Menopause means a zillion of changes that a woman will go through. Everything goes for a toss, from a woman’s skin to her hair, her mood, to sleep, and above all, her overall well-being. Not wanting to sound scary, though! Yet menopause, which mostly begins in women at 45-55 years, 51 on average, marks a massive transformation of her physical, mental, and emotional health.
Women experience changes in their physical and mental health from the perimenopause or menopause transition phase that mostly occurs at 40-44 years. You could blame it all on the fluctuating hormone levels, estrogen and progesterone. These are not just reproductive hormones but control the functions of the bone, brain, and other vital systems.
So, when your body functions are disrupted, it is evident that the immune system also goes for a toss. A study conducted in 2013 showed how the immune function reduced with a drop in the levels of estrogen and progesterone. Read on to know the impact menopause has on our immune system.
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.
4. Sleep Problems (Hampers the Immunity Levels)
Women in the menopause transition phase or who have already experienced menopause often have trouble sleeping at night. 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.
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. Whereas a fiber-rich diet encourages the growth of healthy microbiomes in the gut and lessens inflammatory response.
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.
How to Boost Your Immunity During Menopause? 3 Easy Ways
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.
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.
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. Also, reduce your alcohol content, as it not only hampers your sleep but also puts you at risk of other health problems.
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.
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.
When you eat well, follow a healthy lifestyle, and exercise well during menopause, your immune system will surely improve. You cannot avoid the fluctuations and dip in the hormone levels. 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.