A new book claims that testosterone could be the secret weapon every middle-aged woman needs in the fight against not just a flagging libido, but the entire aging process. From a revived sex life to plump skin, strong nails, abundant hair, a youthful figure and sharp mental skills, the hormone can improve them all, says gynaecologist Dr. Kathy Maupin, author of the Secret Female Hormone: How Testosterone Replacement Can Change Your Life.
It sounds almost too good to be true but Joan, in her early 50s is almost evangelical about how testosterone top-ups have transformed her life. She sort help when she began to notice both physical changes and a mental decline when she was over 40.
“My periods were more sporadic and I started gaining weight,” she recalled. “I also had difficulty concentrating and my memory was failing. I’d had a fairly high sex drive, but my libido was beginning to disappear. My erogenous zones weren’t quite as erogenous as they had been, and I’d lost the ability to enjoy sex. I had a sudden feeling of not caring. I had no energy, no interest, no sparkle, no enthusiasm.Normally, I’m outgoing, so that wasn’t like me. A consultation with a private gynaecologist revealed that my testosterone levels wee almost depleted. I was prescribed a testosterone gel and, later, a pellet implanted under the skin. The gynaecologist used bio-identical hormones which, unlike traditional synthetic ones, are made from plant extracts.”
While commonly assumed to be a ‘male’ hormone, testosterone is also produced in the female body by the ovaries and adrenal glands. It increases levels of neurotransmitters —the chemicals that communicate out thoughts—such as dopamine and scrotonin, both closely involved in libido, arousal and orgasm. According to Dr. Maupin, testosterone also drives the physical attributes that help us to look and feel young.
For example, it is a key factor in preventing cellulite forming (testosterone helps to produce muscle, which in turn keeps fat cells oxygenated and stops them breaking down and producing the dimpling effect). The hormone helps to keep bones strong and hair thick, and increases the production of collagen needed for plump skin. It is also important for maintaining a trim figure, as it increases the energy levels needed for exercise and stops production of a type of oestrogen that causes increased stomach fat.
Joan, who has three grown-up children from her first marriage described her transformation as “nothing short of stunning.” According to her, “almost immediately I felt sharper. I began losing weight and my energy went up. It’s not instantaneous but I soon realised that I was starting to feel interest in being sexual again. I’m tickled that I’m nearing 60 and can be this sexual, vibrant woman and have a really satisfying orgasm. My skin is thicker and healthier. My hair and nails are growing like crazy. And I discovered three years ago that I had the bone density of a teenager. As well as that, my muscles are more defined. My husband says my skin is as soft as a baby’s.”
If testosterone is so fundamental to a woman’s health and vitality, why are very few doctors prescribing it? Dr. Maupin said she stumbled across the power of testosterone only when she began taking it herself. In my early 40s, I found myself in hormonal hell,” she said. “Long before the menopause I began to suffer overwhelming fatigue, insomnia and mood changes. I gained weight, lost interest in sex, experienced severe PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) and migraines. My personality became flat, too. Other doctors told me I was perfectly healthy and was simply getting older. Some said I was lazy. Others suggested that the issues were psychological. Eventually, a colleague advised me to see a hormone expert, who recommended testosterone supplements. The result? I was my old energetic healthy, sexual self again.
And for the past 12 years, US-based Dr. Maupin has been spreading the word about testosterone. From the way users and some experts enthuse, it sounds like nothing less than the elixir of youth. But it can have less palatable side-effects, from excess body hair to an increased risk of some cancers. Maupin explains that women are naturally designed to lose testosterone when their childbearing years end—a woman in her 20s make ten times as much as one in her 50s, which in prehistoric times would have been the greatest age most women could expect to reach. But while women’s life-spans now extended long beyond their reproductive window, the hormonal ‘clock’ has not evolved. Women still lose testosterone at the same age as they did 50,000 years ago, so the symptoms of its deficiency are manifested long before their lives were over.
“Stress, and medication, including antidepressants, beta-blockers and the PILL can also suppress testosterone activity and, in turn sex drive.
Alison 53, a British based life coach and couples therapist said she was aware of the implications for her own relationship when she reached her late 40s. “It’s sex that drives us to be in relationships and stay in them,” she said. “I had always enjoyed a satisfying love life, but I suddenly noticed that my sex drive has waned. I started the menopause around the age of 49 and noticed quite a dramatic drop in my libido. It was a shock because it had always been quite high. I found that I wasn’t thinking about sex any more, and when my partner approached me, I wasn’t as receptive as I had been.
“I researched my options and found a private hormone specialist who prescribed testosterone, cream and an oestrogen cream. Within days, I had noticed my old desire returning. It’s subtle. It’s not like you suddenly begin thinking: ‘I must have sex.’ I just started feeling interested again, more energetic and confident.”
What about this argument that women shouldn’t fight aging but should embrace a new stage in their lives? As Dr. Maupin herself points out, testosterone evolved in women to encourage men to be drawn to them in their fertile years, as it drives the biological processes that give younger women their figures. It is also the hormone that encourages women to want to make love and so procreate, an exercise that might be enjoyable for many but biologically pointless in your 50s and beyond.
There can be serous side-effects too, if testosterone is not prescribed in the right dosage. Too much can cause acne, excess body hair, loss of head hair and even, rarely, abnormal enlargement of the clitoris. While Alison didn’t experience these, she admits the treatment had one unexpected side effect. “At one point, I found that when I applied the cream, I became quite confrontational and more assertive than normal,” she said. “My partner would gently say ‘you’re barking at me.’ Now I take a lower dose and it’s great.”