As we age, our biological functions begin to decline, and menopause in particular is a time of extreme change for a lot of women. Plummeting hormone levels can impact everything from skin and mood, to waist circumference and the quality of your sleep. And now scientists are beginning to learn that the drop in estrogen and progesterone that occurs after your last menstrual cycle can have a profound effect on your immune system.
As a woman ages, she is likely to experience a general decline in immune function, and a weakening of her natural defenses against pathogens and disease. The role that sex hormones play in immune function has been heavily researched and investigated and the general consensus among scientists is that the reduction in estrogen and progesterone - and, to a certain extent, testosterone - during perimenopause can be held in part responsible for reduced immune function in older women.
Women over the age of 60 have been shown to be at increased risk of developing certain diseases, including autoimmune disorders, suggesting that elevated levels of sex hormones have the ability to mediate immune response. When these levels or hormones are depleted, as is the case during menopause, immunity will suffer as a result.
Read on to find out how menopause could be impacting your body’s ability to fend off illness and infection, and what you can do to balance your hormones and strengthen your immune system during this transition.
How does the immune system work?
Your immune system relies on the activation of white blood cells - along with certain proteins - to fend off infections, pathogens, viruses, bacteria and fungi. There are two different types of white blood cells that are fundamental to regulating your body’s immune response: phagocytes and lymphocytes. The two work together in weird and wonderful ways to keep you healthy.
Phagocytes are present in your blood vessels and tissue and ingest or absorb invaders (pathogens) as they pass through. Once a pathogen has been ingested by a phagocyte, the phagocyte releases a chemical to signal to the lymphocytes what kind of pathogen has been absorbed.
Each ingested pathogen carries specific antigens, and each lymphocyte in your body carries antigen-specific antibodies that are activated once a pathogen is ingested. The three main types of lymphocytes in the body are B cells, T cells, and natural killer cells, and each plays a particular role in immune regulation:
- B cells create antibodies to fight viruses, bacteria, and toxic substances that enter the body.
- T cells attack and kill any cell in the body that has been invaded by a virus (T cells also kill cells that have become cancerous).
- Natural killer cells also kill infected and cancerous cells but they do this in a different way to T cells. Rather than creating antibodies, they kill the cells by secreting enzymes into the bloodstream.
Your body creates new antibodies in response to new antigens, and if the same antigen infects your cells again, your body can recreate the correct antigen quickly and efficiently (this is immunity).
How does your immune system change during menopause?
Estrogen and progesterone play a role in immunity and autoimmunity. These hormones decrease as you enter menopause, increasing the risk of developing an immune or autoimmune disorder. The depletion of sex hormones results in a sudden drop in the concentration of T cells in the blood, leaving you more susceptible to cancer, bacterial infection and viruses. This explains why post-menopausal women are more likely to develop colds, flu and autoimmune conditions.
Estrogen can also regulate the destruction of B cells. B cells are effectively the ‘check points’ of the immune system, monitoring everything entering and exiting the bloodstream. B cells are responsible for identifying the pathogens infiltrating the body - a bit like passport control for pathogens. It is only when the body is able to accurately identify pathogens that your phagocytes and lymphocytes are able to kick into action to kill them off.
Women over the age of 60 display increased susceptibility to infections and viruses for this very reason. Furthermore, post-menopausal women are predisposed to increased bacterial growth in the gut, which can result in the development of food intolerances and other intestinal tract problems.
Other factors that affect the immune system after menopause.
Many physical and psychological changes occur during this time in a woman’s life and certain menopause symptoms can also weaken the immune system. including difficulty sleeping, metabolic changes, changes in gut bacteria, and fatigue resulting in a decrease in physical activity and reduced inclination to eat well. All of these changes can further contribute to a compromised immunity and thus a greater susceptibility to infection and disease.
Reduced libido can mean that you don’t get to benefit from the stress-relieving and immune-boosting effects of engaging in sexual activity.
As if that weren’t enough, common menopause symptoms like thinning hair, mood swings, weight fluctuation, memory loss, night sweats and hot flashes can be really stressful, and elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been shown to weaken the immune system over time.
What you can do to improve immune function after menopause.
There are steps you can take to strengthen your immune system and reduce your risk of developing an autoimmune disease post-menopause. Supplementing smartly and following an anti-inflammatory diet can be really helpful. As can making sure you get regular exercise, prioritising sleep and avoiding stress wherever possible. You should also look to address underlying hormone imbalances.
How LYMA can support you during menopause.
LYMA contains everything you need for optimal immune functioning and provides you with support when you need it most:
Wellmune® is a highly specialized 1,3 1,6 natural beta glucan found in yeast. Beta glucans are naturally occurring in a whole range of foods from cereals and grains (think oats, barley and rye), to medicinal mushrooms and certain kinds of algae, including seaweed.
Wellmune® beta glucan has proven consistently powerful in peer-reviewed studies for its ability to enhance key immune responses in the body, improve overall health, and keep us healthy during times of stress, including during menopause.
LYMA also contains KSM-66® Ashwagandha, a world-leading adaptogen that can help to balance hormones. Ashwagandha has some pretty special properties and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to bring people’s bodies back into harmony during times of change and transition.
Supplementing with ashwagandha can help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety that surround menopause, it can help to support healthy sleep, improved memory and cognition and - both directly and indirectly - can support enhanced immunity. Daily supplementation with ashwagandha will also help to regulate the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body and brain which, again, can have a secondary impact on a woman’s immunity.
Supplementing with ashwagandha has also been shown to help to boost libido in menopausal women.
Vita-algae D3™, as formulated at 2,000 i.u. in LYMA, has been clinically dosed to deliver optimal immune-boosting results quickly and effectively. Adequate vitamin D intake is paramount to keeping your immune system firing on all cylinders no matter your age. The body cannot produce vitamin D itself and must obtain it either by supplementing or by eating fortified foods. Furthermore, women who have a sufficient intake of this vital nutrient have shown a reduced incidence of osteoporosis after menopause due to the vital role that vitamin D plays in calcium absorption.
Finally, HydroCurc® is the world’s first ever 100% cold water dispersed turmeric extract and offers increased protection against chronic inflammation and inflammaging that can undermine the smooth functioning of the immune system.
The bottom line.
Declining levels oestrogen and progesterone during perimenopause can contribute to changes in the immune system, increasing in their susceptibility to everything from the common cold to cancer, as well as increasing their chance of developing autoimmune disorders.
There is scope for plenty more research into the link between immune dysfunction and menopause, but the evidence that the two are intertwined is, for the moment, very compelling.
Whether you’re suffering from compromised immunity, menopause insomnia, night sweats, low mood, or other menopause symptoms, LYMA is here for you to and can help you to get your life back.
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Originally published Nov 26, 2020.