Overuse of steroids in women can have adverse side-effects, leading to bodily dysfunction. Learn more in this guide on androgens.
If androgenic hormones are known for their essential role in men, they are also present in smaller quantities in women. However, an overproduction of these hormones can induce certain disorders. This is why anti-androgen treatments have been developed. Let us take stock of the role of androgen hormones and the consequences of overproduction.
What are androgen hormones?
Androgenic hormones, more commonly known as androgens, belong to the class of steroid hormones, a class in which we also find estrogens , progestins, or glucocorticoids.
Discovered in the 1930s, androgens are naturally present in the human body. They are particularly present in men, where they are involved in the development of typical male characteristics, but are also present in women in smaller quantities. If the best known androgen is testosterone, other androgens also play a role at a lower level within the body. This is particularly the case with dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), and androstenedione.
Secretion of androgen hormones
Testosterone is the most common androgenic hormone in humans. It represents 95% of circulating androgens. Testosterone is mainly produced by the testes, this hormone can be secreted in other regions of the body. It can in particular be secreted in small quantities by the adrenal glands, located above each kidney. DHEA and androstenedione are also produced in these glands. In addition to their production at the adrenal level, testosterone can also be secreted in small quantities in the brain and ovaries in women.
What is the role of androgen hormones?
Androgenic hormones are often known for their role in the development of male characters. These hormones allow in particular to induce differentiation as well as the development of the male reproductive organs. At the time of puberty, androgens also participate in the appearance of male secondary characters. Androgenic hormones are involved for:
- the development of the skeleton, with thicker and larger bones;
- increased muscle capacity;
- the appearance of more marked hair growth;
- the appearance of a more marked Adam’s apple ;
- the appearance of a change of voice with the voice that changes;
- growth of sexual organs;
- behavior modification, allowing reproduction.
- Puberty in boys
Androgens: precursors of female hormones
Androgenic hormones also play a precursor role in the production of other molecules. Androgens allow in particular the synthesis of certain female sex hormones such as estrogen.
What are the consequences of an overproduction of androgens?
In some cases, an overproduction of androgens can occur. We talk about hyperandrogenism, this is a dysfunction generally diagnosed in women that manifests itself through various symptoms such as:
- The hirsutism, that is to say the development of excessive hair in women;
- The establishment of persistent acne in certain subjects;
- The amenorrhea in some women, that is to say the absence of menstrual periods (menses).
This hyperandrogenism can have different origins. It can in particular be caused by:
- The polycystic ovary syndrome , a disease associated with hormonal imbalance but it is still unclear to this day;
- Certain genetic diseases such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia;
- The presence of a tumor, especially in the adrenals or ovaries.
Please note : this information is given for information only. Androgens are still the subject of scientific studies. These details may be disputed or supplemented by new results. If in doubt, it is advisable to contact a health professional.
What treatments are offered?
To fight the symptoms of hyperandrogenism, treatments have been developed. These are substances called “anti-androgens”. They limit and decrease the activity of androgens by blocking androgen receptors.
Anti-androgen treatments are also used to treat certain cancers such as prostate cancer in humans.
However, they are not without side effects. Thus, according to an American study, exposure to an anti-androgenic treatment (AAT) in the context of prostate cancer is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in the 10 years that follow.