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Insights on Autoimmune Health and Inflammatory Conditions

Inflammation Trigger: Hormones

Jun 26, 2024 | Inflammation & Autoimmune Disease

Hormones may actually trigger inflammation and flares for some autoimmune diseases. As crazy as that sounds, the reality of it makes sense. Hormones are critical for many reactions and functions in our body. Their balance is important to our entire body’s ecosystem and for maintaining homeostasis. So it’s no surprise that an imbalance can cause a cascade of negative effects, including inflammation. 

What are Hormones?

Hormones are chemical messengers that help our bodies run smoothly. These messengers make up the endocrine system, which is a collection of hormones and glands that communicate vital processes and functions within our body. 

There are 2 different ways that hormones communicate within our body. The first way is between glands. One gland will secrete a hormone. That hormone travels to another gland and signals it to release another hormone. An example of this is within the HPA-axis. Your hypothalamus releases corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) in response to a stress stimulus. CRH travels to the pituitary gland and signals the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH travels to the adrenal gland and it releases cortisol. 

The second way hormones work is between a gland and a target organ. For instance, the insulin released from your pancreas signals your muscles and liver to process the glucose that triggered the release of insulin.

What Role do Sex Hormones Play in Regulating Inflammation?

Female sex hormones are a key player in managing inflammation. In fact, one of their other roles besides managing the reproductive system is supporting the immune system


Estrogen, the major female sex hormone, affects all aspects of the immune system. First, it has an important job of managing the production of B and T lymphocytes. B lymphocytes are the immune cells that make antibodies, and T lymphocytes control how our immune system responds. Second, estrogen regulates cytokines, which are signaling proteins that help control inflammation. This hormone also has several other functions within the immune system as well.


Progesterone is another key female hormone. This hormone also has an immunosuppressive action on the immune system and may dampen T cell activation. T cells are the part of your immune system that help coordinate immune responses. In other words, progesterone may help lessen an autoimmune response by slowing down or stopping the immune system from attacking itself.

How do these Hormones affect Autoimmune Diseases?

 While it may seem that both of these hormones protect autoimmune diseases, that is actually not the case. In some autoimmune diseases, shifts in hormones either have a protective or a triggering effect. This is mainly due to estrogen. Because it affects all aspects of the immune system, it can have differing effects for different autoimmune diseases.

Here are a few of the diseases that estrogen affects:

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects the joint tissues. When estrogen is low, symptoms tend to get worse for those with RA. Which makes sense because women tend to either develop this disease or have relapses right after pregnancy when estrogen levels drop. Additionally, many women are diagnosed with RA around the menopause era when estrogen levels tank. During pregnancy when estrogen levels are higher, most women with RA tend to see improvement in symptoms or even go into remission.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) attacks the joints, organs and blood vessels. Estrogen has the opposite effect on SLE than RA. Lower levels of estrogen is actually protective against disease progression. With SLE, there is a lower prevalence of disease development after menopause. However, women with SLE tend to have an increase in disease activity during pregnancy.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system. The estrogen effect on MS is similar to RA, in that higher estrogen levels are protective for those with this disease. Again, there is an increase in MS cases in women over 50, which may be explained by the drop in estrogen around this time.

What can you do to Rebalance Hormones?

Not all women are affected by hormonal shifts. However, if you notice that your autoimmune disease symptoms have a repetitive pattern around your menstrual cycle, it might be time to investigate your hormonal levels. There are several tests you can do to understand your hormones. My personal favorite is the DUTCH test because it looks at all hormones and metabolites so you can see if it’s a hormone issue or hormone metabolism issue. There are certain herbs that may help support your hormones. And lastly, there’s hormone replacement therapy once you uncover a true hormonal imbalance. Again, it’s super important that you work with a practitioner who understands these nuances and will be able to support you in whatever path you decide to take.

While hormones can be a tricky thing to manage, there are solutions out there to help you better manage your inflammation. If you need more support with your diet or anything else related to inflammation, please contact me to learn about my services and how I can help. Additionally, for more tips and tricks for managing your autoimmune disease, follow me on Instagram, Facebook or YouTube.

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