If you have PCOS and you’re wondering how to lower testosterone levels, I’ve got you covered!
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of high testosterone levels in women, which can cause a whole slew of lousy symptoms. Helllllooo growing hair on your chin and losing it on your scalp. The good news though is that there are several steps you can take to help lower your testosterone levels, which will help you decrease some of those classic PCOS symptoms.
If you’re new here, hi! I’m Alyssa, a registered dietitian who specializes in PCOS. My goal is to make PCOS less overwhelming for you and easier to manage with simple nutrition tips.
This article will explain what testosterone is, what causes high levels in PCOS, and how to lower testosterone levels.
What Is Testosterone?
Testosterone is an androgen hormone that’s commonly thought of as a male sex hormone since it occurs naturally in high concentrations in males. However, it’s not just a male hormone – it’s one of the reproductive hormones found in both the male and female body.
For females, testosterone is important for bone density, muscle mass, cognitive function, mood, sexual function, libido, and energy (1). Just like anything else though, too much of a good thing can turn it into a not-so-great thing.
Symptoms of High Testosterone
When your body is producing too much testosterone, it can cause a variety of the classic symptoms of PCOS.
Symptoms of high testosterone include:
- Anovulatory cycles or irregular periods (high testosterone can delay or halt ovulation. A true period can only happen after ovulation occurs; hence, you may experience irregular menstrual cycles as a result of elevated testosterone levels.
- Oily skin
- Hair loss on the scalp (particularly in a male pattern baldness) – this may also be called androgenic alopecia
- Excess hair growth including both facial hair and body hair (particularly on the upper lip, chin, jaw line, nipples, abdomen, and/or groin areas)
Now that we know what some symptoms are, what actually causes this to happen?
What Causes High Testosterone In Women With PCOS?
PCOS is one of the most common causes of high testosterone levels in women. This common hormonal condition affects up to 6-12% of women in the United States (2) and is closely linked with insulin resistance and chronic inflammation.
When someone is insulin resistant, their body’s cells don’t respond well to the hormone insulin. Insulin is responsible for moving glucose (aka sugar) out of the bloodstream and into the cells to be used for energy. As a result, your body will produce excess insulin to try to get the job done. These high insulin levels trigger your ovaries to increase testosterone production (3).
Additionally, both insulin resistance or elevated androgens can increase inflammation. Chronic inflammation can further worsen insulin resistance, which can just further increase testosterone levels. There is also some evidence that inflammation can directly stimulate the ovaries to increase testosterone production too (4, 5, 6).
Ultimately, insulin resistance and inflammation are two key contributors to elevated androgen levels. It’s helpful to target these two root causes when you’re trying to lower your testosterone levels. Let’s dive into the best ways to actually do that.
Best Ways To Lower Testosterone Levels In Women With PCOS
As I mentioned above, insulin resistance and inflammation are at the core of high testosterone levels. Your goals are to improve insulin sensitivity and decrease inflammation, which will promote healthy testosterone levels. Let’s discuss how we can actually do that.
Balance Blood Sugar Levels
To improve insulin sensitivity, you want to avoid blood sugar spikes and low blood sugar levels. You’ll want to eat in a way that creates a gradual blood sugar increase that doesn’t go too high and that decreases gradually also. Here are some ways to do that:
- Eat regular meals throughout the day. Skipping meals or going long periods of time between meals can cause erratic blood sugar levels.
- Combine complex carbs with protein and fat at your meals. This helps create more balanced blood sugar levels and better energy levels for you. For some ideas on how to do this, check out these blog posts on PCOS Breakfast Ideas and PCOS Lunch Ideas.
Include Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Since inflammation can be a key contributor to excess testosterone, you’ll want to include foods that can reduce inflammation.
- Anti-inflammatory foods to include: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, olive oil
- Pro-inflammatory foods to limit: ultra-processed foods, processed meats, refined grains, sugary drinks, added sugars
Click here for a full Anti-Inflammatory Foods List PDF.
High Zinc Foods
Zinc is a mineral that has antioxidant properties. In research, it has been shown to lower insulin levels and testosterone levels in those with PCOS. The following foods are high in zinc: oysters, crab, beef, pork, fortified cereals, oats, pumpkin seeds, and cashews. Including these more in your diet may be helpful.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids Foods
Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that has been shown to reduce testosterone levels in those with PCOS (7). Foods that are high in omega 3 fatty acids also tend to have other beneficial nutrients such as fiber, healthy fats, protein, and micronutrients.
Some great sources of omega 3 fatty acids are walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp hearts, and fatty fish such as salmon, trout, herring, and sardines.
Spearmint tea may seem rather random, but there’s actually been some good research showing that this herbal tea can help. One small study found that drinking two cups of spearmint tea daily for 30 days resulted in a significant decrease in hirsutism (unwanted hair growth), total testosterone levels and free testosterone levels.
If you’re interested in reading more about how certain herbal teas may be beneficial for PCOS, check out this post: 5 Best Herbal Teas For PCOS.
Your exercise routine can be helpful in your quest to lower your testosterone. Most forms of exercise can help with lowering insulin levels, which may be causing your high levels of testosterone. Some research has shown that mindful yoga practices may help to lower testosterone levels (9).
Certain medications are often prescribed to women with PCOS in an effort to alleviate symptoms, including high androgen levels. Oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, are a commonly prescribed option. These work by increasing your SHBG levels; these hormones bind to testosterone to help lower symptoms. Spironolactone and Metformin are two other medications that are frequently prescribed as well.
While supplements don’t replace the need for ongoing diet and lifestyle modifications, they may be helpful in supplementing your efforts. Several supplements may help lower androgen levels in those with PCOS.
Some supplements that may help reduce androgens, like testosterone:
Always talk to your healthcare provider before beginning any nutrition supplements.
High testosterone levels are a common feature of PCOS. It can cause symptoms such as irregular periods, hair loss, acne, oily skin, and unwanted hair growth (hirsutism).
Insulin resistance and inflammation can contribute to increased testosterone levels. Improving insulin sensitivity and lowering inflammation with a healthy diet and lifestyle modifications can lead to lower levels of testosterone. Additionally, medications and/or supplements may be helpful as well.
Disclaimer: this is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional medical advice for any medical condition including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Always consult with your medical provider for personalized health recommendations.