The importance of boosting your immune system during menopause
As the days finally appear to become a little longer and lighter again, our thoughts turn to Spring and an expectant end to all the coughs, colds, flus and other Winter bugs. We may start to ditch all the advice we have adhered to over the darker months that we have read about, such as Vitamin D supplementation, vitamin C, echinachea, multi vitamins and minerals in general.
We have long forgotten dry January and all our good New Year intentions and started packing the diary with social events again, perhaps drinking and eating a little more than we had meant to; many of us are returning to the actual workplace and therefore physically mixing with more people, and travelling to work on packed public transport. Even those working from or running a home may have children, teens and others in the school and workplace coming home and bringing unwanted illnesses from external environments.
There is no doubt that our immune systems took a real hit during the lockdowns when we were not mixing with others, but have we become more blasé about our immune systems since then? We all expected to be robust, literally “immune” once we returned to a new normality, however there is no doubt that most people, particularly in midlife, suffered from more winter ailments in the lead up to and during the festive period than previous years. We hear repeated tales of not being able to shake off a cold, lingering cough, chest infection and painful ears, headaches and a general feeling of lethargy more than ever before. Indeed, recent research suggests that not only did Covid itself have a long-term impact on our immune health, but the stress and fear of enforced lockdowns and changes to our daily lives affected us as well.
Now is the time to really boost our immune system even when we think we should be “out of the woods” of Winter. There are many areas where our immune system can be affected and it is important to look at all dietary, lifestyle and environmental factors, especially as we reach our 40s, 50s and beyond. As we enter this period of hormonal fluctuations and decline, this can have a detrimental impact on the immune system, and it is vital to be prepared for these years and indeed beyond.
How can hormonal fluctuations affect your immune system?
- Oestradiol, the type of oestrogen produced during the fertile years, can have a profound effect on the immune cells and their function within the body. As this type of oestrogen declines, this loss can promote inflammation throughout the body and increase the risk of infection. Research suggests that 80% of autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis occur in women.
- Some inflammation activity is always required as this is the body’s signalling system that something is wrong and the immune system needs to step up and deal with the immediate problem be that an illness or an injury, however the hormonal flux stage of the perimenopause and latter years can trigger certain changes within the body which can disturb the delicate balance of the immune/inflammatory response.
- Sex hormones such as oestrogen help to regulate the immune system of the female reproductive tract, and when reduced, can make certain infections more common, for example urinary infections and thrush.
- During the menopause and beyond, inflammatory conditions can take hold leading to muscle and joint pain, as well as loss of connective tissue and bone strength. A lowering of oestrogen can lead to an increase in cytokines, which are known as pro-inflammatory markers, resulting in pain and stiffness in the body.
- It is understood that 70% of the immune regulation and response occurs within the digestive system. If the beneficial bacteria (gut microbiome) are compromised or there is simply an imbalance of microbiome, known as dysbiosis (literally more bad bacteria than good), then an array of digestive health issues can arise which can affect the immune system. If the gut becomes hypersensitive and the digestive tract becomes permeated, this can trigger sudden food intolerances, for example to wheat and dairy products, leading to headaches, diarrhoea and constipation amongst other symptoms.
- The perimenopause stage of life has been associated with the onset of certain allergic and inflammatory reactions such as hayfever, eczema, hives and asthma.
What can be done to improve your immune system?
There are many areas whereby these scenarios can be prevented, delayed and in many cases improved. A wide variety of nutrient dense foods to improve gut health is vital to support the immune system and to create microbial diversity in the digestive tract; this includes good quality proteins, essential fats and certain carbohydrates to include fruits, vegetables and other forms of fibre. Sugar intake has been shown to reduce the immune response for some hours; this aspect of the diet can be reviewed as well as alcohol and caffeine consumption, otherwise known as nutrient “depleters” in the body.
There are excellent supplements available to help enhance even the healthiest of diets and support the immune, hormone and digestive systems throughout this stage of life and beyond. Lifestyle choices can be reviewed – it is important to take an honest look at stress levels and how these are managed, sleep can be impacted during these years through stress and many hormonal changes, which can affect the efficacy of the immune system, leading to increased pain sensitivity and inflammation among other aspects.
How can we help?
Here at Hormone Health, we can help. We can devise a bespoke programme for each client, taking in to account individual areas of concern without judgement, providing a realistic, sensible, long term approach by reviewing all areas of health to include dietary, environmental and lifestyle factors. To find out more, please get in touch to book a consultation with Hormone Health Associate and Registered Nutritional Therapist, Antonia de Gier.
Article written by Registered Nutritional Therapist and Hormone Health Associate Antonia de Gier