Keeping your immune system healthy and strong is vital to your overall wellness and well-being. Your body works extremely hard to keep you healthy and fight off diseases and infections. With a quick search online, you can find several articles explaining the importance of eating clean, exercising, and much more to keep your immunity in check. However, there is another component that is overlooked often which is the link between immunity and hormonal health.
Maintaining balanced hormones is foundational to a strong immune system and a weak immune system can be an indicator of a hormonal imbalance. Hormones like estrogen, serotonin, cortisol and many others directly influence the function of your immune system. These hormones all play a part in keeping you cold/flu free.
Let's take a dive into a few key hormones that impact the immune system...
Estrogen The hormone estrogen enhances the inflammatory response of your immune system, which is necessary to ward off any invading threats.
Research shows that during a woman's reproductive years, her immune system is the strongest because this is when her estrogen is the highest. However, the drawback of this is that when a woman ages and her estrogen levels lower, during or after menopause, her immune system may be compromised.
Overall estrogen helps boosts the immune system, due to the estrogen receptors that are in tissues all over your body. Estrogen boosts B cell and T cell function, which are essential to fighting off pathogens. Estrogen also supports a healthy heart by regulating blood flow.
On the flip side, too much estrogen can in fact your immune system negatively. The risks of being estrogen dominant can actually encourage the development of an autoimmune response. Due to the high levels of estrogen, it can confuse the body to mistakenly attack your own cells.
Progesterone is commonly known as a sex hormone, however, we have progesterone receptors all over the body just like estrogen.
Generally, progesterone and estrogen tend to have opposite effects on the body. Each hormone helps balance the effects of the other in order to maintain a healthy balance.
In other words, estrogen boosts the immune response by promoting inflammation, while progesterone triggers the immune cells to reduce inflammation. Progesterone helps cool the inflammatory response, activates anti-inflammatory T-cells, and signals your mucosal cells to focus on repair.
In addition, when your progesterone dips too low, your body may experience symptoms like estrogen dominance, pushing your immune system into overdrive. That is why healthy levels of both estrogen and progesterone are crucial to immune health.
This hormone is recognized to prepare the woman's body for breastfeeding and producing milk. However, outside of pregnancy, it has a pro-inflammatory effect, which helps adjust the immune cell response.
One of the biggest responsibilities prolactin has on pregnant women is helping them shift their immune system from a state of Th1 dominance to a more mellow state of Th2 dominance. This essentially means that the immune system adapts to not seeing the sperm and fetus as outside invaders.
Your immune system's job is to fight off anything that is not "you", like viruses, bacteria, or other threats. That means that pregnancy, which is your body accepting something foreign, that is not "you", requires a huge shift in your immune system. In others, your immune system needs to calm down, not be so aggressive and protective, and let the baby grow. While this may sound concerning, do not freak out! A woman's body is designed for this shift.
On another note, that is why some women experience relief from autoimmune symptoms during their pregnancy.
Now, while healthy habits can support a strong immune system, hormonal health should definitely be monitored and maintained. As you can see, our hormones have a huge effect on the way our bodies protect us and fight off viruses and diseases. Understanding the way our bodies function can help us take care of them even better and make healthier choices.
If you want to learn more about how you can understand your hormones and improve your overall health, click here!