Context: Androgens influence sexual differentiation and behavior, body composition, and physical functioning in men, but their role in women is less well understood. Because circulating androgens decline with age, the use of androgen supplementation for women to improve health and well-being has been increasing. Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the association between androgens and a variety of end points thought to be affected by androgens. Design: In a community-based baseline cohort of women aged 42-52 yr from the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation, we measured circulating testosterone (T), dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, and SHBG, and calculated a free androgen index (FAI) in 2961 women. Main Outcome Measures: Correlations of androgen measures with each other and with body mass index, waist circumference, and waist-hip ratio were computed, and odds ratios (OR) were estimated for the categorical outcomes of functional limitations, functional status, self-reported health, scores indicative of depressed mood, quality of life, sexual desire and arousal, and the presence of the metabolic syndrome. Results: Androgens, and particularly SHBG, were associated most strongly with body mass index, waist circumference, and waist-hip ratio. SHBG was associated prominently inversely with the metabolic syndrome (OR = 0.32; 95% confidence interval = 0.26-0.39), which was present in 17% of women at baseline. Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate was associated modestly with functional status and self-reported health. T was associated minimally with increased sexual desire (OR = 1.09; 95% confidence interval = 1.00-1.18). The association of FAI with self-reported health and depressive symptomatology based on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale score was explained more by T than by SHBG, whereas the association of FAI with sexual arousal and metabolic syndrome was due more to SHBG than to T. Conclusions: Circulating SHBG and androgens are most strongly associated with physical characteristics and the metabolic syndrome in women in this community-based cohort. Androgens are related weakly to physical functioning and other symptoms to which they commonly are attributed, such as sexual desire, sexual arousal, and well-being.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism