Perimenopause, also known as the menopausal transition, is the term used that described the stage in a woman’s life that occurs in the years leading up to menopause. Perimenopause typically lasts for 4 to 8 years but can differ from person to person. It usually begins in a woman’s 40s but can start in the mid-30s and early 50s also, perimenopause concludes when a woman reaches menopause which is defined as 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period. During perimenopause, hormonal changes occur in the body, oestrogen and progesterone levels start decreasing and this can lead to an array of symptoms including irregular menstrual cycles, hot flushes, mood swings, decreased libido and vaginal changes.
Does Perimenopause Affect Your Immune System?
The immune system can be influenced by hormonal fluctuations during perimenopause. Oestrogen has been shown to modulate the immune response, as oestrogen levels fluctuate and start decreasing the immune response can become less effective. This can effect the body’s ability to defend against infections.
Inflammation is a natural and necessary response to infections and tissue damage however when inflammation persists and becomes chronic it can have a negative impact on the immune systems function. The hormonal changes during perimenopause can lead to an increase in inflammation, elevated levels of pro-inflammatory markers can have an effect on the immune systems regulation as well.
Some studies have also suggested that perimenopause can lead to changes in the number and function of certain immune cells, for example the number and function of natural killer cells (these are important for fighting infections) have been reported lower in perimenopausal women.
How Can Perimenopause Impact your Immunity?
A weakened immune response can make women more vulnerable to infections as the immune systems ability to recognise and fight off infections decreases. This may lead to a reduced capability to respond successfully to pathogens.
Studies have shown that some women may experience an increased risk of developing an autoimmune condition during perimenopause. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakes targets and starts attacking the body’s own tissues. The hormonal fluctuations during this time can trigger or exacerbate these conditions, especially those with a genetic predisposition.
How to Boost Immunity During Perimenopause and Menopause
Nutrition and Diet
A well-balanced diet with a high intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is essential for supporting immune health. Here are some key dietary recommendations to improve your immune system:
- Vitamin C – found in citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries and peppers.
- Vitamin D – soak up sun rays in the morning and evening
- Zinc – included in oysters, red meat, pumpkin seeds & brazil nuts
- Probiotics – found in Happy Green, Happy Turmeric, kefir & sauerkraut
- Antioxidants - Leafy greens, broccoli, green tea and berries
- Omega-3 – found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, flaxseeds & walnuts
- Anti-inflammatories – garlic, turmeric & berries
Exercise and Physical Activity
Regular exercise is so important for many reasons but did you know that it is key for a healthy immune system? Here are some reasons why:
- Reduces inflammation in the body which is associated with lowered immune function
- Improves stress reduction which can weaken the immune system
- Supports cardiovascular health, a healthy cardiovascular system ensures that immune cells and antibodies can be transported through the body efficiently
- Enhances lung function, this supports oxygenation to tissues and improves immune responses
- Maintains weight, this can help to lower chronic diseases
Chronic stress can have a significant impact on the immune system and overall well-being. Perimenopause can also increase the stress hormone cortisol which can also increase inflammation so focusing on stress reduction is big here!
Here are some stress reduction techniques:
- Mindfulness meditation – this practice involves focusing on the present moment, this can help to reduce stress and anxiety
- Deep breathing exercises (eg. Box breathing) – controlled breathing techniques can calm the sympathetic nervous system reducing stress
- Yoga – combining physical movement, breathing exercises and meditation together to promote relaxation and stress reduction
- Green bathing – this involves spending time in nature around greenery, this brings a sense of calm and promotes relaxation
Lack of sleep quality and quantity is reported as a symptom during perimenopause, hot flushes, increased stress and lack of exercise have a big part to play here. Sleeping well regulates inflammation and produces essential immune cells that help boost the immune system. Sleep is the time that our body recovers and repairs.
Here are some simple ways to improve your sleep:
- Practice meditation before you go to sleep – this can promote a more relaxed state allowing you to drift off to sleep
- Journal before you jump into bed – this will allow you to get all of your thoughts out onto paper, jot down tomorrows to do list and leave your mind empty allowing you to rest
- Limit screen time – the blue light from phones, computers and TVs can interfere with your body’s production of melatonin (the sleep hormone)
- Optimise your diet – avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime as they can disrupt your sleep quality
Expose yourself to natural light – this can help regulate your body’s circadian rhythm, spend time outdoors especially in the morning.
Supplements and Herbal Remedies
- Happy Defence includes key immune boosting herbs and nutrients. This product helps to relieve the severity of colds, supports immunity, reduces respiratory tract infections and improves nutrient absorption!
- Happy Turmeric helps to inhibit virus entry into the cells. It also includes probiotics that help support gut health which is crucial for increased immunity.
- MSP helps to nourish your nervous system, improving sleep, energy and reducing stress. This can help support your body during perimenopause to help your immune system not get run down.
- Happy Hormones helps to regulate hormones, this is the key product for perimenopause and can help your body stay healthy to avoid getting sick!
Seeking Medical Advice
It is important to know when to seek medical advice when you are sick. We have an online clinic where our Naturopaths can support you further when you are unwell however if your symptoms persist and become severe then it is crucial to seek medical advice from your general practitioner.
Perimenopause can indeed affect the immune system. Whilst the hormonal shifts and physical changes that are associated with perimenopause can influence your immunes function, it is important to know that there are ways that you can help your body move through this time smoothly. Eating a balanced diet rich in immune-boosting nutrients, practicing regular physical activity, engaging in stress reduction techniques, optimising sleep and using the right supplements for your body are key to ensure your immune system doesn’t let you down during this new phase of life!