Published on January 19, 2022
Menopause triggers changes in the immune response that can affect how women respond to infections and vaccination. Learn how vitamin D may help!
- During the post-menopausal period, women can experience an increase in pro-inflammatory chemicals, increased cytokine responses, and decreased activity of certain immune cells
- The risk of certain infections has been observed to be increased among women during post-menopause, including human papillomavirus (HPV) and HIV-1 infections; immune responses to vaccination and vaccine effectiveness are reduced with age, with higher levels of inflammation also contributing to this reduced effectiveness
- Studies suggest a synergistic role between estrogen and vitamin D such that those with low levels of both vitamin D and estrogen were particularly at risk for metabolic syndrome, a pro-inflammatory condition and a well-known risk factor for severe COVID-19 disease
Aging and estrogen deprivation, both of which occur during menopause, can trigger many physical changes for women, especially changes within the immune system. During the post-menopausal period, women can experience an increase in pro-inflammatory chemicals, increased cytokine responses, and decreased activity of certain immune cells (including T and B lymphocytes and natural killer cells which are necessary to recognize and fight pathogens). It is also during this time that women experience a higher risk for various chronic diseases and health complaints.
Vitamin D is especially important during this time, not only due to its roles in maintaining healthy bones, but especially for its roles in regulating the immune response, as reviewed in a paper by Min et al. and summarized below.
Immunosenescence: Changes in the Immune System Due to Aging
Not only do women deal with the hormonal changes that come with menopause, they also must adjust to the changes specifically due to aging. Aging itself can cause certain changes in both the innate and adaptive immune system (called immunosenescence) that may lead to a decreased response to pathogens, increased autoimmunity, lower vaccination responses, chronic diseases (including cancer), and increased mortality rates. Specific changes to immune cell function due to aging (for both men and women) will be reviewed in another upcoming post… stay tuned!
Infections and Vaccine Responses among Post-Menopausal Women
The risk of certain infections has been observed to be increased among women during post-menopause, including human papillomavirus (HPV) and HIV-1 infections. One study found that the likelihood of contracting HIV was 4 times greater for women over the age of 45 years compared to younger women, while another study found an almost double rate of mortality from HIV among elderly women compared to elderly men.
It has also been observed that immune responses to vaccination and vaccine effectiveness are reduced with age, with higher levels of inflammation also contributing to this reduced effectiveness – another part to be covered in more detail in our upcoming post on immunosenescence.
Vitamin D, Estrogen, and Pro-inflammatory Conditions in Post-Menopausal Women
A classic example of a chronic, pro-inflammatory condition is metabolic syndrome, a well-known risk factor for severe COVID-19 disease. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that occur together and increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Having at least three of the following risk factors could indicate metabolic syndrome: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglyceride levels, low HDL cholesterol levels, and excess body fat around the waist.
Age and estrogen loss have been strongly associated with metabolic syndrome, as has vitamin D. A 2019 study by Huang et al. assessed the association between vitamin D, estrogen, and metabolic syndrome among 616 post-menopausal women aged 49-86 years, and their findings suggested a synergistic role between estrogen and vitamin D such that those with low levels of both vitamin D and estrogen were particularly at risk for metabolic syndrome.
As can be seen in the chart above, among women with vitamin D levels less than 20 ng/ml (50 nmol/L), those with the lowest estrogen levels had almost 3 ½ times higher risk of metabolic syndrome compared to women with the highest estrogen levels (P=0.006). This association was not seen among women with vitamin D levels at or above 20 ng/ml, which suggests that vitamin D may have a protective effect against metabolic syndrome, especially among post-menopausal women, and that vitamin D may help protect against the additional negative impact of lower estrogen levels.
Maintaining Healthy Vitamin D Levels is Important for ALL, Especially Aging Women
Having and maintaining healthy vitamin D levels and other nutrient levels can help improve your health now and for your future. Choose which to measure, such as your vitamin D, omega-3s, and essential minerals including magnesium and zinc, by creating your custom home test kit today. Take steps to improve the status of each of these measurements to benefit your overall health. You can also track your own intakes, symptoms and results to see what works best for YOU.
Enroll and test your levels today, learn what steps to take to improve your status of vitamin D (see below) and other nutrients and blood markers, and take action! By enrolling in the GrassrootsHealth projects, you are not only contributing valuable information to everyone, you are also gaining knowledge about how you could improve your own health through measuring and tracking your nutrient status, and educating yourself on how to improve it.
What Does it Take YOU to Get Your D to 40 ng/ml (100 nmol/L)?
Did you know your health could be greatly affected by making sure you have a vitamin D level of at least 40 ng/ml (100 nmol/L)? Help us help you.
STEP 1 - Do you know what your vitamin D level is? If not, be sure to test today to find out.
STEP 2 – Determine your target level. Are you at your target level? Experts recommend a level of at least 40-60 ng/ml (100-150 nmol/L).
STEP 3 – Need to boost your level? Use the D*calculator to see how much vitamin D it may take to reach your target. Opt for the Loading Dose for a quicker boost.
STEP 4 – Optimize how your body absorbs and utilizes vitamin D with co-nutrients and these simple steps.
STEP 5 – Re-Test! This is an important step to make sure you have reached your target level, and to ensure you are not taking too much! Re-testing after 3-4 months is recommended.
STEP 6 – Adjust, Repeat…
Give your immune system the nutrients it needs to support a healthy you and protect yourself from unnecessary diseases, especially COVID-19.
The first Randomized Controlled Trial on vitamin D and COVID-19 has shown a 96% lower risk of ICU admission for those receiving vitamin D (as 25(OH)D to quickly boost vitamin D blood levels) along with the standard treatment, compared to those receiving standard treatment alone.
These results support many previous observational studies showing a relationship between vitamin D levels and intake and COVID-19 severity.
GrassrootsHealth Nutrient Research Institute has launched the new Immune Boost project with the use of our myData-myAnswers nutrient health system that nearly 15,000 people are already using for their health. Specific markers that influence immune health are suggested for testing as part of this project including:
- Vitamin D
- Omega-3 Index
- Essential elements magnesium, selenium, and zinc
Our goal is to demonstrate how one can use the Nutrient Research Model established by Dr. Robert Heaney to show the effect of vitamin D serum levels of at least 40 ng/ml (100 nmol/L) on risk reduction for all ethnicities in the population. Status and intake of other nutrients will also be analyzed for any type of relationship to immune status and symptom severity. Join the project today!
Please let us know if you're interested in helping sponsor this project.
Through GrassrootsHealth Nutrient Research Institute, you can also test your essential elements magnesium, copper, zinc and selenium, toxins such as lead, mercury and cadmium, as well as your omega-3 levels, inflammation levels and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level. Find out your levels today! Log on to the test selection page (click the link below) to get your tests and see for yourself if your levels can be improved.
Make sure you track your results before and after, about every 6 months!
How can I track my nutrient intake and levels over time?
To help you track your supplement use and nutrient levels, GrassrootsHealth has created the Personal Health Nutrient Decision System called
For each specific supplement, you can track what days you take it, how much, and many other details. This will help you know your true supplemental intake and what patterns of use work for you to reach and maintain optimum nutrient levels. Check it out today!