The impact of testosterone imbalance on depression and women's health

Maturitas. 2002 Apr 15;41 Suppl 1:S25-46. doi: 10.1016/s0378-5122(02)00013-0.


Women suffer more often from depression than males, indicating that hormones might be involved in the etiology of this disease. Low as well as high testosterone (T) levels are related to depression and well-being in women, T plasma levels correlate to depression in a parabolic curve: at about 0.4-0.6 ng/ml plasma free T a minimum of depression is detected. Lower levels are related to depression, osteoporosis, declining libido, dyspareunia and an increase in total body fat mass. Androgen levels in women decrease continuously to about 50% before menopause compared to a 20-year-old women. Androgen levels even decline 70% within 24 h when women undergo surgical removal of the ovaries. Conventional oral contraception or HRT cause a decline in androgens because of higher levels of SHBG. Hyperandrogenic states exist, like hirsutism, acne and polycystic ovary syndrome. Social research suggests high androgen levels cause aggressive behavior in men and women and as a consequence may cause depression. Higher androgen values are more pronounced at young ages and before and after delivery of a baby and might be responsible for the "baby blues". It was found that depression in pubertal girls correlated best with an increase in T levels in contrast to the common belief that "environmental factors" during the time of growing up might be responsible for emotional "up and downs". T replacement therapy might be useful in perimenopausal women suffering from hip obesity, also named gynoid obesity. Abdominal obesity in men and women is linked to type 2 diabetes and coronary heart diseases. Testosterone replacement therapy in hypoandrogenic postmenopausal women might not only protect against obesity but also reduce the risk of developing these diseases. Antiandrogenic progestins might be useful for women suffering from hyperandrogenic state in peri- and postmenopause. Individual dosing schemes balancing side effects and beneficial effects are absolutely necessary. Substantial interindividual variability in T plasma values exists, making it difficult to utilize them for diagnostic purposes. Therefore a "four-level-hormone classification scheme" was developed identifying when estradiol (E) and T levels are out of balance. (1) Low E-low T levels are correlated with osteoporosis, depression, and obesity; (2) high E-low T with obesity, decreased libido; (3) high T-low E levels with aggression, depression, increased libido, and substance abuse; (4) high E-high T with type II diabetes risk, breast cancer and cardiovascular risk. Testosterone delivery systems are needed where beneficial and negative effects can be balanced. Any woman diagnosed for osteoporosis should be questioned for symptoms of depression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Composition
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Female
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Menopause / metabolism
  • Menopause / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Testosterone / administration & dosage
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Testosterone / deficiency*
  • Testosterone / therapeutic use
  • Women's Health


  • Testosterone