Endocrine system and immunity: A strong immune system requires hormone levels to be in balance. Here’s why.
The kids are back in school and fall is coming, soon to be follow by winter … and cold and flu season. You know it’s important to guard your health – you try to eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise when you can. But have you ever thought of the role your hormones play in the strength of your immune system?
Keeping your hormones balanced can be critically important when you’re trying to establish or reinforce a healthy lifestyle.
What Are Hormones, and What’s the Endocrine System and Immunity Connection?
Let’s we’ll start with the basics. In the simplest terms, hormones are chemical messengers produced by the endocrine system. These messengers generally control major bodily functions or start long-term changes in our bodies. In proper balance, hormones help the body thrive, but small problems with hormones can cause major problems to the body.
Since we’re looking at hormones and immunity, the simple takeaway here is that if hormone levels are either too high or too low, the immune system can be compromised.
How Much Do Hormones Affect Immunity?
Quite a lot, actually. The adrenal gland produces a number of hormones key to metabolic function and immunity, including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, (some) estrogen, cortisol, and epinephrine. We think of cortisol as the stress hormone, but some cortisol is good for strengthening the immune system. Too much, however, suppresses the immune system. The same goes with progesterone – too much suppresses the immune system, but too little can lead to autoimmune disease.
The thyroid also plays a significant role in hormone balance and immunity. When thyroid levels are “normal,” immunity is strong. When levels are low, however, immunity is weak, and you have a higher risk of inflammation. Low thyroid levels can be due to too much estrogen in the body. High estrogen levels suppress the thyroid, impairing immunity, while low estrogen levels also impair immunity and lead to higher levels of inflammation.
What Can I Do?
This is a lot to take in. The point is this: for a strong immune system, it’s important to make sure your hormone levels are in balance. Stress, a change in work hours, a change in sleep habits, and a drastic change in weight are a few of the many events that can throw the endocrine system out of balance. To regain a healthy balance, start with a good diet, adequate sleep, and regular exercise.
And if you have a serious or innate endocrine dysfunction, please consult an endocrinologist. If a life change or stress event has led to a temporary imbalance and diet, sleep, and exercise are not enough, a class of herbs called adaptogens may help re-balance your systems and optimize your health.
Adaptogens are herbs that strengthen the HPO (hypothalamus, pituitary, gonadal) axis. They bring the body back in balance by promoting and restoring physiological function. They can also increase resilience to the the negative effects of stress and adversity. Adaptogens include Phyllanthus niruri (Chanca Piedra, Stonebreaker), Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi, Holy Basil), Bacopa monnieri (Brahmi), and Paeonia lactiflora (White Peony Root).