We’re living through a scary and unsettling time. The coronavirus is affecting everyone, everywhere — and we’re not just susceptible to the virus itself. We’re susceptible to the stresses and anxieties of being isolated, both from others and from the normal rhythms of our daily lives.
This is one reason I’m so grateful that I transitioned FLO living to a virtual practice back in 2012. Women all across the globe need support, especially during times like these, when our health is at stake — and when in-person connection is not possible
In last week’s post, I wrote about special risk factors to consider during isolation, including how to protect your hormones, reduce anxiety, buffer against depression, and how to eat and move in hormone-supportive ways during isolation. This week, I’m writing about some good news for people with female physiology when it comes to immunity.
I go into great detail about women’s hormones and immune system function on page 76 of my new book In the FLO, but I wanted to share some of the details with you today so that everyone who needs this information has access. I hope this information gives you comfort during a stressful time and also encourages you to take care of your hormones because, as women, having balanced hormones is what gives us an immune boost!
Today I’m going to do a deep dive on biohacking your immune system from a female point of view. A lot of biohacking content out there is generic and universal, e.g. “Take these supplements. They’re great for everyone!” This type of generalized, non-gender-specific info * can * be helpful and good — some advice, like taking a high-quality omega 3 supplement, is good advice for most people regardless of gender — but women need and deserve biologically-specific information based on their unique hormonal patterns. And that is what FLO Living is all about.
Women’s hormones and Immunity
Women’s immune system function is naturally more robust than men’s. This is why if something is going around the office, or if your kids come home from school with a cold, your male partner is more likely to come down with it than you are.
Studies back this up: Research published in Frontiers in Genetics in 2012 found that a woman’s lifetime risk of developing cancer is lower than men’s (38 percent versus 45 percent). Statistically, women live longer than men, too, and women are better able to fend off shock and trauma to our systems.
Men’s and women’s hormones play a part in these different immune system responses. Research shows that estrogen supports immune function — for all the potential childbearing we might do — while testosterone generally suppresses the immune response. Nature has given us extra support since we are the ones tasked with making new humans.
A woman’s cycle affects her immune response, too. As our hormones shift and change over our 28-day hormone cycle, or the infradian rhythm, our ability to fend off illnesses ebb and flow along with it. When estrogen surges during the first half of your cycle, the immune system is at its most efficient and effective, according to research published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution in 2018. As estrogen wanes during the second half of the infradian rhythm, the immune system downregulates, too. Once again, this is nature’s way of protecting us so we can produce the next generation of humans: During the first of your cycle, estrogen boosts immunity to protect you while your body gears up for a potential pregnancy. In the second half of your cycle, the immune system backs off so that it won’t mistake a fertilized egg for an unwanted virus or pathogen.
When your hormones are in balance, you are unlikely to notice this shift in immunity. If your hormones are out of balance, thanks to a lot of hard-to-avoid environmental factors, you might notice that you’re dragging more during the second half of your cycle and that you are more likely to catch what is going around at the office or what your child brings home from daycare.
All that being said, the current situation puts a lot of potential drains on women’s natural immune advantage. Here’s what our immune systems are up against during this turbulent time.
Your Immune System in a Crisis
Everything feels so stressful right now. Everytime you pick up your phone or read a news headline, your stress hormone cortisol goes up — and this is hard on your immune system. I know you can’t disconnect ourselves from the news all together right now because you need to know about movement restrictions, school closures, and other important things in your area. So don’t tune out totally, but it can be wise to limit how much news you access and when. I’ve stopped checking any news before bed because I know my nervous system can’t recover fast enough to still get a good night’s sleep.
So pick a strategy for checking the news that feels reasonable for you. You want to stay informed, but you don’t want to be on hyper alert all the time because too much cortisol coursing through the body for too long will suppress the immune system. A natural uptick in cortisol is normal right now; this is a legitimately stressful and anxiety-inducing time. But you want to guard against your stress system going into overdrive.
Another factor that suppresses immunity is higher blood sugar and insulin, and this might be something you are experiencing right now for a variety of reasons. If your stress response is in overdrive, it can cause an increase in stress eating which would increase blood sugar levels and insulin. You may be eating more carbs than usual, which could be happening right now as your normal sources of food are limited, or if you find yourself eating for comfort and anxiety reduction.
Then there are micronutrient deficiencies, which are caused and/or exacerbated by lifestyle factors, like drinking coffee (or any caffeinated beverage), lack of sleep, and drinking alcohol. Micronutrient deficiencies lead to weakened immunity.
How to Boost Your Immune System
A woman’s immune resilience is naturally slightly lower during the second half of her cycle, but when we try to support our immunity by “spot treating” during the second half of the cycle, we miss the forest for the trees. We can only truly strengthen our immune response by eating, exercising, and supplementing in biologically-appropriate ways consistently across our cycle.
To have optimal immune function, we have to be consistent with The Cycle Syncing Method™ over the course of our cycle, not just at certain times.
You need to make sure you are getting enough micronutrients from your food so that you can make estrogen. You also need to make sure your body’s detox system is functioning optimally all month long so you can eliminate used-up estrogen from your body before it stirs up trouble.
Moving your body is very important to keep hormones balanced and anxiety at bay, but only if you do it in a biologically-appropriate way. Doing high intensity workouts right now, during an already cortisol heavy time, might push your cortisol too high. So don’t push your workouts past 30 minutes and consider doing less strenuous activities.
And give yourself permission to rest and take care of yourself! I hear so many women saying, “With all this downtime, I want to do X and Y and Z project and get all this other stuff done!”
But it is okay to just rest. You don’t have to become a perfectionist at downtime. I’m using this downtime to rest and recover, and you can too. There is a lot going on and it is not only okay to rest, it is critically important for your health.
Because this is a unique time and immunity is more important than ever, I’m also going to share with you the supplements that are a great insurance policy for keeping your immune system functioning optimally.
The Best Supplements for Supporting the Immune System
Here are the six supplements that can upregulate your immunity right now:
All the B vitamins are important, but B5 offers specific support to adrenal cells. It helps the adrenal glands make more cortisol and respond more efficiently and effectively in times of stress. B5 has a reputation as a powerful immune-boosting nutrient because of the direct support it gives to adrenal cells.
Magnesium is involved in over 300 catalytic reactions in the body and it is one of the first micronutrients to be flushed out of the body when we are under stress or we are dehydrated or sleep deprived. Magnesium helps keep insulin balanced, calms the stress response system, and helps prevent excess cortisol production. Magnesium glycinate is the best form.
Omega 3 fatty acids are a huge stress buster. There is so much research on the body-wide benefits of omega 3s and I consider this one a must have, especially in times of high anxiety. Omega 3s are also powerful anti-inflammatories, and anytime we reduce inflammation – we support immune function.
Vitamin D3 is an immune superstar. It is an immunomodulator, a mood booster, and a critical nutrient for balancing blood sugar. It is very important for everyone right now, and may be especially necessary if you are getting out in the sun less because of movement restrictions.
Eighty percent of the immune system is housed in the gut, so keeping gut microbes diverse helps boost your immune response. Prioritize probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, kim chi, and non-dairy, low-sugar yogurt and take a high-quality probiotic supplement.
Antioxidants help buffer against inflammation and illness. One of my favorites is vitamin C. More of this is always good when you are preventing or actively treating illness.
These are all the micronutrients I used to formulate the Balance supplements. If you haven’t yet gotten your hands on them, please do. They contain all the essential micronutrients I just mentioned. They are a terrific immune system “insurance policy” for normal times and especially in times when our immune systems are working overtime.
Please share this information with other women in your life, and most of all be gentle and careful with yourself right now. Stay inside, rest when you need to, prioritize healthy healing foods, move your body in hormone-supportive ways, take key supplements, and focus on keeping your stress system downregulated. This is a time to rest, restore, heal, and be kind to yourself.
I designed my Balance Supplements specifically to help women address these key deficiencies, balance their hormones, and reclaim their energy.
You don’t need to feel listless and exhausted for 1-2 weeks every month. You can reclaim your energy in as little as one 28-day hormone cycle.
BALANCE by FLO Living is the FIRST supplement kit for happier periods that supports balancing your hormones. Balance Supplements include five formulations that provide essential micronutrients to balance your hormones. Think of them as your personal “insurance policy” against environmental factors that are (knowingly or unknowingly) zapping your energy every month.
Balance Supplements can help you have more energy within a few weeks!