You Can Blame This Hormone for Your Mood Swings and Fatigue

Cutting right to the chase: testosterone gets a bad rap. But in an era of paradigm shifts, now’s the moment to put misconceptions to bed. When you think of testosterone, what comes to mind? Burly men, chiseled jawlines, and gruff voices? Unfortunately, the list goes on. And, these stereotypes are only the tip of the iceberg. But behind the curtain lies a vital truth: testosterone isn’t exclusive to masculinity. In fact, this primary hormone plays a crucial role in everyone’s vitality. Time to flip the script—today, we’re rewriting the narrative that exists between testosterone and women.

Edie Horstman

Edie is the founder of nutrition coaching business, Wellness with Edie. With her background and expertise, she specializes in women’s health, including fertility, hormone balance, and postpartum wellness.

Breaking Stereotypes

Testosterone has long been tied to images of muscle-bound bodybuilders. But in all reality, women (too!) rely on this hormone for health and longevity. Before we dive into all things testosterone and femininity, what is the connection between testosterone and masculinity? What factors have contributed to this perception? Spoiler alert: we can thank human evolution, deep historical roots, and—to no surprise—the media.

Babba Rivera.
Image by Belathée Photography

Testosterone, Cultural Norms, and Social Constructs

To usher in new (and truthful) notions about testosterone, it’s helpful to understand why this hormone gets its current bias.

  1. Biological basis: It’s no secret that testosterone lays the foundation for male reproductive tissues and characteristics. Generally speaking, higher testosterone levels are associated with increased muscle mass and physical strength.
  2. Evolutionary perspectives: Human evolution suggests that high testosterone levels meant survival and reproduction. Not to mention, authority and power. As a result, these traits became linked to masculine cultural ideals.
  3. Cultural and social constructs: Ah, gender roles. Physical strength is traditionally linked with masculinity. This—and many other cultural norms—contribute to the correlation between testosterone and male physical prowess.
  4. Media portrayals: Popular entertainment loves to reinforce stereotypical images of masculinity. Over time, muscular, brawny men have shaped societal perceptions.
  5. Sports and athletics: Testosterone is known to enhance athletic performance. In competitive sports, the affiliation between this hormone and physical strength is amplified. Hello, stereotypes of muscular, testosterone-fueled athletes.
Woman drinking coffee on couch.
Image by Belathée Photography

Why do women need testosterone?

Stereotypes aside, women need testosterone (although in smaller amounts) for optimal health. Beyond hormone balance, it plays a crucial role in maintaining energy levels, preserving bone density, and supporting a healthy libido.

Vital for energy and well-being

Testosterone champions overall vitality and energy. Its presence is associated with improved mood, mental clarity, and a sense of well-being. A deficiency may lead to fatigue, low motivation, and mood swings.

Necessary for bone health

Maintaining adequate testosterone levels is crucial for preserving bone density. Women with low testosterone may be at a higher risk of osteoporosis. Beyond bones, testosterone influences muscle mass, which is vital for longevity, strength, and a robust metabolism.

Required for a strong libido

Last but not least, testosterone is involved in supporting a woman’s libido. This hormone is required for sexual arousal. It’s also necessary for female reproductive health. Did you know that testosterone supports the development of ovarian follicles? If conception is on your radar, make sure your testosterone levels are within range! This is key for successful reproduction.

Camille Styles chopping vegetables in kitchen.

Signs of Testosterone Imbalance

Wondering if your testosterone is high, low, or ideal? Typical red flags include fatigue, decreased libido, mood swings, and changes in body composition—decreased muscle mass and increased fat storage. Ultimately, a blood test can help determine if your testosterone levels are within the optimal range. Consult with your healthcare provider (a general practitioner or endocrinologist) to assess your hormone levels via a blood test.

For women with regular menstrual cycles, the best time to test testosterone levels is during the early to mid-follicular phase.

Holistic Ways to Balance Testosterone

If your testosterone levels are out of whack, not all hope is lost. Holistic strategies include mindful nutrition, regular exercise, stress management, and sufficient sleep. Combined, these foster an environment for happy hormones.

Nutrition and lifestyle

A balanced diet—rich in essential nutrients, including zinc and vitamin D—optimizes hormonal health. More on this, below. Additionally, regular exercise (particularly strength training) can enhance testosterone production. Last but not least, adequate sleep and stress management are critical for hormonal balance.

Herbal support

Research shows that certain herbs, like maca root and ashwagandha, can help support optimal testosterone levels.

Spring Rice Salad with Fresh Herbs Eggs and Avocado.

Foods That Help Balance Testosterone

We love a food-as-medicine approach. And good news: certain foods can contribute to maintaining a healthy balance of testosterone. Foods rich in zinc, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids are known to aid in testosterone production.

Fatty fish: Fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These may positively impact testosterone levels. Tinned fish, anyone?

Lean meats: Lean meats—i.e., chicken and turkey—provide a good source of protein and zinc, a mineral associated with testosterone production.

Eggs: Eggs are rich in vitamin D, which is linked to testosterone levels. Additionally, eggs contain cholesterol, a precursor to testosterone.

Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds are good sources of zinc and healthy fats. Both support hormonal balance. Our grain-free granola fits the bill!

Leafy greens: Spinach and kale are high in magnesium. And magnesium is necessary for normal testosterone levels.

Oysters: Oysters are renowned for their high zinc content, a crucial mineral for testosterone production.

Fortified foods: Certain dairy products and plant-based milk alternatives are fortified with vitamin D, contributing to optimal testosterone levels.

Garlic: Garlic contains allicin, a compound that may lower cortisol levels (too much stress impacts testosterone levels). Add these garlic sweet potato fries to your weekly meal prep.

Pomegranates: Pomegranates are rich in antioxidants, which help reduce oxidative stress and support overall hormonal health. We’re currently crushing on this kale, persimmon, and pomegranate salad.

grilled salmon peach salsa

From Misconceptions to Empowerment

Masculine stereotypes and bodybuilding aside, there’s no denying the truth: we all need testosterone for overall well-being. Our energy, bone health, and mood stability depend on it. This hormone isn’t a symbol of masculinity alone—it’s a fundamental and universal element of holistic health (regardless of gender!). As 2024 unfolds, let’s pave the way for a more inclusive conversation about women and testosterone.

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