My intuition coupled with informal interviews of menopausal women has led me to believe that our immune system goes on holiday when the Big M and its baby sister perimenopause come to call. Would that we could do the same!

As promised in my last blog entry, I contacted the Nurse’s Health Study about my suspicions, requesting they look into it further. As I’d expect from such a wonderful group of investigators, they responded right away. Researcher Elizabeth Karlson allowed as they had not studied menopause and immunity per se but they had looked into rheumatoid arthritis and menopausal women. She attached the study and concluded:

"We have studied reproductive and hormonal risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis in the Nurses’ Health Study. There is a slight increase in the frequency of new onset of rheumatoid arthritis among women in their early 50’s, around the time of menopause. We did not find any association between hormone use and rheumatoid arthritis."

My feeling is that when we look at each serious disease entity one at a time (which is actually how most studies will be conducted), we’ll find only slight increases for menopausal women over premenopausal women. However, if we were to look at serious illness onset around the age of hormonal decrease, we’d find that menopausal women would be significantly high as compared to the general population.

The research may or may not be done anytime soon, regardless how loud or adamant our voices. And perhaps it isn’t even necessary. As we’ve said before, we learn the most from one another, from the sharings of real women who have gone through and are in the midst of this life transition. Here’s my sharing for whatever it’s worth.

Let’s assume that it is true that our immune system is affected adversely when menopause strikes. Some of you have suggested sleep deprivation as a potential cause and that surely plays a role. Yet some of us who sleep like babies most of the time still suffer immunity problems. What can we do about this?

Clearly, we need to plump up our immunity prior to perimenopause. For most of us, that means paying very close attention to diet, exercise, and stress reduction as we reach our mid-forties. Adequate sleep and self care, vitamins (esp. C and B complex).

Regular massage should be a health care necessity for women rather than a spa-day luxury. Too expensive? Buy a $12.95 how-to book on massage and trade bodywork with your girlfriends. Technically speaking, massage promotes lymph drainage, which is where all the gunk gets stuck in your body that can make you sick. You can’t afford not to do it. I believe that if I’d understood how important this is, I might not have contracted that cardiac virus.

Oh and speaking of girlfriends? Probably the #1 best immune stimulant I know of is the company of good women friends. I can’t prove this, but I know it to be true. Laughter and tears release all kinds of good chemicals in the body while getting rid of built up toxins. We have to make time for one another. It’s not only good for our mental health; it may be a key to keeping our immune system healthy and vital.