How to Boost Your Immune System During Menopause

How to Boost Your Immune System During Menopause

Now that we’re in the thick of cold and flu season, you may be wondering what you can do to boost the immune system. Considering that many of the changes that typically accompany menopause — including lack of sleep, increased stress and anxiety and changes to the digestive system — can weaken your body’s immune response, it’s important to understand the connection between menopause and our immune system.1 When you know the ways that menopause can impact your immunity, you can take steps to better support your immune system through menopause and beyond.

How Does Menopause Affect Your Immune System?

There is likely a correlation between hormonal changes, specifically diminished estrogen, and immune function during menopause.  A review of 30 clinical studies looked at menopause and the immune system and found that changes in immunity have been attributed to estrogen deprivation.2 

“This may not be a direct, causal relationship, however, as there are so many other variables to sort through for each individual,” says Dr. Alyssa Dweck, Bonafide Chief Medical Officer. Some of the variables common during menopause that may affect immune health include: 

Lack of Sleep

Symptoms like night sweats and insomnia can prevent women from getting enough sleep during menopause, which can in turn impact immune health. Research suggests people who don’t get enough sleep may be more likely to get sick after exposure to viruses, like the one that causes the common cold, and they may take longer to recover from illness.3

Stress

Menopause can be a stressful time in a woman’s life, and stress has been shown to inhibit immune function. Cortisol, a hormone released by the body in response to stress, can lower the ability of your immune system to fight off antigens (foreign bodies like viruses), making you more susceptible to infection and illness.4 Taking steps to reduce your stress levels through practices like meditation or mindfulness can help to support your immune system, especially during menopause.

Autoimmune Disease

With autoimmune disease, the immune system can’t tell the difference between healthy tissue and a harmful intruder (like a virus), so your body mistakenly attacks itself.5 About 80% of individuals affected by autoimmune diseases are women, and researchers have noted that symptoms tend to flare during times of great hormonal change, such as during menopause.6

“I have anecdotally seen autoimmune conditions act up both during the premenstrual time in reproductive-aged women and during the menopausal transition,” Dr. Dweck says. For women who are already dealing with immune system challenges, hormone changes during menopause may exacerbate their symptoms.7

Changes in Your Microbiomes

Your immune system and your gut are deeply connected; they even “talk” to each other, sending messages back and forth in a conversation that begins at birth and lasts throughout your whole life. Microbiota (or microorganisms) in your gut help regulate many different chemical reactions in your body. Experts believe that by better understanding these relationships, it may help us learn how to manipulate our gut microbiota in an effort to combat disease and improve our overall health.8 It’s been demonstrated that when the balance between the beneficial and harmful microorganisms in your microbiome is thrown off, your immune system may not work as well as it should.9

Research indicates that the female gut microbiome is intrinsically linked to estrogen levels. Because of this connection, hormone fluctuations during menopause may throw your microbiome out of whack — and disrupt immune function in the process.10 In addition to the gut microbiome, women also possess a unique vaginal microbiome, that requires its own balance of bacteria to help support overall vaginal health. When either of these microbiomes are off, it may put us as a greater risk for infection or illness, so maintaining equilibrium is key. 

Supporting Your Immune System During Menopause and Beyond

Thankfully, there are things women can do to support immune health before, during and after menopause. Dr. Dweck recommends a proactive approach to boosting immunity that includes these six steps:

1. Aim for seven to eight hours of good quality sleep, paying special attention to sleep hygiene. Examples of good hygiene include:

  • Setting a cool bedroom temperature – between 60 and 67° F is typically ideal11
  • Avoiding alcohol and caffeine too close to bedtime
  • Putting away devices at least 30 minutes prior to sleep12
  • Wearing comfortable sleepwear
  • Moderating fluid intake in the evening hours and urinating before falling asleep to minimize nighttime wakeups

2. Eat a well-balanced diet, like the Mediterranean diet, which is favored for optimal cardiovascular health, weight management and immune support. It’s important to include plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables in your daily dietary intake (also known as “eating the rainbow”). The bright colors seen in specific fruits and vegetables are caused by phytonutrients, compounds that strengthen a plant’s immune system and can help prevent chronic illness; when eaten regularly, we can also reap the benefits.12

3. Consider dietary supplements designed to optimize immune function, particularly if you and your healthcare provider have determined you’re deficient.  Vitamin D, vitamin C and zinc have particularly strong evidence behind them when it comes to immune support.13

Learn more about Bonafide’s Immunity Essentials, designed to help you stay healthy and feel unstoppable.

4. Avoid tobacco and consume alcohol in moderation, since both smoking and drinking can negatively impact immune function.14

5. Find ways to relieve stress, whether that means sweating it out at the gym, trying a meditation practice or even just talking about any challenges of menopause with a friend.15

6. Move your body on a regular basis, since exercise can help boost immune function.16 If you can work a stress-relieving exercise practice like yoga into your fitness routine, you’ll reap even more immune benefits.17

When you’re proactive about supporting your immune system leading up to and throughout menopause, you may find you’re able to fend off illness, and feel better overall.

Resources:

  1. https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/ss/slideshow-avoid-infectious-diseases
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378512210003166
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757
  4. https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html
  5. Angum F, Khan T, Kaler J, Siddiqui L, Hussain A. The Prevalence of Autoimmune Disorders in Women: A Narrative Review. Cureus. 2020;12(5):e8094. Published 2020 May 13. doi:10.7759/cureus.8094
  6. Angum F, Khan T, Kaler J, Siddiqui L, Hussain A. The Prevalence of Autoimmune Disorders in Women: A Narrative Review. Cureus. 2020;12(5):e8094. Published 2020 May 13. doi:10.7759/cureus.8094
  7. Angum F, Khan T, Kaler J, Siddiqui L, Hussain A. The Prevalence of Autoimmune Disorders in Women: A Narrative Review. Cureus. 2020;12(5):e8094. Published 2020 May 13. doi:10.7759/cureus.8094
  8. Nicholson JK, et al. Host-gut microbiota metabolic interactions. Science. 2012 Jun 8;336(6086):1262-1267.
  9. Nicholson JK, et al. Host-gut microbiota metabolic interactions. Science. 2012 Jun 8;336(6086):1262-1267.
  10. https://www.mdpi.com/2077-0383/10/13/2916/htm
  11. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-the-ideal-sleeping-temperature-for-my-bedroom/
  12. https://www.google.com/amp/s/health.clevelandclinic.org/put-the-phone-away-3-reasons-why-looking-at-it-before-bed-is-a-bad-habit/amp/
  13. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/phytonutrients-paint-your-plate-with-the-colors-of-the-rainbow-2019042516501
  14. Rondanelli, Mariangela et al. “Self-Care for Common Colds: The Pivotal Role of Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc, and Echinacea in Three Main Immune Interactive Clusters (Physical Barriers, Innate and Adaptive Immunity) Involved during an Episode of Common Colds-Practical Advice on Dosages and on the Time to Take These Nutrients/Botanicals in order to Prevent or Treat Common Colds.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM 2018 5813095. 29 Apr. 2018, doi:10.1155/2018/5813095
  15. https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/9-surprising-ways-youre-weakening-your-immune-system/
  16. https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html
  17. https://www.communitymedical.org/about-us/news/boost-your-immune-system-with-exercise
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