I remember a few years ago when I was putting on a lot of muscle in gym. I had tapped into that difficult-to-achieve state where you’re simultaneously putting on muscle and burning fat.
I was visiting my mom and one evening after a particularly killer workout. and she asked me if I was on steroids. Perhaps strangely, I was flattered.
Although I was definitely not on steroids.
Years later, I found myself in hormone hell and more recently, I had a testosterone pellet inserted into my right hip to help ease some of the insanity that’s been going on in my body over the last year. I also started on a small dose of T3 (5 micrograms, once per day) to give my sluggish thyroid a nudge.
I’m going to talk about the testosterone in this post, and I’ll discuss the thyroid in the next.
Clearing up the myth: Testosterone is not just a “male sex hormone.”
Let’s start by examining the role of testosterone in the female body. Contrary to popular belief, test isn’t just for men – women also produce it (in their ovaries and a small amount in the adrenal gland – thanks, Tom). In women, the dominant sex hormones are estrogen and progesterone – for men, the dominant hormone is testosterone. However, testosterone still plays a critical role in women’s bodies.
In women, testosterone is key to sex drive and function. It’s fundamental to arousal, interest in sex, playfulness, and even the ability to have great orgasms. In women, testosterone is cardiac protective and research indicates that bioidentical testosterone can actually help combat estrogen-fed cancers, such as breast and ovarian cancer. It is also key to a heightened sense of well-being, good mood, focus, and motivation.
Testosterone also helps build muscle, burn fat, and prevent (or reverse) the accumulation of fat around the waist – which plague men and women in middle age (and is, of course, associated with plummeting testosterone levels).
Testosterone levels in women are highest during the early to mid-20s, but then begin dropping off by the late 20s and early 30s. This is why women in their mid-30s often start to experience many of the symptoms I described in my last post. This is also why I think all women should start tracking their hormones in their mid-20s to understand where their baseline is, and to help make sense of changes they experience in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.
Why I opted for a pellet
Women interested in testosterone therapy have a few different options: pills, creams, or implants (pellets). I opted for a pellet because I wanted a bioidentical testosterone – that is, a plant-based form of the hormone that the body recognizes and treats as its own. This is the safest form of hormone therapy available.
While many women opt for pills… those must be processed by the liver. They also create constant peaks and drops in your hormone levels based on when you take the pills. Creams have a similar roller-coaster effect, and the big downer about creams is that you can transfer the hormones to people you have physical contact with.
I liked the idea of having a pellet implanted and then not having to think about it at all. Just let it do its magic. I had a 125mg pellet implanted one month ago.
Normal testosterone levels for women vary depending on their age and where they are in their monthly cycle. Testosterone levels peak when we’re ovulating – this is when most women are most, uh, sexually driven. It’s Mother Nature’s way of trying to knock us up.
That sneaky bitch.
I had my initial levels tested on the sixth day of my cycle, which is when all three of a woman’s sex hormones are likely to be pretty low. My testosterone was 30 nanograms per deciliter (ng/Dl), which wasn’t terribly low, although it wasn’t exactly impressive either.
With all the variables that affect test levels in women at any given moment, the range of “normal” levels is around 15 to 70 ng/dL.
Because my estrogen level was in the normal range, but my progesterone and testosterone were lower, I was starting to experience estrogen dominance. That’s why my doctor and I decided to start me on testosterone, to help even things out.
When you get therapeutic testosterone, designed to help reduce the symptoms I described earlier, the desired testosterone level to achieve is around 150 to 250 ng/dL.
I had my pellet implanted one month ago and went for my follow-up appointment today. My testosterone was 241 ng/dL….right where we were aiming.
What I’ve experienced… the good
So far, I’ve noticed some wonderful effects from the testosterone. Here they are, in short:
- improved mood. Overall, I am in a generally better mood. I feel more optimistic and happy. The constant PMS irritability is gone.
- Increased sense of well-being. I generally feel healthier, more alive… just elevated on all levels.
- Feeling more connected to my body. I notice this most when I’m training. On the bike or at the gym, I feel stronger, more powerful, more connected to my body. I feel my muscles contracting more strongly, I feel more coordinated. I definitely have more physical intensity and stamina.
- Increased sense of motivation. I feel more motivated, more focused, more self-efficacious and inspired to go after my goals. That feeling of being in a slump is slowly lifting.
- Clearer thinking. This is a biggie. I can fucking think again! I’m not having the really hard time focusing and forming thoughts that I was a month ago.
- Amped up sex drive. Of course, this is to be expected. My drive for sex is higher than it has ever been.
- Powerful orgasms. wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! We’re talking earth shattering, y’all.
- Easy breezy period. My last period was a walk in the freaking park. I got a little warm one night before, but I had no night sweats. No cramps. The flow was very light. I had a little bit of normal PMS irritability, but nothing terrible.
The two most common side effects of testosterone therapy in women is increased body hair and acne. I have not really noticed a big change in body hair.
However, I did have a nightmarish breakout the day before my period. It was bad. We’re talking hormonal, itchy, cystic acne all over my jaw. Fourteen lesions. We can’t even call them pimples. They were lesions.
Normally, I experience a little breakout just before my period but THIS was NEXT LEVEL. We’re talking something you’d expect on a 15-year-old boy.
Are you getting the picture here? It was bad.
It took a week to clear up. I started taking Guggul, an ayurvedic herb known to help combat hormonal cystic acne (750 mg, twice a day). My skin is now completely clear. Fortunately, this means that the elevated test does not appear to be causing a constant problem for my skin. The breakout was correlated with my PMS – and I’m hoping that the Guggul will prevent a repeat of this during my next cycle. I told my doctor about turning into a zit factory for a week and she didn’t seem too concerned because my skin is clear now.
If this happens again next period, however, she’s going to give me some progesterone to take the week before my period, which will help stop the hellish breakouts. Breakouts occur during PMS because that’s when our estrogen and progesterone levels plummet. Normally, progesterone helps combat the effects of testosterone on the skin (acne). Because my progesterone is already low, and now I have an elevated level of test, it makes sense that I had a gnarly breakout. I’ll definitely follow-up after my next cycle to report if it was better.
Next post – I’m gonna talk about what’s up with my thyroid. And how important it is to always be your own patient advocate.