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Testosterone Fluctuation
Tied to Women's Sex Drive

Excerpt By Roxanne Nelson

SEATTLE (Reuters Health) - A fluctuating level of testosterone may account for a reduced libido in women in their 30s and 40s, researchers report.

Previous studies have found links between lower levels of male hormones such as testosterone and decreased libido in women, but findings have not been consistent or conclusive. But now researchers believe that it may have more to do with the stability of levels, rather than the level itself.

"We compared hormone levels of women reporting a decline in sexual interest," Dr. Clarisa R. Gracia of the University of Pennsylvania, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health. "Women with fluctuating levels of testosterone reported decreased sexual interest while those with stable levels did not."

Gracia, who presented the findings here at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's annual meeting, and her colleagues followed 333 women between the ages of 35 and 47 for four years. Hormone levels were measured every six to nine months, and at the end of four years, the women also completed a questionnaire. Eighty-seven of the study participants reported a decreased libido, but the researchers found that their testosterone values were similar to those of women who reported normal sexual desire.

However, they found that the more fluctuation or variability there was in testosterone levels, the more likely women were to report a decrease in sexual desire.

Fluctuation in hormonal levels is not unusual in this age group, explained Gracia. "As a woman transitions to menopause, all hormones fluctuate, and this may have to do with the slow shutdown of the ovaries."

She added that female sexual dysfunction is a complex disorder, consisting of numerous physiologic and psychosocial factors. These include depression, the presence of a child under the age of 18 living at home, marital status, education, vaginal dryness and alcohol use. But even after accounting for these factors, the researchers still found an association between testosterone and a decreased libido.

Traditional hormone replacement therapy, which is sometimes prescribed to relieve menopause symptoms, does not contain male hormones. Some women do respond to preparations containing testosterone, Gracia pointed out, and it may be that supplementation helps maintain steady levels of the hormone. However, more research is needed in this area.

As far as using testosterone to treat low libido in younger women, Gracia says it may be a possibility. "But that is not part of this study," she said, "And it is just a hypothesis for right now."

 


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