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Restoring your energy levels naturally and balancing your hormones

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A lack of testosterone can leave women feeling tired, weak and depressed, says Dr Shawn Tassone. Here’s how to restore your levels naturally.

Testosterone deficiency is the most often overlooked female hormone imbalance and the most common imbalance I see. 

Produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands, as well as in peripheral tissues (from precursor hormones produced in the ovaries and adrenals), a woman’s testosterone generally reaches its highest level during young adulthood. 

Production of the hormone decreases over time, falling to roughly 50 percent of its peak by the time she has reached menopause.  Although her ovaries will cease to produce estrogen at this point, they will continue to produce smaller amounts of testosterone, as will her adrenal glands. 

That the hormone continues to play a role in her body’s functioning means an imbalance can wreak havoc in various ways. Testosterone deficiency can give rise to an array of symptoms, from weight gain to diminished libido. And it can take hold in women of any age. 

Menopause and menopause-related estrogen dominance can contribute to a testosterone deficiency. But birth control pills can also do this, as can autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Among the other potential underlying causes are severe stress and adrenal insufficiency. 

But a combination of the right foods, supplements and exercise can help to correct this common imbalance. 

Symptoms of testosterone deficiency

  • Fatigue, often in the later afternoon
  • Muscle weakness
  • Weight gain, particularly around the middle
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Hair thinning or loss
  • Osteoporosis and osteopenia (lower bone density than normal)
  • Diminished genital arousal
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Depression and anxiety

Nutrition

If you’re low in testosterone, you want to eat foods that help directly raise testosterone levels as well as those that help decrease your estrogen levels. Provided you are not suffering from estrogen deficiency, decreasing your estrogen levels is a helpful strategy for lowering your levels of the sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) protein, which binds free testosterone and diminishes the hormone’s impact. 

Another important goal is to improve your fat-to-muscle ratio. In particular, diet can help reduce abdominal fat, which is commonly referred to as a “testosterone killer.” Although there is some debate around whether visceral abdominal fat (which surrounds your organs) causes low testosterone or the other way around, studies have demonstrated a correlation between waist-to-hip ratio and testosterone levels in men, and emerging research suggests a similar correlation is present in women. 

In men and women alike, higher levels of visceral fat correspond to higher levels of estrogen, which can exacerbate testosterone deficiency.

We also know that in both sexes, testosterone has a lipolytic potential, meaning it can break down fat cells, and that visceral abdominal fat releases cholesterol and free fatty acids into the bloodstream, prompting the body to produce proteins called cytokines, which trigger low-level inflammation. 

High levels of visceral fat can also lead to increased production of a hormone called angiotensin, which causes blood vessels to constrict and blood pressure to rise and contributes to insulin resistance. In addition to being a factor in weight gain, insulin resistance is directly related to low testosterone in men and women. 

To help minimize excess fat and improve your fat-to-muscle ratio, focus on eating lean proteins and “good fats” and eliminating processed carbohydrates and sugar whenever possible. Here are the top foods to embrace.

Foods to embrace

Foods high in vitamin D 

As low testosterone is linked with vitamin D deficiency, eat foods rich in vitamin D such as:

Egg yolks (also rich in omega-3 fatty acids) 

Tuna (also rich in omega-3 fatty acids) 

Enriched nondairy milks, such as almond milk and cashew milk 

Foods high in zinc 

If you have low testosterone, zinc can help boost your body’s natural production of the hormone. Good sources of zinc include:

Oysters and other shellfish, including lobster and crab 

Grass-fed beef (chuck roast or ground beef patty)

Vegetarian sources include chickpeas, cashews, mushrooms and spinach 

Boosting essential oils 

The following essential oils can help with the drive you need to get your day going. Use them with a diffuser or apply topically.

  • Chamomile
  • Geranium
  • Clary sage
  • Sandalwood
  • Fennel
  • Frankincense

Almonds

Whole almonds contain a set of nutrients vital to testosterone production, including vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and potassium. They are also rich in arginine, an amino acid that is involved in increasing blood flow to the genitals in men and women. Increasing your arginine levels can enhance stimulation and sensation during sexual arousal.1 

Although almonds are a source of quality protein and contain high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, they are also a significant source of calories. I recommend consuming no more than 25 each day. 

Cruciferous vegetables 

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, mustard greens and turnips contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) that has been shown to increase the efficiency of estrogen metabolism by the liver, driving down the body’s overall estrogen levels. This decrease in turn reduces the body’s SHBG levels, which can result in an increase in free testosterone. 

In recent years, researchers have also become interested in the way the compound impedes estrogen receptor cell proliferation and have looked into I3C as a possible preventive of breast, cervical, endometrial and colorectal cancers. 

Consuming cruciferous vegetables also triggers the body’s natural production of a compound called diindolylmethane (DIM). Research has shown that this compound also helps break down estrogen, contributing to a lowering of SHBG levels and a corresponding rise in testosterone. 

One word of warning regarding cruciferous vegetables: they can contain phytoestrogens, which can exert estrogenic effects. For those low in testosterone, who may already be estrogen dominant, I recommend limiting your consumption of cruciferous vegetables to one serving every other day. 

Foods containing “good” (unsaturated) fats 

If you’re low in testosterone, it’s important to rely on unsaturated fats rather than carbohydrates—particularly processed carbohydrates—for fuel. While I do not recommend cutting out carbohydrates altogether, relying more heavily on healthy fats (including omega-3s) than carbohydrates can help decrease your levels of visceral abdominal fat and increase your muscle-to-fat ratio. 

Omega-3 fats in particular have an overarching balancing effect on your hormones and contribute to the health of your skin, including your vaginal mucosa. 

If you use butter, I recommend switching to a grass-fed butter, clarified butter or ghee. Although all of these contain saturated fats, they have benefits over traditional, grain-fed butter. 

Grass-fed butter contains five times the amount of a fatty acid called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which research has shown can help with weight loss. Grass-fed butter is also significantly higher in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K2. 

Both clarified butter and ghee are believed to lower LDL (so-called “bad cholesterol”) levels and protect the arteries from hardening. 

Good sources of unsaturated fats include:

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Nut oils, including coconut oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Avocados
  • Foods high in omega-3s such as fatty fish, chia seeds and walnuts

Supplements

The following can help to boost testosterone levels, enhance sexual desire and arousal, and restore overall hormonal balance. But consult with your health practitioner before taking them.

Maca. Although it has not been shown to boost testosterone production per se, maca is associated with increased energy levels and stamina as well enhanced sex drive in women and men. For those with low testosterone, I recommend two different
maca blends. If you are pre-menopausal, go for Femmenessence Maca Harmony Menstrual Health. In addition to supporting overall hormonal balance, this also helps improve energy levels, mood and bone health. If you are postmenopausal, I recommend Femmenessence MacaPause. This blend helps alleviate common menopause-related symptoms such as hot flashes and interrupted sleep, as well as improving your energy levels and libido and reducing vaginal dryness.

Suggested dosage: start with 1 capsule twice daily for two weeks, then gradually increase to 2 capsules twice daily

Horny goat weed. Found primarily in China, horny goat weed has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine as an aphrodisiac for women and men. Now popular in the West, horny goat weed supplements are available in a variety of forms, including liquid extract and capsules. Flavonoids in horny goat weed have been shown to
help increase blood flow, which can enhance sexual arousal in women and men. These have also been shown to help prevent osteopenia and osteoporosis by stimulating the proliferation of cells called osteoblasts, which play a critical role in bone restructuring.
2 

Suggested dosage: follow the label instructions

Resveratrol. Found in the skins of red grapes, mulberries and blueberries, resveratrol is a chemical compound that may have a positive effect on testosterone levels. Studies suggest it may help reduce the aromatization of testosterone into estrogen, increasing the levels of free testosterone in the bloodstream. It may also activate the body’s androgen receptors, enhancing the effects of testosterone. 

Resveratrol may also reduce inflammation, which has a negative impact on metabolism and contributes to muscle deterioration.3 However, bear in mind that resveratrol may interfere with some prescription medications such as blood thinners, birth control pills and antibiotics. 

Suggested dosage: 250 mg/day 

Tribulus. Studies have shown that this herb can have a positive impact on sexual desire and arousal in women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder.4 It may work by enhancing androgen receptor density in the brain, which can amplify the effects of testosterone on libido. But note that it can affect blood sugar levels. If you are diabetic and rely on blood sugar-regulating medications, taking the supplement may mean your physician needs to adjust your dose. 

Suggested dosage: follow the label instructions; take for a period of no longer than eight weeks

Exercise

Low testosterone can mean low energy and muscle weakness, so exercise can pose a significant challenge. But even moderate exercise can help increase your testosterone levels, improve your overall health and bring your hormones into balance.5

The first step is to simply start moving. Any aerobic activity, whether it’s walking, jogging, cycling or swimming, will help boost your adrenal glands’ testosterone production. To start, do what you can, and no more. Trust that over time your energy levels can improve and your fatigue dissipate. 

Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts as you are able. A primarily aerobic workout regime will help you burn fat and improve your muscle-to-fat ratio. Incorporating an interval-training element (brief anaerobic “spurts”) into your workout routine when you’re able can improve this even further. 

Adapted from The Hormone Balance Bible (Hay House UK, 2021) by Dr Shawn Tassone, a double-board-certified physician in obstetrics/gynecology and integrative medicine

 
 

References

1 

Biomed Res Int, 2014; 2014: 868062

2 

Chinese Med J, 2007; 120(3): 204–210

3 

Acta Biochim Pol, 2019; 66: 13–21

4 

Daru, 2014; 22: 40 

5 

Front Horm Res, 2016; 47: 27–43

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