The Trouble with Androgens

Androgen imbalance is THE MOST COMMON endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age, but many of us don’t really know much about these important hormones.

We might know they are associated with male hormones and know that having either too much or too little can result in symptoms that can be more than a bit embarrassing— ie. growing extra facial hair, male patterned baldness, acne and more.

I’m about to break this down in true Simply Nourished fashion so that it’s easy to understand, so keep reading.

WHAT IS AN ANDROGEN?

Androgens are hormones that are often referred to as male hormones, but ladies— you have them too! They include testosterone, androstenedione, androsterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA sulfate (DHEA-S). Both males and females make these hormones, it’s just the amount we make varies.

ANDROGEN AND FEMALE HEALTH ISSUES

Women make androgens in the ovaries, adrenal glands and in fat cells and one of the main things we do with these androgens is change them into estrogens.
As you can imagine, problems occur when we make too much or too little androgens and these types of issues are actually really common.

In women, androgens are produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands and fat cells. In fact, women may produce too much or too little of these hormones––disorders of androgen excess and deficiency are among the more common hormonal disorders in women.

SOME SIGNS OF ANDROGEN DEFICIENCY

  • fatigue

  • low libido

  • vaginal dryness

  • enlarged clitoris

  • decreased breast size

  • depression or other changes in mood

  • increased risk of bone loss, fractures and osteoporosis

  • exaggerated symptoms during menopause (ie hot flashes) as androgens naturally decline with age

SOME SIGNS OF ANDROGEN EXCESS

  • acne

  • hirsutism (excess hair growth) on the face, chin, chest and back

  • thinning hair (male patterned baldness)

  • a deepening voice

  • prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome or blood sugar issues

  • weight gain in the mid-section

  • irregular or absent periods

  • fertility issues

  • high cholesterol (high LDL, low HDL)

  • high blood pressure

  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

  • Uncomfortably high sex drive

  • Adrenal abnormalities or tumors

  • Ovarian tumors

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WHAT CAUSES ANDROGEN IMBALANCE?

It’s kind of crazy, but androgen excess is actually recognized as the most COMMON ENDOCRINE DISORDER among women in their reproductive years, but despite this, the cause behind it can be hard to pinpoint, but there are a few factors that play a definite role:

  • STRESS

    • Stress is often to blame. Early stages of adrenal fatigue (where the adrenals are making lots of stress hormones, it’s common to see androgen hormones spike), but in the later stages of adrenal fatigue (less stress hormones available) it’s common to see androgen levels drop.

  • BLOOD SUGAR ISSUES

    • There is a large correlation between blood sugar issues and diabetes and excess androgens. It has been found that regulating blood sugar levels and insulin resistance can help reduce excess androgens— this is why metformin (medication used to regulate blood sugar) is one of the treatments FOR excess androgens and conditions like PCOS. Studies have indicated that reducing elevated levels of testosterone in women also helps reduced/improve insulin resistance. 

  • GENETICS

    • In some cases, congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), a genetic condition that affects the adrenal glands. It affects the production of steroid hormones including cortisol and androgens. In these cases it is common to see low cortisol levels and higher androgen hormones. The severity of this can vary in big ways, where it can be life threatening or where people can live relatively normal lives with very few symptoms.

  • CUSHING’S DISEASE

    • Cushing’s disease is an adrenal related condition that can occur when the body is exposed to excessively high levels of cortisol for too long, this can be from stress or things like long-term oral steroid use.

  • AGE

    • In women, our androgen levels peak in our 20’s and gradually reduce as we get older. When we hit menopause, our ovaries make very little androgen hormones and our adrenals will take over making androgens (at a lower level). Attention and love to your adrenals throughout your life will helps support a more comfortable transition into menopause.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP REGULATE ANDROGENS NATURALLY?

Doctors will likely treat excessive androgens with birth control pills and medications, here are some natural routes you can try before medication or along side them to help support balanced levels via lifestyle.

  • Drink mint teas like peppermint or spearmint (they have been show to help reduce testosterone)

  • Incorporate green, bitter foods to help support the liver (like dandelion greens, rapini, watercress and raddichio and so on).

  • Add extra fiber to your diet (try my beauty water recipe with chia)

  • Maintain a healthy body weight

  • Mange your blood sugar by eating balanced meals and minding your portions

  • Exercise in a balanced way— avoid over training and ensure your body is able to recover adequately from workouts

  • Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night

  • Avoid caffeine if under a lot of stress (try a golden milk latte instead)

  • Supplement with Myo-Inositiol, it is a member of the B-vitamin family and has been show to help improve insulin sensitivity and support healthy androgen levels. Learn more here.

  • Book a session with your fave nutritionist to discuss a customized plan based on your needs!