Immune Function and Your Menstrual Cycle
Have you ever wondered if your immunity is influenced by your menstrual cycle?
Well, it absolutely is. Your sex hormones – oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone – directly influence your immune response.
Interestingly, this response specifically changes between the different phases of your cycle.
Let’s talk about how and why.
FOLLICULAR PHASE: The first half of your cycle
The follicular phase encompasses the first day of your menstrual bleed up until the day of ovulation. It’s the time in your cycle that oestrogen rises and you tend to be less susceptible to infection.
The reason behind this is that women respond by increasing the level of antibodies in their blood around this time. Antibodies are proteins produced and secreted by immune cells. They bind to foreign substances trying to invade the body, such as pathogens.
The body also experiences an increased inflammatory response during this stage. Now whilst we commonly think of inflammation as a negative reaction, it is, in fact, a vital response to injury and infection. It signals your immune system to heal and repair as well as defend against viruses and bacteria. This enables women to remain healthy enough to move into the next stage and ovulate, increasing their chances of pregnancy.
That being said, the rise in inflammation can be problematic for those who already have chronic inflammatory issues. This is one of the reasons we recommend turmeric for women who feel poorly before their cycle.
LUTEAL PHASE: The second half of your cycle
The luteal phase of your cycle begins with ovulation and lasts up to the time you have your menstrual bleed. It’s the time in your cycle when oestrogen initially drops and progesterone peaks. At this time, inflammation decreases and your immune response dampens.
In fact, studies have shown that when an egg is released during ovulation, your immune system weakens to avoid killing off sperm. Essentially the body does what it can in order to ensure implantation and procreation. It’s an innate response by the body to support fertility and further our species!
(Studies have also shown a link between testosterone and immune cells which play a role in this unique response.)
Note that during this stage, the suppression of inflammation which so strongly contrasts the phase before it, means that individuals with chronic inflammatory conditions actually feel much better. Healthier individuals, on the other hand, can sometimes feel cold and flu symptoms or a change in their oral health due to the fact that they’re more reactive to the presence of plaque and bacteria around the gums.
In women of reproductive age, the phenomenon of the luteal phase appears to be somewhat similar to the well known pregnancy-like inflammatory response.
Some evidence suggests that hormone drugs, particularly those which contain synthetic ‘progesterone’ (progestin), can also increase the risk of infection amongst ladies due to the suppressed immune response discussed above.
Whilst the information above explores a natural and normal response by the body that occurs in women of reproductive age, it can help to naturally boost your own immune response during times where you know you may be more exposed to pathogens. In this article, we explore all the aspects of healthy immune function.
For women who have abnormal menstrual cycles, they may find they are more prone to infections in the luteal phase. These women can look at natural options like Happy Hormones, which signal the body to regulate hormone levels to ideal ratios which can offset the potential immune lowering effects.
Taking our online women's health assessment is the first step to start exploring if you have a hormonal imbalance and how to start taking proactive steps to balance your hormones naturally.
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