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Ladies, Time for Some Testosterone?

Male hormone pumps up sex drive, muscle tone

THURSDAY, May 2, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Post-menopausal woman rely on estrogen therapy to deal with hot flashes, heart palpitations and sudden shifts of mood.

However, they may also be running low on the male hormone testosterone.

When researchers boosted this hormone in a small number of women over age 50, they revved up the womens' sex drive, increased muscle tone and dealt a blow to fat.

Even so, the researchers weren't looking for cosmetic results. They were searching for ways to help women who suffer from chronic illnesses and start losing muscle mass.

For example, testosterone therapy might help HIV-infected women get stronger, says researcher Dr. Adrian Dobs of Johns Hopkins Medical School. It might also benefit the frail elderly because it also increases bone mass.

Dobs and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins studied 40 post-menopausal women, comparing estrogen therapy alone with a combined regimen of estrogen and testosterone.

The women receiving testosterone got leaner from head to toe. Results were apparent in the upper body, torso and thighs. Overall, these women lost 7.4 percent of body fat. Their lower body strength also increased significantly, and they reported improvements in sexual functioning and quality of life.

The findings appear in the April issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

What about the average female? Will testosterone soon be added to traditional hormone therapy for women in midlife?

Women lose muscle tone and develop fat as a result of aging and declining hormone levels. "But we have yet to discover how testosterone can benefit this population," Dobs says.

Dr. Lila Nachtigall, director of the Women's Wellness Program at New York University, says, "women woke up to testosterone after watching "Oprah" and reading a book called The Hormone of Desire. But the trouble is we still don't know how this hormone is metabolized. Some women convert it into estrogen. So, they may be doing better because they're getting a higher dose of that."

Nachtigall says her patients often ask her for testosterone to boost their sex drive. Yet low libido can have other causes, ranging from stress at work to troubled relationships.

"If you're having problems," she says, "you need to have a blood test and find out if your testosterone really is the culprit."

Dr. Christina Wang, a professor at UCLA's School of Medicine, says she'd caution women about getting too excited about testosterone therapy.

"We still have very little research on women and testosterone; the numbers in those studies are generally small and the dosage is short-term," Wang says.

There are also side effects associated with long-term use.

"Too much testosterone can produce a masculinization of the features, the appearance of unwanted facial hair and acne," Wang says.

What To Do

If you're post-menopausal and having problems with your sex drive, ask your doctor to measure your testosterone levels.

Some women's magazines advertise a saliva test, Nachtigall says, but "we can't rely on that. To get an accurate picture, we need to know how much testosterone is in the blood."

Testosterone is only available to women in a pill that also includes estrogen. However, New York University researchers are testing a new delivery system that provides testosterone through a skin patch. Post-menopausal women in the New York City area can find out if they're eligible to participate in the trials by calling 646-935-0632.

For more information on testosterone and women, visit Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

Read this story on how some women handled testosterone therapy.

SOURCES: Adrian Dobs, M.D., Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore; Lila Nachtigall, M.D. professor, gynecology, director of the Women's Wellness Program, New York University School of Medicine, New York City; Christina Wang, M.D., professor, medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles: April 2002 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
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