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What are anti-androgens?

Androgens are hormones that regulate the development of sex characteristics. Usually, people born with male sex characteristics tend to have high levels of androgens. People born with female characteristics tend to have low levels of androgens. Instead, they often have high levels of estrogen.

Anti-androgen drugs work by blocking the effects of androgens, such as testosterone. They do this by binding to proteins called androgen receptors. They bind to these receptors so that androgens can’t bind to them.

There are several types of anti-androgens. You can usually take them with other medications or during certain surgical procedures.

How are they used?

Anti-androgens have many uses, from managing prostate cancer to reducing unwanted facial hair.

For women
Many women tend to produce few androgens. However, some women may produce more than others.

For example, women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)Trusted Source often have higher androgen levels. This can cause excess hair growth, acne, and ovulation problems. Anti-androgens can help reduce these symptoms in women with PCOS.

Other conditions that cause high levels of androgens in women include:

  • adrenal hyperplasia
  • ovarian tumors
  • adrenal gland tumors

Anti-androgens can help manage these conditions and prevent complications caused by high androgen levels in women. These complications include:

  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease

For transgender and nonbinary people

For people in transition, anti-androgens can help block some masculinizing effects of testosterone. They can reduce some characteristically male traits, such as:

  • male pattern baldness
  • facial hair growth
  • morning erections

Anti-androgens can often be most effective for transgender women when they take the medications with estrogen, the primary female sex hormone.

In addition to triggering the development of feminine physical traits, such as breasts, estrogen also indirectly reduces testosterone levels. Taking anti-androgens with estrogen can help to both suppress masculine traits and promote feminine ones.

For people who identify as nonbinary, taking anti-androgens alone can help reduce masculine physical traitsTrusted Source.

For men
Androgens stimulate cancer cell growth in the prostate. Lowering androgen levels, or preventing androgens from reaching cancer cells, can help slow down cancer. It may also shrink existing tumors.

In its early stages, prostate cancer cells rely on androgens to feed their growth. Anti-androgens work by blocking androgensTrusted Source from binding to androgen receptors in prostate cancer cells. This starves the cancer cells of the androgens they need to grow.

However, anti-androgens don’t stop androgen production. Medical professionals often combine anti-androgens with other treatments, such as surgical or chemical castration. These combinations are also called:

  • combined androgen blockage
  • complete androgen blockade
  • total androgen blockade

What are the side effects?

Anti-androgens can produce a range of side effects, depending on the dose and type you take.

Some possible side effects include:

  • low sex drive
  • increased risk of depression
  • elevated liver enzymes
  • reduced facial and body hair
  • higher risk of developmental issues for a fetus if you take them during
  • pregnancy
  • hepatitis
  • liver injury
  • erectile dysfunction
  • diarrhea
  • breast tenderness
  • hot flashes
  • menstrual irregularity
  • skin rash
  • anti-androgen resistance Trusted Source, meaning the medication stops working

A healthcare professional can help you choose an anti-androgen that suits your needs and comes with the fewest side effects.