A woman’s immune function is naturally more robust than a man’s.
It’s well documented that women have stronger immunity than men,
This fact may contribute to why women tend to live longer than men.
With immune health increasingly on everyone’s mind these days, primarily because of COVID-19, does it make sense to follow universal recommendations for boosting immunity? Or, do women……..and especially menopausal women……have special considerations when it comes to immune health because of hormones? Absolutely!
The Immune-Hormone Connection
Hormonal health plays an important role in overall health, and specifically in immunity. Have you noticed you are more susceptible to the cold, flu and other viral infections as you get older? While immune function naturally decreases with age, for women the decline in estrogen also plays a role.
Estrogen effectively “turns on” immune-promoting genes that increase defenses against pathogens. In essence, estrogen works on two branches of the immune system by both dampening inflammation and increasing antibody production.
The connection between estrogen and the immune system may help to explain why women are more likely to develop autoimmune disease than men. Since estrogen modulates the immune system, if estrogen levels are too high, it may drive an overactive immune system.
It’s common for women to experience fluctuations in estrogen during peri-menopause, including periods of estrogen dominance, where estrogen levels are high or high relative to progesterone. This pattern may exacerbate autoimmunity during the perimenopausal years.
When estrogen levels are low in menopause, the immune pendulum swings in the other direction making it harder for the body to mount an antibody response to a pathogen. When we understand the estrogen-immune connection, it’s not surprising why inflammatory symptoms, such as bone loss, increased weight and pain increase during this life phase.
So while it may seem sexy to offer a one-size-fits-all approach for boosting the immune system, especially during flu season and COVID, menopausal women have special considerations. Supporting hormonal health is an often-overlooked piece to improving immune health.
Top Tips for Building Immune Resilience in Menopausal Women
- Don’t neglect the basics. Quality sleep, movement, stress reduction, hydration and sunlight do wonders for hormonal balance and immune function.
Increase whole foods to increase the nutrient-density in the diet. Nutrients such as protein, vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc, selenium and others provide the building blocks and support staff for immune cells and support hormone metabolism. Use whole foods to replace processed foods, added sugar and alcohol in the diet, all of which may inhibit immune cell function, and exacerbate hormonal-related symptoms.
Specific immune boosting foods include: garlic, ginger, oregano, turmeric and mushrooms. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables have the added bonus of supporting healthy estrogen detoxification.
- Optimize vitamin D status. Studies indicate that optimal vitamin D status is protective against respiratory infections and more severe COVID-19 disease, as well as autoimmunity. Vitamin D also has a positive effect on estrogen metabolism. Request a blood test from your doctor and if your level is less that 40mg/ml, consider supplementation with Vitamin D3 with vitamin K. It generally takes at least 5000IU/day to keep levels in the optimal range.
Increase phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds found in plant foods that help support estrogen balance in the body. In menopause, these phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors exhibiting a hormonal response, which may modulate the immune system by decreasing inflammation and improving the body’s response to pathogen exposure. Sources of phytoestrogens include: organic soy, flax seeds, red clover and Pueraria Mirifica.
Everything in the body is connected! Understanding the connection between estrogen and immune health may allow us to take a more refined approach to supporting women’s health in menopause.
Please share how you’re building immunity!