Testosterone Keeps Women
Lean After Menopause
By Deena Beasley

LOS ANGELES - The male hormone testosterone may be the key to reducing body fat and building muscle in women after menopause, according to a new study.
"As women go through menopause there is a natural increase in fat," said Dr. Adrian Dobs, the study's lead investigator. "By adding small doses of androgen with oestrogen to a woman's body, we may be able to reduce her body fat while also increasing her lean muscle."
Many women take estrogens after menopause to combat symptoms like hot flashes and depression, but levels of male hormones, or androgens, which are present in low levels in women, also drop as women age. Yet the impact of androgen decline has been far less studied than that of oestrogen.
Research conducted by Johns Hopkins University, which was to be presented at an Endocrine Society Conference in San Diego on Saturday, showed for the first time that low doses of oestrogen-androgen hormone replacement therapy improved body composition in healthy post-menopausal women.
Women live an average of 30 years past menopause, during which their body fat is 20 percent higher than in women of child-bearing age. Research has also found that women lose nearly 4 percent of muscle mass within the first three years of menopause.
In the four-month study conducted at Johns Hopkins, fat tissue in the women receiving oestrogen-androgen therapy decreased by 2 percent to 4 percent, while lean muscle increased by 4 to 6 percent. Women receiving only oestrogen did not have any body composition changes.
Forty post-menopausal women, between 48 and 65 years of age, participated in the study. All of them had previously been on oestrogen replacement therapy for three months or longer.
"Proper diet, regular exercise and hormone replacement therapy, such as oestrogen and androgen, may help keep menopausal women's bodies strong and agile enabling them to lead healthier and more active lives," Dobs said.
But the therapy is not without drawbacks.
"A major concern with testosterone is a decline in HDL (so-called good cholesterol)," Dobs said. But she also noted that the study indicated a parallel decline in triglycerides, which are associated with heart disease.
"We think the overall effect on cardiovascular disease may be minimal," Dobs noted.
As with oestrogen therapy, the hormone combination also causes symptoms such as breast tenderness, headaches and nausea. Oestrogen replacement also raises the risk of breast and uterine cancer.
Testosterone is also known to cause unwanted hair growth, acne and increased libido, Dobs noted.
Previous research has found that oestrogen-androgen therapy may also help improve bone density in post-menopausal women.
"The body's muscular and skeletal systems work together to help support physical structure and movement. We need to determine whether this increase in lean mass is associated with improvement in strength and bone mass," Dobs said.
She noted that the data was important for older men and women because bone and muscle mass continue to decrease while fat mass increases as both sexes age.
"This research is extremely promising and we will need to further our studies to better determine what populations of women would most benefit from it," Dobs said.