Last summer I was involved in an undercover drug deal. He had never considered doing anything illegal, but he was desperate.
It happened like that. I was there for a weekend with friends, some of whom were women in their 40s and 50s. I found out that a friend, who lives an expat life in a Middle Eastern country with fantastic private healthcare, had recently been given testosterone gel as part of her HRT medication.
He had noticed a sharp and very welcome improvement. She reported feeling more alert, less forgetful, more able to get off the couch and be active, and less likely to break an anxious sweat over the little things.
I was fascinated. I had been taking TRH (estrogen plus progesterone) for about six months, but still felt awful. Before menopause, I was full of energy. He trained twice a week at a martial arts club and regularly attended boot camps and boxing classes. Now, even on HRT, I was often in pain, exhausted, and unable to concentrate. I would find myself procrastinating for hours.
As we were packing at the end of the weekend, my friend took pity on me. “Here,” she whispered. I have a spare. She slipped a small silver package into my palm. ‘The testosterone gel, 50mg, should last a good few weeks.’
Half the population will experience it, yet as millions of women across the UK know full well, even doctors consider menopause to be something they have to endure (File Image)
How do I take it?
“You squeeze out a pea-sized lump every day and just rub it on your thigh.”
At home, it took me a while to be brave enough to open the illicit package. I wanted to do some research first and make sure that trying a small amount wouldn’t land me in the hospital or with an unexpected beard.
When I got up the courage to apply it, my pea-sized amounts were more petits pois than the large garden variety. Even so, in a week I noticed a formidable transformation. I felt more alert, less stressed, more flexible, less prone to faltering. I slept more soundly.
Eventually I felt like myself again and began to wonder why the hell the NHS doesn’t offer testosterone to all women taking HRT.
Testosterone is primarily associated with being male, but before the age of 50, women naturally produce this third hormone along with estrogen and progesterone. All those symptoms of menopause that celebrities now ‘sensitize’ to – headaches, hot flashes, insomnia, weight gain, joint pain, back pain, irritability, depression, forgetfulness, confusion, anxiety – can be the result of a lack of testosterone just as much as a lack of estrogen.
Sometimes the symptoms of menopause are so severe that women who have just re-entered the workforce after raising children end up reducing their hours or leaving their jobs because they feel distraught and unable to cope. Considering that women make up almost half of the UK workforce, you can see that this has major economic implications. Then think of all the unpaid caregiving we do: taking care of our elderly parents and supporting the children. You would have thought it would make sense to shut us down.
There is a blood test that can help identify menopause by measuring levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and the main type of estrogen (there are three forms) called estradiol. (File Image)
After finding the missing part of my hormonal puzzle, and the little silver sachet slowly starting to wear thin, I made an appointment with my GP. A thorough search online revealed that she couldn’t buy these things anywhere. I would really have to prescribe it, but at the time I had no doubt that I could persuade my GP. After all, testosterone had transformed my life.
However, instead of a prescription, I received a lecture on the lack of NHS funding and how money should be allocated to those who need it most. They told me I would have to see a menopause specialist if he wanted testosterone, and there was a waiting list of at least two years.
In an attempt to lighten the mood, towards the end of my appointment the GP said, “We don’t want you to suddenly become a man, do we?” Then he seemed to control himself and said quite seriously, “Of course, if someone wants to become a man, that’s absolutely fine and we can definitely have a discussion about hormones for that.”
I left without asking any more questions, but can that be true? I can’t get the hormone I need as a middle-aged woman, but if I intended to transition, would the NHS deliver it to me?
Recent reports suggest that there is a shortage of testosterone due to increased demand. Middle-aged men who think their libido needs a boost, transitioning women, and middle-aged women are now crying out for it.
The irony though is that while for older women who lack the hormone, testosterone can be very helpful; For younger women who already have the correct levels, the extra testosterone can cause significant health problems.
The NHS website explains that testosterone preparations previously licensed for female use in the UK have been discontinued for commercial, not medical, reasons. So, despite all the endless “menopause awareness” campaigns and documentaries put on by Davina McCall, it’s clear that the problem isn’t just a temporary supply shortage, but that the NHS simply doesn’t consider middle-aged women worth the price. testosterone
- This article originally appeared on The Spectator.