Menopause and Immunity

I’m way overdue writing a blog entry. I’ve been sneezing, coughing, hacking, and blowing for the past week thanks to a horrific cold/flu bug. Travel for 24 odd hours with recirculated air and no sleep and ZAP – there goes your immunity. Though uncomfortable, it’s perfectly normal for your natural defenses to be lowered in such a situation.

Here’s what doesn’t seem normal. Between one fourth to one third of the menopausal women I know suffer some kind of major illness or immune dysfunction with the advent of perimenopause and menopause. Most of these women are nonsmoking, active, generally healthy women with no major diseases or conditions. In other words, way too many women were becoming seriously sick when the Big M came to visit.

The Venuses themselves exhibited this phenomenon. I contracted a cardiac virus while traveling. Another Venus came down with Lyme disease. One goddess skipped the cold and flu going around and went straight to pneumonia without passing Go or collecting $200. Shingles, a painful herpes virus condition, sprouted on yet another goddess.

Now I know what you’re thinking. These are all infections and the Venuses caught them. Yes, it’s a bummer, but probably just coincidence. But as a nurse, I know that infections aren’t as simple a story as bug meets girl, girl meets bug, girl gets sick. Generally, you need a cascade of events to create illness: decreased immunity + environmental insult (bug e.g. virus or bacteria, toxin or poison, etc.) + inherent weakness or preparedness of your body to accept the insult = sick goddess.

And if this is hard to swallow, remember that not everyone exposed to the Black Death (plague) in the Middle Ages caught it nor did those who were exposed to the killer viruses in the great flu epidemics.

With this in mind, I got to wondering (read obsessing) if immunity decreases in women when they reach perimenopause/menopause? And thanks to my Menopausal Tourette’s, I blurted out my concerns to any who’d listen. While at the Maui Writer’s Conference, I chanced to blurt to a lovely woman of menopausal age. Sue (not her real name) told me her story. With the onset of perimenopause, she developed crippling arthritis from SLE or lupus. This active, previously healthy goddess literally could not get out of bed. While lying curled up in pain, she was also suffering hot flashes and day/night sweats. Hoping for relief of at least the heat, she got a prescription for bioidentical hormones. Within a couple weeks, the hot flashes had abated, and so had every symptom of lupus. She’s not had a recurrence of either.

After this stunning affirmation of my fledgling hypothesis, I did what any modern goddess would – I Googled menopause and immunity for studies on this phenomenon. The paucity of data was disheartening. The two studies I did find (one conducted in Turkey in 2004, one from UCLA in 2000) indeed found significant changes in immune function in menopausal women. Additionally, these studies found that hormone replacement therapy seemed to improve most markers of immune function. (Boy, if I were the drug companies, I’d be all over this rather than trying to put compounding pharmacies out of business.)

Both these studies were small, and certainly more research needs to be done to confirm and validate these results. Alas, it is so difficult to get anybody to give a rodent’s hiney about research in women’s health, particularly the area of menopause. So we’ll just have to speak up – louder, more clearly, and more often.

I’ve started by contacting the Nurse’s Health Study where I’ve been a participant since age 19. This is the largest prospective study ever done and it’s still going on. As the women in the study reach menopausal age, I’m asking the investigators to look at this problem in future testing and samplings. And writing my congresspeople. And blurting my thoughts, on occasion, as well.

, , ,

21 Responses to Menopause and Immunity

  1. lynette Sheppard September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    I have sooooo much empathy for you – I too had 30-40 hot flashes per day for far too long. I did NOT have 7 children nor primary caregiver responsibilities for anyone save myself, so you are overdue some relief! Start with the least interventional modality first – then give it time to work before going on to the next remedy.

    First: natural progesterone cream (not wild yam cream). Pro-Gest at Emerita.com is a great one. Also Natural Woman progesterone cream – at prodnature.com. These may also be available at your health food store. Again, don't let some well meaning clerk sell you wild yam cream – it's not in a form your body can actually use.

    This took care of my hot flashes for about 1.5 years. Then they started up again (because estrogen levels dropped.) Then you might wish to try an herbal menopause formula such as Menopause Plus formula from Emerita.com. (May be in your health food store.) The great thing about this herbal combo is that there is no soy in it. Soy is a major allergen – one of the top food allergens known.

    If it doesn't work, you might try a soy preparation such as Estroven, available in most drugstores. Be careful with soy – it can disrupt thyroid function or trigger allergies, although some women do very well with it for relief of hot flashes.

    Give each of these at least 2 weeks to work as recommended (although they worked for me within a couple days!).

    If these don't work, try bioidentical hormones such as estradiol – you'll need a MD order for this. Bioidenticals are just that – identical to the hormone our own bodies produce. Although no studies have been done to prove they are safer than synthetic HRT, it just stands to reason that and identical hormone might be better. I use an estradiol patch in a very low dose – I went on it not for hot flashes (the progesterone cream and herbs took care of those) but for the immunity problem. I wasn't coming back 100% after my cardiac virus and so went on the patch – within a month, I was off medication and completely healthy.

    I want to stress that it is important that you get some relief and get some sleep. You may also want to look into respite care for your child with cerebral palsy to give yourself a day off now and again, if that has not been happening. Because you are correct that sleep deprivation will hammer your immune system eventually.

    Oh and snoring? Yep, many of us menopausal goddesses now snore – not sure if that is just the again process or to do with the Big M itself or both. Anybody have any ideas?

    Good luck! Please keep us all posted!

    all my best,

    Lynette

  2. Rae Young September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    I remember you and I having conversations on this topic, thank you for putting it out there so other goddess can comment, and hopefully find some help. Aloha Rae

  3. Patti September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    Now I understand why I got the flu so severly last year. I just thought it was God getting back at me for my bragging how lucky I am that I never get sick.

  4. Betty Zahler September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    So great the research you have done Lynette. I am beyond menopause and can sympathize with the sistahs suffering, with immune deficiency. It really does get better as time and the new medical dicoveries help. Can`t say enough for the progress made already. Again, kudos to Lynette!

  5. Brenda September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    I am a 49 yr. old mother of 7. I started with hotflashes in July '05, so I just hit the 3 year mark. I barely sleep at all, but when I do, my husband says I am snoring loudly (forget the fact that I have been sleeping with a grizzly bear for the past 24 years). But I guess my snoring is bothering him, the poor dear. I never snored until recently. Has anyone else been told that they have started snoring during menopause. I have gained 15 lbs. over the last 5 yrs., maybe that has something to do with it. Or maybe its just the pure exhaustion. Also, my youngest child has severe cerebral palsy and I am her primary caregiver (I mean her only caregiver). So when I say exhausted I mean dark circles under the eyes and yawning all the time. So far I haven't gotten sick. But I too always assumed that if you weren't getting proper sleep your immune system would not be functioning optimally. Another question I have, is, does anyone else have hotflashes about every 15 to 20 minutes day and night. I am going out of my ever lovin mind. When I read what the experts say about severe hotflashes they say that 10/day is severe. I can get that many in 3 hours somedays. I do not take anything for them. HELP!

  6. Theresa September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    Interesting. I always felt that my past ability to ward off "bugs" was aggravated by the increasing lack of sleep I was experiencing throughout menopause. Now that I am post, sleep seems to be coming in longer and deeper levels than to which I had become accustomed to for the past 10 years. I have also noticed that my health has been quite wonderful lately (albiet this current lingering smoke is not helping.)

    Any connection to lack of sleep and the breakdown of immunity?

  7. Jane Gibbs February 6, 2016 at 8:01 am #

    hi all ive only just come across this page , i believe im perimenopause, been suffering for nearly a year now but each month seems to get worse ! hot flushes fatigue insomnia blurred vision aching limbs mainly my legs forgetfulness even dizziness more so motion in lifts on trains !!! it appears to happen before then after my period so not much of a break , and sometimes i have two periods a month , recently i have been unwell will colds then flu then another cold and now i believe i am suffering with strep throat totally run down , possibly due to all my sleepless nights , i have to admit i really lack energy at the moment feel like a zombie ! though saying that they probably have more go in them than me , i visited the Dr a couple of months ago and he had no idea what could be up with me however all my symptoms are classic signs arent they !? like Brenda re her comments my husband also states i snore like a trooper when i do sleep i Anyway back to the Drs Monday to demand tests for my hormone levels etc .

  8. LynetteSh February 7, 2016 at 2:35 pm #

    Dear Jane, You are so right to demand hormone tests – and though many (most) MD’s don’t seem to realize it, our immune system gets hammered during perimenopause or menopause. Take good care of yourself though the sleepless nights sure don’t help. Keep us posted!

  9. Gayle February 14, 2016 at 10:11 pm #

    What do y’all think about some of the “natural” remedies? I wonder if probiotics really increase your immune system? Is anyone here a vegan and does it help with any of these problems – hot flashes, anxiety, muscle aches, headaches/migraines?

  10. Ann February 29, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

    Thank you all for helping me confirm that I am not crazy, once I was healthy as a horse, now with the onset of menopause I get every sickness going around. Someone said it would get better, so I will keep the faith that this too shall pass. And I agree that I find it frustrating when you inquire with the Doctor why this simple acknowledgement
    Seems to not happen.

  11. Ashley Jeanne Ross March 5, 2016 at 1:46 am #

    Yes, faith is a great keepsake for and from The Change, Ann. And so is knowing you’re not crazy.

  12. Helen March 21, 2016 at 11:07 am #

    Hi there. Thanks for this site. I too am in menopause though thankfully not as bad as some. I take sage tablets which seem to have slowed my hot flashes and night sweats. They have also rid me of the awful brain fog, which is most disconcerting. I have repeated out breaks of shingles since this has started though thankfully there’s no pain with it. I used to be healthy as a horse. The one thing I hate the most though is the itchy skin. It drives me crazy. Any remedies for that most gratefully received.

  13. Jo May 10, 2016 at 1:34 am #

    Hi Ladies,
    I too am in the perimenopausal stage,for at least three years!GPs here in the UK have been no help to me at all,but I’m getting so bad now that I’m thinking of seeing a specialist!
    These blogs really do help,often I feel I’m going insane,I’ve lost my social life ,every day I have to focus on getting work out of the way,then I can get on with exercise,relaxation,sleep,nutrition and my constant research on the internet!
    I’m a trim 45 yr old,who has always exercised and been healthy,albeit an ex smoker !Now I still exercise regularly but I’m in constant pain ,brain fog,tinnitus,hyperacusis(even had metal plates taken out my jaw to see if that would help),hot flushes ,night sweats,burning stomach,swollen abdomen,fatigue,headaches,eye pain that has taken lots of visits to specialists over 3 years,to be told it’s blepharitis ,now when I become unwell,I get symptoms like backache,burning tummy,headache,depression and become lethargic ,this goes on for afew days then Blepharitis appears,it’s like it works itself out of me to my weak spot,my right eye!I feel like it’s a full time job doing all the right things everyday to try and ease all these symptoms,but out of each month I may have afew ‘normal’ days!Oh and I havent even mentioned the painful sex and ever increasing infections down there!
    I’m taking wild yam tincture to help calmness,5-htp for depression ,b complex,magnesium,evening primrose and starflower combo,probiotic with a course of aloe vera to help sort this gut problem out,turmeric for inflammation ,lots of good nutrition ,gentle exercise and plenty of sleep!Im about to start a course of seabuckthorn oil ,hoping this will help with the dry eyes,itching of skin and lubricate other areas,the read up and reviews are positive and that came about when I started the link between Demodex mites and Blepharitis…try mentioning that to the drs here and they would poo poo it like they do with everything else!
    Anyway thanks for this blog,wishing you all good health and here’s to hoping there’s light at the end of the ”menopause’!
    Jo

  14. LynetteSh May 16, 2016 at 1:01 pm #

    Wow, Jo, we really understand what you are going through. I swear it does get better. However, if possible try to find a holistic or integrative medicine practitioner – they just seem so much more knowledgeable and sympathetic AND genuinely helpful that the “traditional” physician. And yes, it does help to commiserate with one another. Hang in there, girlfriend. And check out some of the help for painful sex in the Menopause Marketplace. Menopause will set you free, but it will really mess you up first. Hugs to you across the pond!

  15. Karon July 15, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

    from 47 everything changed, palpitations, hot sweats but worse a weepy right eye. After spending a lot of money, seeing dermatologist, eye specialists and being treated for 2 strep B infections my Dr’s are finally linking my low immunity to menopause. So far I have tried everything from the herbalists which haven’t helped. I was a healthy person before this no allergies, very little sickness but now feel a wreck. I never thought I’d consider HRT but am thinking of trialling it. Before I go down that route anybody got any advice about something I haven’t tried

  16. LynetteSh August 1, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    You might try Maca root. See July 8 post for more info. I did eventually use bioidentical HRT when I had the immune system problems and it did get me “over the hump”. Good luck – keep us posted.

  17. Jacqueline September 2, 2016 at 4:55 pm #

    This blog and the replies are very interesting. I’m a very healthy 50 year old woman. I have 4 kids of which 2 are twins, so 3 pregnancies. I started early menopause very young – around 43 and my kids were still really little. My obstetrician put me on HRT right away and relieved my early symptoms almost immediately and improved my quality of life drastically.

    Lately though I have been having trouble with my immune system. Two winters ago, I literally went from virus to virus with little to no break in between. I’m a stay at home mom. If I had worked outside the home, I would have missed weeks upon weeks of work.

    Last winter was slightly better due to my efforts to be more mindful of resting and not over doing things. I’m very active and am getting better at not training when I feel myself starting to get run down. However, even with all the ref and mindful behaviour, I still only get about 4-6 weeks of healthy days and then I fall into a 3-5 day stint of overwhelming fatigue, headache and cold like symptoms.

    I had blood work done when I was getting sick non stop and my white blood cell count was really low. I should have gotten it tested when I felt better but didn’t.

    I did get it tested today as I’m convinced that I am having something like menopause fatigue. I have an appointment with my obstetrician next week and will discuss the results with her.

    I suspect I have quite a few years left of menopause and I can’t live like this. If I was working I would be off sick 5 days every month. That is not reasonable.

    I’m curious to know if there are others around my age and health level that are experiencing the same thing.

  18. Elspeth Forbes February 9, 2017 at 2:59 pm #

    So, so, so glad to have found this blog. For a variety of reasons(one being the stupidly warm and stuffy classroom that I teach in), menopause symptoms crept up on me at first. Then the worst they were doing was hot flushes and the accompanying exhaustion. However, since June of last year, I have had three viral infections (currently going through my third), a stomach bug, an asthma attack and my first ever migraine. I have been off work more in 6 months than in 10 years. While I have a very understanding boss/husband/ child, I am getting severely scunnered with my body’s falling apartness. I plan to see the doctor tomorrow and see (a) what the hell is going on and (b) what the hell can be done to sort it. Thank you for making me feel less of a hypochondriac!

  19. LynetteSh February 14, 2017 at 2:15 pm #

    We’ve all been there, Elspeth. And hoping that the medical community starts to realize what an assault menopause is to our very immune system. Good luck – hang in there, it will get better! And if your MD is not helpful, make an appointment with an integrative health care physician or nurse practioner – they may have more health fortifying answers along with symptom relief.

  20. rissa March 18, 2017 at 1:01 pm #

    thanks to all you guys for this conversation. i run and ride my bike every day, eat tons of fresh produce daily and strength train regularly. i have spent the last three years bragging to anyone that would listen that i never get sick, lol. then, bam (!!) this winter it’s been sickness after sickness. right now i’m fighting an ear infection! but last month was my first ever totally missed period after several years of perimenopause. it was a painful one too with cramps and headache and all the rest. i was shocked when there was no blood! so i couldn’t help but wonder about hormone levels.

    i’ve been racking my brain about what has happened to my poor immune system and it is a HUGE comfort to hear i’m not alone. thanks for all the love. we’re in it together!

    xoxoxoxoxo rissa

  21. LynetteSh March 20, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

    Love back to you, Rissa! Hang in there, it gets better. (Though I’ll be honest, it may be awhile.) Hugs, Lynette

Leave a Reply