Effects of androgens on insulin action in women: is androgen excess a component of female metabolic syndrome?

Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2008 Oct;24(7):520-32. doi: 10.1002/dmrr.872.


Hyperinsulinemia as a consequence of insulin resistance causes hyperandrogenemia in women. The objective was to review evidence for the converse situation, i.e. whether androgens adversely influence insulin action. Androgen excess could potentially contribute to the pathogenesis of insulin resistance in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), metabolic syndrome/type 2 diabetes, and in obese peripubertal girls. An Entrez-PubMed search was conducted to identify studies addressing the relationship of androgens with metabolic syndrome/type 2 diabetes in women. Studies reporting outcomes of androgen administration, interventions to reduce androgen effects in hyperandrogenemic women, and basic studies investigating androgen effects on insulin target tissues were reviewed. Multiple studies showed associations between serum testosterone and insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome/type 2 diabetes risk in women, but their cross-sectional nature did not allow conclusions about causality. Androgen administration to healthy women was associated with development of insulin resistance. Intervention studies in women with hyperandrogenism were limited by small subject numbers and use of indirect methods for assessing insulin sensitivity. However, in three of the seven studies using euglycemic hyperinsulinemic clamps, reduction of androgen levels or blockade of androgen action improved insulin sensitivity. Testosterone administration to female rats caused skeletal muscle insulin resistance. Testosterone induced insulin resistance in adipocytes of women in vitro. In conclusion, the metabolic consequences of androgen excess in women have been under-researched. Studies of long-term interventions that lower androgen levels or block androgen effects in young women with hyperandrogenism are needed to determine whether these might protect against metabolic syndrome/type 2 diabetes in later life.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Adrenal Hyperplasia, Congenital / complications
  • Androgens / administration & dosage
  • Androgens / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperandrogenism / complications
  • Hyperandrogenism / physiopathology
  • Hyperandrogenism / therapy
  • Insulin / physiology*
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Menopause
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Postmenopause
  • Progestins / administration & dosage
  • Testosterone / blood


  • Androgens
  • Insulin
  • Progestins
  • Testosterone