https://www.livescience.com/38963-testosterone.html
Robinson, J. (2018, Nov 25) Normal Testosterone and Estrogen Levels in Women. Retrieved 10/7/19 from https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/normal-testosterone-and-estrogen-levels-in-women#3
Weatherspoon, D. (2019, June 10) All About Testosterone in Women. Retrieved 10/7/19 from https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/do-women-have-testosterone
Wilson, D. (2018, Feb 20) Signs And Symptoms Of High Estrogen. Retrieved 10/7/19 from https://www.healthline.com/health/high-estrogen
Huizen, Jennifer (2018, April 12) What to know about hormonal imbalances. Retrieved 5/8/19 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321486.php
Gurevich, Rachel. (2019, April 4) Understanding High and Low Testosterone Levels in Men and Women. Retrieved 5/8/19 from https://www.verywellfamily.com/high-and-low-testosterone-levels-in-men-and-women-1959949