Written by Yoppie
16 Apr 2020
What Does My Immune System Do?
How Can My Hormones Disrupt My Immune System?
So When Am I Most Likely To Get Sick During My Period?
How Can I Prevent Getting Sick?
Most people assume that having a strong immune system is a good thing to protect you from disease and infection, but what happens to your immune system when you are on your period? Can having your period can make you more susceptible to catching illnesses? Well, no more fretting ladies, it’s time to discuss!
Your immune system, put simply, works to fight off infection. It can also, on occasion, work against you, causing chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes. When you eat healthy food and stay active, you are strengthening your immune system, making it more able to fight off infection. When you eat junk food and stay stressed for long periods of time, you are weakening it, and therefore making infection more likely.
Understanding how your immune system functions can help you work on staying healthy and avoiding illnesses. Unfortunately, when it comes to how the menstrual cycle can impact the immune system there isn't exactly a ton of research. But from the research that does exist, hormones like oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, can have an impact on the immune system and its functions.
A study conducted by researchers at Oxford University found that when oestrogen levels drop during ovulation, the immune system is somewhat suppressed. This is because the hormone progesterone wants to encourage a pregnancy, while the immune cells want to fight off all foreign invaders in the body. So, the immune cells try to attack a fertilised egg and therefore stop a pregnancy from occurring, and the progesterone works to stop them. This all contributes to the ability to conceive around ovulation.
So depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, and what hormones are working hardest, research does show that at certain times you may have an increased chance of being susceptible to catching illnesses. Wild, huh!
During the follicular phase of your menstrual cycle (usually starting from the first day of the period until ovulation), your oestrogen levels are rising, so you will probably have higher levels of antibodies making you less susceptible to infection. If you suffer with a chronic condition, this rise in oestrogen does not automatically mean you will be feeling your best, as it is sometimes found to worsen any pre-existing conditions. Unfortunately, it's a win-lose scenario here!
During the luteal phase of your cycle (after ovulation), the immune system is suppressed and much less likely to react to any invading illnesses. As mentioned above, this is due to rising levels of progesterone, as well as changes in testosterone levels. This time, those with chronic illnesses may find their symptoms improve during the luteal phase, depending on the disease.
And finally, during the menstruation part of your period, and in the days leading up to this, oestrogen levels remain low. Strangely, menstruation itself (rather than hormones) is often associated with an increase in inflammation, though it is not clear why. People with chronic issues may experience worse symptoms again, as inflammatory responses return to normal.
Understanding how your menstrual cycle can affect your immune system is always helpful, and especially during this time. Remember that being at the point in your menstrual cycle where your immune system is lower, does not mean you are destined to get sick, and it definitely doesn’t mean you are definitely going to become ill with some seasonal virus. Additional stress can affect your immune system too, so staying calm, staying at home, and following medical advice is always encouraged as a best practice for staying healthy.
Got questions about your period and how it might affect your health? Head on over to our private Facebook group or drop us a note on Insta @itsyoppie. Don't forget that our personalised period box can get organic tampons, PMS supplements and more delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox, so that's one less thing to worry about if you're not in a position to get to the shops.
Fact checked by Doctor Samantha Miller.
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