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Do Women Need Male Hormones?

When we talk about hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women, we generally mean estrogen and progesterone, the two most important female hormones.  But what about recent reports that menopausal women may benefit from taking male hormones, or testosterone?  How can this be?

In fact, testosterone is not just a "male" hormone.  Testosterone is actually produced by women as well, just in levels much lower than in men.  In men and women, testosterone helps maintain muscle and bone mass. . .as well as maintaining libido.  Some women who take testosterone preparations say they "just feel better" or have more energy; many report that once they went through menopause, they experienced decreased libido, which returned if testosterone supplements were taken.

But how do women know if their testosterone is "low"?  This is an area that's still considered "fuzzy math".  There are blood tests for testosterone, but there are no good charts or correlations between blood levels and symptoms or guidelines about who should be tested. For most age-groups of women, it is also unclear what the normal testosterone range is.  There are also few good studies about testosterone deficiency, proper doses, or the risks and benefits of supplementation.  While many menopausal women with libido problems have benefited from combinations of estrogen and testosterone, the side effects of testosterone (acne, facial hair growth and hair loss on the head) are unacceptable to most women.

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Created: 6/11/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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