Last updated on 1 December 2021
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.
In both men and women, 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 a variety of symptoms.
Symptoms of low testosterone
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.
Symptoms of high testosterone
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.
Symptoms of low oestrogen
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.
Symptoms of high oestrogen
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 hormone imbalance in men and women
There are many things that can lead to an imbalance of testosterone or oestrogen.
Causes of hormone imbalance in men
- 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
Causes of hormone imbalance in women
- Puberty (typically the ages of 10 – 14)
- Pregnancy, childbirth, breast-feeding
- Pituitary gland dysfunction
- Adrenal gland disorder
- Tumour on the ovaries
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- 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)
Irregular hormone levels: Lifestyle factors
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.
How to increase low testosterone levels naturally
Diet tips to increase 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 food and unhealthy fats.
Lifestyle tips to increase testosterone levels
- 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 resistance training (for men), raises levels of testosterone.
- Reduce stress. Elevated cortisol levels lead to lower testosterone levels.
Managing high testosterone levels
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.
How to increase low oestrogen levels naturally
Diet tips to increase oestrogen levels
- Consume foods such as flax seed, nuts, red wine (in moderation), soy and fruit, which may boost oestrogen levels.
Lifestyle tips to increase 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.
Managing high oestrogen levels
- Switch 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 isoflavones, a type of naturally occurring compound with chemical structure similar to oestrogen.
- Sleep more. The sleep hormone melatonin helps to keep 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 or decrease in the levels of these hormones. You may want to discuss these possibilities and concerns with your doctor.
While diet and lifestyle changes can help, but you might need hormone replacement therapy to effectively treat the root cause of your hormone imbalance. In some instances, they may be linked to common hormonal disorders such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, or hyperthyroidism. 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 Joy Lim, Deputy Medical Director at IHH Healthcare Singapore
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