Can Menopause Weaken And Affect Your Immune System?

Last updated 12.15.2023 | by Sabrina Johnson | 11 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.


Menopause isn’t an overnight affair. It will take between seven and 14 years to transition into menopause. So, during this phase, your body will go through umpteen changes. Your body may also undergo other changes besides your menses that fluctuate in flow and duration. It is all because of the hormonal imbalances. Did you know? The changes that a woman’s body goes through in menopause lasts anywhere between one and ten years. 

So, with so many physical changes, is your immune system compromised in menopause? I recently came across a 2013 study that showed a direct connection between a decline in the immune system and a drop in the levels of estrogen and progesterone. 

If we consider the different symptoms separately, around 75-80% of women have hot flashes. Vaginal dryness that begins in perimenopause prevails in approximately 75% of women in the postmenopause stage. When talking about mood fluctuations, one in every four women goes through it. It’s that common. With all of these happening, your immune system may get affected if you aren’t cautious about maintaining your overall health. 

When I was in my 40s, it seemed as if I was suffering from one ailment of the other almost every day. It made me jittery and anxious. The doctor’s advice and resorting to a healthy lifestyle helped me immensely. Are you in your 40s? Do you find yourself getting sick now and then? Are you worried about menopause affecting your immune system? In this article, I have touched on some of the basic aspects, like the impact menopause may have on your immune system and the ways to boost your immunity in menopause.

How Does Menopause Affect Our Immune System? 5 Reasons

How Does Menopause Affect Our Immune System? 5 Reasons

As mentioned, most of the changes women encounter in menopause can be attributed to low hormone levels. Studies have shown that estrogen has anti-inflammatory effects that help to combat infections and heal wounds. So, when the estrogen levels lower, the body’s ability to fight infections declines. Let’s take an insight into the impact menopause has on our immune system:

1. Decrease in T-Cells

T-cells, also called lymphocytes, are white blood cells that help the immune system fight against germs. In this way, it plays a pivotal role in protecting our bodies from diseases.

A decline in the hormone levels in menopause also results in a reduction in the T-cells. As a result, the immune function of our body is hampered.

This also makes us susceptible to several bacterial and viral diseases since our body’s capacity to fight germs is declining.

2. Increases Inflammation

As mentioned above, the anti-inflammatory functions of estrogen play a significant role in helping the body fight against infections and lessen pain. The body’s resistance to combat infections and heal wounds decreases when there is a dip in its numbers. This has a direct impact on the immune system. That is why women who have entered the postmenopause phase are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

A questionnaire was conducted to check the severity of multiple sclerosis symptoms during premenopause, postmenopause, and after applying HRT (Hormone replacement therapy). Nineteen postmenopausal women participated in the survey, and around 54% reported worsening symptoms with the onset of menopause.

3. An increase in Stress Lowers the Immune System

The fluctuating hormone levels account for all the stress and anxiety women go through during the perimenopausal and menopausal stages. Menopause means an immense physical and mental change.

On the one hand, you’ll be frequently troubled with vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and sleep problems. On the other hand, you are also likely to develop cognitive issues like forgetfulness and concentration problems. All of these would surely elevate your stress levels to the core.

Cortisol is vital in regulating your body’s response to stress. As the estrogen levels decline, there’s a spike in the cortisol levels, aggravating the stress levels. That’s why, during menopause and the transition phase, you are already going through a lot. And, with the rising cortisol levels, your stress tolerance lessens further.

Now, let’s talk about the relationship between stress and the immune system, which is complex indeed. Increased stress might reduce the T-cells that are instrumental in helping the body to fight against diseases. This estimation is per the American Psychological Association’s reports.

Studies have also mentioned another interesting fact regarding stress and its impact on the immune system. Stress can trigger the immune system’s inflammatory response, which may help fight germs, but temporarily. When the inflammation persists, it can lead to heart ailments and several chronic diseases.

So, if controlling stress is becoming troublesome in menopause, you must find ways to manage the same. Else, it could take a toll on your overall health. I remember my doctor emphasizing keeping my stress levels under control. She advised me to practice relaxation techniques and do things that calmed my mind. She even mentioned that if I do not manage my anxiety levels, my overall health could be affected.

4. Sleep Problems (Hampers the Immunity Levels)

Sleep issues are quite common in perimenopause and postmenopause. It is seen in 39-47% of women in the menopause transition and 35-60% of women after menopause. There are umpteen reasons for the same, mainly the fluctuating hormone levels.

When you have hot flashes and night sweats troubling you at night, sleeping uninterruptedly becomes a challenge. Then comes the mood swings and increased stress levels that can deprive one of a peaceful night’s sleep.

When your sleep is disrupted, your immune system will also be affected. Studies have highlighted that those with insufficient sleep had a greater chance of becoming sick and slower chances of recovery from any illness.

When one sleeps, cytokines, a kind of protein, are released by the immune system, which helps to control inflammation. They even help the immune system fight against the germs entering the body. Improper sleep will lessen cytokine production, making you more susceptible to infection. I battled with sleep issues for quite a long. Every morning after a sleepless night, I felt miserable. Regular exercise and meditation came to my rescue.

5. Digestive Disorders (Impact One’s Immunity)

The decreasing levels of estrogen and progesterone lead to digestive disorders in women. They might experience abdominal pain, irregular bowel movement, or bloating. Women who already have digestive issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease will have a tough time dealing with menopause-related digestive problems.

Digestion plays an essential role in the immune function. It is said that around 70-80% of the immune function begins in the gut.

The gut has immune cells that come in contact with the microbiome, which lives in our gastrointestinal tract. The lifestyle and diet of an individual increasingly impact these microbiomes.

When you have a diet high in processed foods, animal proteins, saturated fats, and sugars, it leads to unhealthy microbiomes and increases inflammation, as well as chronic problems. A fiber-rich diet encourages the growth of healthy microbiomes in the gut and lessens inflammatory responses.

The microbiome has several functions. It facilitates digestion, controls our immune system, and kills bad bacteria. So, it is vital to watch out for your diet in menopause. Your digestive system is already compromised because of the hormones. Eating unhealthy may do more damage. In the initial years, things were so overwhelming that I would mostly be tempted to binge eat. It took me immense effort to overcome this habit. Eventually, I completely cut down on processed foods. That worked not only towards improving my digestion but also my overall health.

How to Boost Your Immunity During Menopause? 3 Easy Ways

3 Easy Ways to Boost Your Immunity During Menopause

You can boost your immunity during menopause by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips to follow:

1. Eat Healthy

Focus more on eating colorful fruits and vegetables, at least 5 portions daily. The vegetables that you must include in your list are green leafy ones like broccoli, spinach, kale, tomato, carrot, eggplant, and bell pepper. Fruits high in antioxidants, like berries, mangoes, and cherries, must also be a part of your diet.

Fish like canned salmon and sardine are high in calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. They will also help boost your mood and care for your bone and heart health. You must eat two portions of fish at least two times a week. If you do not eat fish, seeds and nuts may be substitutes.

If you are constantly troubled with hot flashes, add more cooling foods, like apples, spinach, broccoli, eggs, and green tea. When you have hot flashes, your sleep goes for a toss, and your mood is also disrupted.

So, choosing an appropriate diet will help. Also, avoid trigger foods like spices, alcohol, and carbonated beverages. My hot flashes would worsen while eating jalapeno. So, I eliminated that and other spices as well from my diet that would spike the heat level, making my flashes worse.

Stay hydrated. Drinking sufficient water will help you manage your weight and flush out toxins from your body.

2. Exercise Well

Maintain a proper exercise regime. When you do that, it will help to manage your weight and also release stress. You should aim for two and a half hours of weekly aerobic activities.

These include hiking, walking, jogging, running, rowing, exercising on a stair climber, etc. It has been studied that running for at least 15 minutes daily or doing an hour of brisk walking will help relieve depression and stress. You must also dedicate ample time to yoga and practice relaxation techniques. This will reduce stress, help with sleep, and even boost your overall health.

Until my 40s, I was never that serious about following an exercise regime. After my first hot flash and regular sleep issues, I began focusing on a proper workout plan. I follow that to date. I devote at least 30 minutes daily to exercise, sometimes simply walking or a combination of walking and running. I even go swimming once a week. If that is not possible, I devote some time to mowing my garden, which is again a good cardio.

3. Inculcate Healthy Sleeping Habits

Sleeping well is one of the most essential factors that you should consider in menopause. Getting sufficient sleep at night also helps to boost your immune system. You must follow a regular sleep schedule.

Avoid taking power naps during the afternoon or late in the evening. In this way, your sleep at night may get disrupted. Keep screen time to the minimum at night, and do things that relax your mind. These include reading a book, listening to soft music, and taking a warm bath.

Do not exercise or eat heavy meals before bedtime. If you swear by coffee, refrain from taking it before sleeping. Due to hot flashes and sleep issues, I cut my caffeine intake from four cups to just a single cup a day. Also, reduce your alcohol content, as it not only hampers your sleep but also puts you at risk of other health problems.

FAQs

Does hormone replacement therapy help to boost the immune system in menopause? 

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is said to lessen menopausal symptoms like vaginal dryness, hot flashes, etc. In fact, with menopause, your estrogen levels dip drastically. 
Hormone replacement therapy replaces the estrogen that your body doesn’t make any more as you progress into menopause. Studies have shown HRT to help in boosting the immune system. A study deduced that women who took HRT responded better to flu vaccines than those who didn’t.
However, it comes with risks as well. So, it is better to consult your healthcare provider first before you think of going for this therapy.

Q. Can natural remedies help with immunity during menopause?

The role of natural remedies in boosting the immune system remains undisputed. Some useful herbs include turmeric powder, ginger root, oregano oil, and garlic cloves.
Vitamin C and Vitamin E supplements may also help. However, before going for natural remedies, discussing with the doctor is safe.

Conclusion

When you eat well, follow a healthy lifestyle, and exercise well during menopause, your immune system will surely improve. You cannot avoid the hormonal fluctuations and reduction. That’s bound to happen. But, when you consciously cut down on unhealthy habits and adopt healthy ones, you will certainly experience better physical and mental health. Remember, you aren’t alone.

Many women are sailing on the same boat as you. When you talk out your woes to those in a similar situation as yours, you are bound to feel better.

Reference:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3954964/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8870346/#:~:text=In%20this%20review%2C%20we%20have,and%20wound%20healing%20and%20repair.
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1293688/
  4. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/sleep-problems-and-menopause-what-can-i-do
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296386/#:~:text=One%20should%20aim%20for%20two,life%20and%20menopause%2Drelated%20symptoms.
  6. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/sleep-problems-and-menopause-what-can-i-do

Author

  • Sabrina Johnson

    Meet Sabrina Johnson, a compassionate author and a seasoned expert in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a driving force behind Simply Menopause, where her extensive medical knowledge and empathetic nature come together to empower women in their menopausal journey. Sabrina offers culturally sensitive guidance and support through her approachable writing, making her a trusted friend on the path to menopause wellness.