When you’re going through perimenopause and menopause, you’re probably used to hearing the words estrogen and progesterone bandied about. Not least because replenishing and stabilising these hormones can help to manage your symptoms, and many menopause treatments, like hormone therapy (HRT), focus on doing exactly that.
There is a third hormone, however, that is not talked about quite as much, but which also falls during menopause and that is testosterone – a sex hormone that is produced in small amounts produced by the ovaries, adrenal glands and peripheral tissues in women.
Often referred to as ‘the male hormone’, testosterone can be just as important for women in keeping you feeling good and helping to manage your symptoms as estrogen and progesterone. Whilst women might not need as high levels as men getting the right amount is important for a healthy sex drive and leaner body composition. Unfortunately, testosterone has not yet been approved for women who might need it by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and is currently only FDA-approved for men with low testosterone.
Many women look for foods that boost testosterone during menopause because they know about the impact on hormone levels that perimenopause and menopause can have. While specific foods can’t boost testosterone levels by themselves, there are certain ones that can help to support your body in testosterone production and keep your testosterone levels normal through menopause.
Why is testosterone important during menopause?
Levels of testosterone fall naturally with age and as you transition into perimenopause and menopause but other factors including lack of sleep, sustained stress and high body fat levels can also cause a decline in its production.
When levels are low it can lead to unexplained tiredness, reduced sex drive, and it can become harder for you to build muscle and lose weight. Research into how low levels of testosterone specifically affect perimenopausal and menopausal women is in its infancy (as things stand there are more studies showing how it affects men rather than women) but there is some evidence to show when women are given more testosterone their energy levels, stamina, mood and libido all improve.
Of course, getting more testosterone doesn’t automatically translate into women wanting sex and enjoying it more – alas, female desire and enjoyment can be frustratingly more complicated. We do know, however, that this hormone contributes to your libido, sexual arousal and orgasm by increasing dopamine levels in the central nervous system and when your body produces enough healthy levels of it, theoretically, you are more likely to want, and enjoy sex. It is also known to improve blood flow to your vaginal area and reduce some of menopause’s urogenital symptoms (such as lack of vaginal sensitivity and difficulty becoming aroused).
So how do you help maintain optimal testosterone levels? Some studies have shown that having a diet high in ultra-processed foods appears to reduce it but, conversely, eating healthy nutrient-dense ones (like the ones listed below) can help increase it.
5 foods that help boost testosterone production
Nutritionist Helen Roach suggests five key foods that can help increase testosterone in women including:
Oysters & shellfish
“These contain zinc, which contributes to the maintenance of normal testosterone levels in the blood,” Helen explains. “Oysters are also a very good source of D-aspartic acid, an amino acid which can trigger testosterone production.” There has been encouraging evidence to show that supplementing with zinc can help testosterone levels and sexual function in postmenopausal women but although there have been studies to show how D-aspartic acid can increase testosterone in men, as yet there is no similar research to show it has the same effect in women.
Helen explains that avocados are rich in pregnenolone, a steroid hormone which acts as a precursor to testosterone production. Taking pregnenolone in supplement form has been shown to improve mood, brain function and memory, all factors that can be negatively affected during perimenopause and menopause.
“Salmon is high in a number of vitamins, as well as zinc, which helps to maintain the normal production of testosterone in the blood,” says Helen, suggesting it makes a menopause-friendly evening meal when accompanied by green leafy vegetables like spinach or kale. Alternatively, try smoked salmon with scrambled eggs or diner eggs for breakfast or with salad for lunch. Salmon is also packed with protein and omega 3 fatty acids, which can help both your energy and brain function.
Helen recommends leaving your mushrooms out for a little sunbathe before you cook them, to make the most of their testosterone-boosting properties. Shitake mushrooms are best for this. Why? “Mushrooms become high in vitamin D and vitamin B5 when left in sunlight for an hour or so. These vitamins contribute to the normal synthesis and metabolism of steroid hormones, and can help the production of regular testosterone,” she explains.
Broccoli, Cauliflower and Squash
Helen explains that these are all rich sources of Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid). This vitamin is responsible for the production of steroid hormones such as testosterone & estrogen.
Foods that support testosterone production in menopause for vegetarians and vegans
We all need a steady intake of foods containing testosterone-boosting zinc because this mineral is not stored in the body so needs to be topped up regularly. Given that many of the best sources tend to be animal-based proteins like red meat (particularly beef and lamb), fish and seafood it has been suggested in the past that vegetarians or vegans might be at a slight disadvantage when it comes to getting enough.
Recent research, however, has shown there is little difference in the testosterone levels of meat eaters and vegans and there are plenty of healthy alternative plant-based sources including pulses, oats, walnuts, cashew nuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and spinach so try to include as many of these in your daily diet as you can.
For vegan foods that boost testosterone, Helen suggests, “chickpeas, lentils and beans are a good source and research suggests sprouting, soaking or fermenting them can help increase zinc levels even further.”
What else you can do to provide a testosterone boost?
- Managing stress. In the short-term stress shouldn’t affect your testosterone levels too much but if it is sustained and left unchecked this means your levels of the stress hormone cortisol are almost always elevated and this can play a big part in fluctuating testosterone levels. “The higher your level of cortisol the lower your testosterone level, and vice versa,” Helen explains. “In other words, anything that lowers cortisol increases the balance of testosterone in your body.” Exercise and some relaxing activities such as yoga or meditation can help to balance your hormones and keep you more calm, cool and centered. Find more advice from Dr Shilpa McQuillan M.D. here on coping with stress and anxiety during menopause.
- Sleep. This is the time when your body produces hormones like testosterone. If you are not getting enough sleep (and enough equates to around seven-nine hours nightly) it is likely you are not making enough testosterone. Researchers recording the sleeping patterns of healthy men have found that their testosterone levels increased the longer they slept. As women going through perimenopause and menopause are more likely to have their sleep disrupted by night sweats and sleep disturbances this can potentially disrupt production of hormones like testosterone.
- Laying off the caffeine. As Helen explains, although caffeine has been seen to increase testosterone levels in men, it has been shown to lower them in women – so perhaps cut down on your daily latte or switch to decaf.
- Exercise increases testosterone because it increases muscle mass. Doing weight training and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) have been shown to increase testosterone levels (in men) Regular physical activity will also help to keep your weight down and being overweight or obese is linked to lower testosterone.
- Managing blood sugar levels (and insulin production) can support DHEA (a steroid hormone: dehydroepiandrosterone) in the adrenals – this is a precursor to testosterone. High sugar or refined carbohydrate consumption in the form of sweets, baked goods, breads, pastries, pasta and juices can increase insulin levels. This can cause vitamin and mineral imbalances as well as reduce DHEA production. Helen’s key advice here is, “to limit these and add protein and/or fiber to each meal for balanced blood sugar.” She also noted that “Alcohol consumption is interconnected with varying levels of blood sugar. Initially blood sugar can increase but may lead to big dips in blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) if more than one drink is consumed.”
- Ashwagandha has been shown to support women’s physical and psychological condition. As we know, testosterone levels in women decreases with age. Studies have shown that Ashwagandha can increase testosterone in women to help support their diminished sexual desire.
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