Right now, the whole world is concerned about health, and rightly so. With the Covid-19 pandemic (otherwise known as Coronavirus) sweeping across entire countries, it’s very normal to be concerned about your health and how your immune system might stand up to the virus if you happen to contract it.
Little is known about how this virus affects the body, which is why a vaccine has not yet been created. A good assumption is that having a strong immune system is likely to help, but what happens to your immune system when you are on your period? You may be wondering if having your period can make you more susceptible to catching illnesses? Well, no more fretting ladies, it’s time to discuss!
What Does My Immune System Do?
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 (thanks to the gender gap in science) 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 estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, can have an impact on the immune system and its functions.
How Can My Hormones Disrupt My Immune System?
A study done by researchers at Oxford University found that when estrogen 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 is another reason why you're most likely to conceive during 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!
So When Am I Most Likely To Get Sick During My Period?
During the follicular phase of your menstrual cycle (usually starting from the first day of the period until ovulation), your estrogen 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 estrogen 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!
Late Ovulation and Early Luteal
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, estrogen 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.
How Can I Prevent Getting Sick?
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 going to become ill with Covid-19. Additional stress can affect your immune system too, so staying calm, staying at home, and following the government advice is always encouraged as a best practice for staying healthy.
Got questions about your period and the Covid-19 pandemic? Let us know over on Instagram @itsyoppie and we will do our very best to answer any queries you may have.