There are those who subscribe to the idea that “feeling run down” can make you more susceptible to ill health. However it is much more likely that the hormonal changes that occur during menopause, if not addressed, can bring about various diseases.
Your health is governed by your immune system. Your immune system, like all of the other functions of your body, is affected by the hormone imbalance that occurs during menopause. Prior to perimenopause, your hormones worked in harmony by co-existing with one another in a certain ratio. This kept your body healthy and functioning.
How does a healthy immune system work?
The immune system is the body’s defense against infectious organisms and other invaders. Through a series of steps called the immune response, the immune system attacks organisms and substances that invade body systems and cause disease.
The immune system is made up of a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body. The cells involved are white blood cells, or leukocytes, which come in two basic types that combine to seek out and destroy disease-causing organisms or substances.
What happens to your immune system during menopause?
During perimenopause, your ovaries produce less estrogen and less progesterone. While estrogen levels fall from their premenopausal levels during perimenopause, progesterone levels fall further. In terms of the ratio between them, there is greater percentage of estrogen in your body, relative to progesterone. This condition is called estrogen dominance. It disturbs the balance between all the hormones in your body. As hormones regulate every function of your body, all of the functions of your body are affected.
Besides estrogen and progesterone, the other major hormones are insulin, thyroid hormone and cortisol. Insulin regulates your digestive system, thyroid regulates your metabolism (metabolism is the process by which your body converts the food and water you consume into energy for immediate use or to be stored for later use) and cortisol regulates your immune system. Insulin, thyroid and cortisol play major roles in your health.
For the remainder of this post, I will discuss the affect that estrogen and cortisol have on your immune system during menopause, because they have the biggest affect on it.
Many studies have examined the affect that falling estrogen levels has on the immune system during menopause. The findings of these studies are conclusive. Falling estrogen levels weakens the immune system during menopause.
Cortisol has a big affect on your immune system during menopause because it plays a major role in fighting disease. It is an anti-inflammatory. As such, it counteracts germs, bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that cause disease.
Cortisol has another function. When you experience stress, your body automatically goes into a hardwired inbuilt survival mechanism called “fight or flight”. It produces increased amounts of the cortisol. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream to give you the energy you need to combat the threat. It also curbs functions in your body that are nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation….like your metabolic system, immune system and digestive system etc.
This “fight or flight” response was developed as a short term response mechanism to enhance your survival. After a real threat has been dealt with, cortisol levels return to their pre-threat levels and your other body functions normalize.
Menopause is a time of persistent stress. Persistent stress causes the adrenal gland, which produces cortisol, to become fatigued …. because of the continuous high demand for cortisol. As a result, the adrenal gland produces insufficient cortisol to counteract disease causing organisms.
Your body can become prone to autoimmune diseases, because of diminished levels of estrogen and cortisol during menopause. An autoimmune disease is an illness that occurs when the body tissues are attacked by its own immune system. Lupus, hashimoto’s thyroiditis, graves’ disease, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis are a few of the autoimmune diseases that menopausal women are prone to developing.
Here is what Dr John Lee says about autoimmune diseases and menopausal women
Women are afflicted with autoimmune diseases at a much higher rate than men, which is a good clue that female hormone balance in involved in some way. …The onset of autoimmune disorders is often in middle age, when estrogen dominance becomes common
In my next post, I will discuss what you can do to strengthen your immune system during menopause.