Our gut microbiota influence our hormones. While androgen production is higher in males, females produce small amounts of androgens. Our gut can play a role in supporting optimal androgen balance. Let's find out more!
What are Androgens?
Androgens are hormones that contribute to reproductive health and growth, in both males and females.
In females, androgens are produced mainly in the ovaries and adrenal glands. They are important for our reproductive health, muscle development and cognitive function.
Androgens you may have heard of include testosterone, androstenedione and dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEA-S).
In women, typical ranges* or reference intervals for key androgens are:
Total Testosterone: 0.3 to 1.9 nmol/L
DHEAS: 1-11 µmol/L
Androstenedione: 3.5-9.0 nmol/L
Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG): Most testosterone is bound to SHBG. Levels are often low in PCOS. A typical SHBG range for women is 26-100 nmol/L.
*Note that these ranges will differ with different laboratories depending on the technique used. If you have a blood test to check your androgens, your pathology report will include the laboratory’s reference ranges for comparison.
What do Androgens Do?
The right balance of testosterone in females is essential for reproductive health. We want our androgens not too low and not too high, but just right!
With low androgen levels our eggs do not develop very well. Low testosterone is a risk factor for not retrieving many eggs in an IVF stimulation cycle.
On the other hand, high androgen levels also impact on our egg quality. Ovulation may be suppressed, and you might find your period goes missing from time to time.
Other symptoms of high androgens in females include:
- Hair loss
- Male pattern hair growth (hirsutism)
- Irregular Ovulation
- Ovarian Cysts
- Insulin Resistance
- High Cholesterol
Why Would my Androgens be High?
In females the most common cause of high androgen levels is PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). PCOS is associated with gut dysbiosis and may make it more difficult to conceive.
High androgen levels stimulate the production of luteinizing hormone (LH). The increased LH changes the way our follicles mature inside our ovaries. As our eggs grow inside our follicles these high levels of LH can reduce egg quality.
With increased production of LH, ovulation does not occur. In combination with high androgens, the LH/FHS (follicle-stimulating hormone) ratio in PCOS may be as high as 2 or 3, compared to 1 to 2 in a female without PCOS.
If you have had a blood test you can calculate your LH/FSH ratio by taking your LH value and dividing it by your FSH ratio. Do interpret these with a qualified practitioner as there are other factors that can influence this.
How do I Naturally Lower Androgens?
Vitamin D supplementation
Vitamin D is essential for healthy functioning of our ovaries, endometrium and our gut. Increasing vitamin D has been shown to lower total testosterone in women with PCOS .
80% of our Vitamin D comes for exposure to ultraviolet light, so pop outside with your arms and legs exposed on a sunny day for 10 to 30 min to soak up some sun. If your skin is darker, you may need a little more exposure to get your vitamin D dose, and if your levels are low you may require a supplement.
Some bacteria in our gut are capable of processing and activating Vitamin D so continue to nurture your gut microbiota.
Strength training significantly changes body composition, which lowers high levels of androgens in females .
For a general prescription, strength train 2 to 3 times a week with a rest day or two in between sessions to allow for all the beneficial adaptations to take place.
Make sure you are targeting all major muscle groups at a load of 70%–85% of one-repetition maximum (1RM). If you are unsure where to start, see an Accredited Exercise Physiologist for the right guidance.
Anyone for Tea?
Natural compounds are truly effective for supporting PCOS.Spearmint tea twice a day for 30 days has been shown to have anti-androgen effects in PCOS [6,7]. Our favourite teas are PCOS to Wellness herbies. There is spearmint in Cysterhood Tea so you can relax, unwind and lower androgens at the same time!
You guessed it! It’s one of the reasons our Microbiome Essentials is so effective at restoring ovulation, and delivering other benefits of better skin, thicker head hair, reduced anxiety and improved fertility!
Prebiotics are also effective at supporting healthy blood sugar levels. High insulin levels tell our ovaries to secrete more testosterone. Improving insulin sensitivity lowers testosterone levels.
Incorporating more prebiotics alleviates gut microbiota dysbiosis which underpins PCOS. Improving this lowers androgens .
What we eat is significantly related to increasing clinical pregnancy, ovulation and menstrual regularity and reducing miscarriage rate . Keep up diversity of plant based foods in your diet to support a healthy gut.
Getting androgens back in balance will take some time but with consistency, adopting positive lifestyle steps will bring you great rewards. Regular ovulation, improved wellbeing and optimal fertility? Count me in!
- 1. Khattak, M., et al., Comparison Of Free Androgen Index In Polycystic Ovary Syndrome And Non-Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Infertile Patients. J Ayub Med Coll Abbottabad, 2021. 33(4): p. 577-581.
- 2. Zhao, J.F., B.X. Li, and Q. Zhang, Vitamin D improves levels of hormonal, oxidative stress and inflammatory parameters in polycystic ovary syndrome: a meta-analysis study. Ann Palliat Med, 2021. 10(1): p. 169-183.
- 3. Kogure, G.S., et al., Resistance Exercise Impacts Lean Muscle Mass in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2016. 48(4): p. 589-98.
- 4. Xue, J., et al., Inulin and metformin ameliorate polycystic ovary syndrome via anti-inflammation and modulating gut microbiota in mice. Endocr J, 2019. 66(10): p. 859-870.
- 5. Shang, Y., et al., Dietary Modification for Reproductive Health in Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne), 2021. 12: p. 735954.
- 6. Ashkar, F., et al., The Role of medicinal herbs in treatment of insulin resistance in patients with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A literature review. Biomol Concepts, 2020. 11(1): p. 57-75.
- 7. Grant, P., Spearmint herbal tea has significant anti-androgen effects in polycystic ovarian syndrome. A randomized controlled trial. Phytother Res, 2010. 24(2): p. 186-8.