Although testosterone is most notably a hormone related to all things male, in smaller amounts it is also an important hormone for women. Testosterone has many impacts throughout the body, including effects on bone density, muscle mass, libido, fat distribution, heart health, and blood cell production. So, in addition to caring about testosterone levels in her male partner, a woman should be concerned about her own testosterone levels too.

What can cause lower-than-normal testosterone?

Like estrogen and progesterone, testosterone normally declines with age. However, because women make testosterone in the ovaries and the adrenal glands, a low level of testosterone could indicate a problem with the function of either organ. Estrogen replacement therapy can also lower the level of testosterone.

If your testosterone level is low for your age and menstrual status, then you could be experiencing symptoms of low testosterone including:

  • Decreased libido
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Depressed mood
  • Weight gain

Testosterone also has some health-protective roles after menopause and low levels can increase some areas of health risk including:

  • Bone loss/osteoporosis
  • Muscle wasting/sarcopenia
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Heart disease

What if my testosterone level is low? Are there dietary changes I can make?

Some foods can boost testosterone because they are high in certain vitamins or minerals, such as vitamin D or zinc, which are associated with increasing testosterone. The following foods can boost testosterone levels:

  • Salmon
  • Olive oil
  • Oysters
  • Egg yolks
  • Liver
  • Asparagus
  • Crab/lobster
  • Beans (white/kidney/black)
  • Pomegranate juice

A study of 60 men and women (average age, 39) found 500 mL (a little more than 2 cups) of pomegranate juice daily for two weeks caused a small but significant increase in salivary testosterone levels in the men and women participants.

Can testosterone levels be too high in women?

While low testosterone can contribute to health concerns, exceptionally high levels of testosterone are more often a health concern for women, particularly during their reproductive years. A high level of testosterone can occur for several reasons, the most common being polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS is probably the most common cause of infertility in women, affecting about 27 percent of women of childbearing age. Although it runs in families, it is unclear whether PCOS is or is not a genetic disorder. PCOS is closely related to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Although many women who have PCOS focus on irregular periods and fertility, PCOS is a condition that lasts for life. 

Another reason her testosterone level can be elevated after menopause is if a woman is taking testosterone as part of hormone replacement therapy.

What are symptoms of high testosterone?

  • Facial hair growth
  • Male-pattern hair loss
  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • High cholesterol
  • Metabolic syndrome/diabetes 
  • Diagnosis of PCOS
  • Current or past history of abnormal periods and/or infertility

What foods are best if my testosterone level is too high?

The following foods and beverages can decrease an elevated testosterone level:

1. Spearmint tea was tested in a group of 42 women with excess hair growth (hirsutism), which is often associated with elevated testosterone. They were randomly chosen to drink two cups daily of either spearmint tea or a placebo tea for 30 days. Women in the spearmint tea group had significant decreases in total and free testosterone levels compared to women in the placebo tea group.

2. Omega-3 fatty acid fish oil (3 grams daily) resulted in significant decreases in testosterone in women. It is likely that eating fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acid content would have the same effect. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, lake trout, and albacore tuna.

3. Flaxseeds are known to lower elevated testosterone by binding it and removing it from the body. In a case study of a woman with high testosterone, 30 grams of flaxseeds daily for four months significantly decreased her total and free testosterone levels.

Can you test your testosterone level?

Are you curious about your testosterone level? You can test it in the privacy of your own home with this simple finger-prick blood-spot test. Results will be accompanied by diet, lifestyle, and supplement recommendations. The below dietary suggestions are a small sample of the type of information provided with the home test results.

Vitamin D could benefit high or low testosterone

Interestingly, both low and high levels of testosterone have been linked to low vitamin D in women. Thus, having adequate vitamin D is essential for both scenarios. Wild-caught salmon, which can contain as much as 988 IU of vitamin D3 per 3.5-ounce serving, is the best food source of vitamin D.

Food sources of vitamin D:

Food

Serving Size 

Average Vitamin D3 Content

Foods Containing Vitamin D3

Wild-caught salmon

3.5 ounces (100 grams)

988 IU

Farm-raised salmon

3.5 ounces (100 grams)

250 IU

Fresh herring

3.5 ounces (100 grams)

1,628 IU

Pickled herring

3.5 ounces (100 grams)

680 IU

Sardines

3.5 ounces (100 grams)

272 IU

Halibut

3.5 ounces (100 grams)

600 IU

Mackerel

3.5 ounces (100 grams)

360 IU

Cod liver oil

1 teaspoon

450 IU

Canned light tuna

3.5 ounces (100 grams)

236 IU

Oysters

3.5 ounces (100 grams)

320 IU

Shrimp

3.5 ounces (100 grams)

152 IU

Egg yolk (from indoor raised chicken)

1 yolk 

18-39 IU

Egg yolk (from free-range, pasture-raised chicken)

1 yolk

3-4 times the amount from an indoor chicken

Egg yolk from a chicken fed vitamin D-enriched feed

1 yolk

as much as 6,000 IU

Vitamin D3 in Fortified Foods (check labels to be sure it’s been added)

Cow’s milk

1 cup (237 mL)

130 IU

Soy milk

1 cup (237 mL)

109 IU

Orange juice

1 cup (237 mL)

142 IU

Cereal

½ cup

55 IU

Oatmeal (instant)

½ cup

154 IU

Vitamin D2 – vegetarian source of vitamin D

Mushrooms grown in dark

 

Little if any D2

Wild mushrooms

3.5 ounces (100 grams)

Up to 2,300 IU


References

  1. Goldstat R, Briganti E, Tran J, et al. Transdermal testosterone therapy improves well-being, mood, and sexual function in premenopausal women. Menopause 2003;10(5):390-398.
  2. Davis S. Androgen replacement in women: a commentary. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1999;84(6):1886-1891.
  3. Davis S, Burger H. Clinical review 82: androgens and the postmenopausal woman. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1996;81(8):2759-2763.
  4. Burger H. Androgen production in women. Fertil Steril 2002;77 (Suppl 4):S3-S5.
  5. Legro R, Schlaff W, Diamond M, et al. Total testosterone assays in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: precision and correlation with hirsutism. J Clin Endocrinol Metabol 2010;95(12):5305-5313.
  6. Smail M, Al-Dujaili E. Pomegranate juice intake enhances salivary testosterone levels and improves mood and wellbeing in healthy men and women. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275716515_Pomegranate_juice_intake_enhances_salivary_testosterone_levels_and_improves_mood_and_well_being_in_healthy_men_and_women [Accessed 3.26.19]
  7. Grant P. Spearmint herbal tea has significant anti-androgen effects in polycystic ovary syndrome. A randomized controlled trial. Phytother Res 2010;24(2):186-188.
  8. Nadjarzadeh A, Dehghani-Firouzabadi R, Vaziri N, et al. The effect of omega-3 supplementation on androgen profile and menstrual status in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A randomized clinical trial. Iran J Reprod Med 2013;11(8):665-672.
  9. Nowak D, Snyder D, Brown A,  Demark-Wahnefried W. The effect of flaxseed supplementation on hormonal levels associated with polycystic ovary syndrome: a case study. Curr Top Nutraceutical Res 2007;5(4):177-181.
  10. Chang E. Vitamin D, testosterone link in women may explain reproductive outcomes. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2104; doi:10.1210/jc.2013-3873.