Your immune system and menstrual cycle are connected. That is why you may be at a greater risk of falling sick during period.

Menstruation is not just about period cramps, bloating, constipation or pain in the thighs, back and legs. Women may also experience cold and cough before or during their period. That is because the immune system and menstrual cycle have a link. There may not be a direct connection between the two, but there is evidence that hormonal changes that happen during period can affect the immune system. Read on to know why your immune system gets weaker during period.

What is the immune system?

The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that defend the body against infections and diseases. They do so by recognising and eliminating harmful pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, says obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Komal Bhadu. The immune system works through a series of coordinated steps involving various immune cells like T cells and B cells. When a pathogen enters the body, the immune system sees it as foreign and takes steps to neutralise and eliminate it.

A sick woman on a couch
Hormones can affect immunity during period. Image courtesy: Freepik

Does period weaken the immune system?

Menstruation itself does not weaken the immune system. But hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle can affect immune function. Sexual hormone, such as progesterone, fluctuates throughout the menstrual cycle and it may influence the immune system, according to a 2023 study published in the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics.

Another study published in the Mucosal Immunology journal in 2017 found that progesterone can reduce the ability of the body to fight off infections.

Here’s how period and immunity are connected:

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  • During menstruation, estrogen and progesterone levels are typically low. This phase is associated with a decrease in immune function, potentially making women more vulnerable to infections, says Dr Bhadu.
  • In the follicular phase, which occurs after period, estrogen levels begin to rise. Estrogen has an immunostimulatory effect, meaning it enhances certain aspects of the immune response. This may provide a temporary boost to immune function.
  • Ovulation, which happens around mid-cycle, is characterised by a peak in estrogen levels. This increase in estrogen may further enhance immune function, potentially providing additional protection against infections.
  • Following ovulation, during the luteal phase, progesterone levels increase while estrogen levels decline. Progesterone has immunosuppressive effects, meaning it can dampen immune responses, says the expert. So, immune function may be somewhat suppressed during this phase, potentially increasing susceptibility to infections. Progesterone is known for working to promote pregnancy. The immune cells, on the other hand, are meant to fight off all foreign matter from entering the body. So, the immune cells try to prevent pregnancy by attacking the fertilised egg. But the progesterone stops the cells, affecting immunity.
Period calendar
Know the link between progesterone and immune cells. Image courtesy: Freepik

How to boost immunity during period?

To boost immunity during periods, you can adopt healthy lifestyle habits like eating healthy. Go for essential nutrients and antioxidants by eating different types of fruits and vegetables, says the expert. Consume whole grains, and lean proteins too for a balanced diet. You must specifically consume foods high in vitamin C, iron and protein for the growth of immune cells.

You can also follow these basic lifestyle tips:

  • Keep yourself hydrated by drinking water and healthy fresh juices.
  • Regularly exercise to boost immune function.
  • Manage stress by trying out relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.
  • Prioritise good quality sleep to allow your body to rest and repair.
  • Practice good hygiene such as washing hands frequently and maintaining menstrual hygiene to reduce the risk of infections.

These tips can help support immune function when you are down.

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