The immune system is a complex network of cells and organs. It is the most complex system in the human body. Its function is to defend the body against any foreign bacteria, virus or microorganism that may cause harm to the body or disease. It is also responsible for removing dead cells from the body and it is able to recognize cells that are compromised. The immune system is also mobilized into action with any injury or wound. In short, without an immune system we would not survive a dangerous infection such as COVID-19 nor be able to heal the simplest cut.
What makes up the immune system?
- White blood cells:
These are often called the soldiers of the body. They patrol the body constantly looking for any dangerous invaders. They are also known as leukocytes. They can be found in blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. Once they encounter an “enemy” they begin to multiply and send signals to other cells to do the same.
There are two main types of white blood cells: Phagocytes and lymphocytes.
- Phagocytes surround and absorb pathogens and break them down, effectively they eat the enemy.
- Lymphocytes store the memory of previous infections and recognize them if they come back to attack. This allows the body to provide a more effective immune response. This is also known as the adaptive part of the immune system.
The body has two important types of lymphocytes, B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes or B cells and T cells for short. B cells produce antibodies and alert the T cells of the invaders. T cells destroy compromised cells and help mobilize the rest of the white blood cells in the body.
- Special Organs involved in the immune system.
- The thymus is situated in the upper chest behind the sternum. This organ is responsible for producing and maturing T cells. These are a type of white blood cells that are crucial to the immune system and the key players that help fight infection.
- The spleen is a blood filtering organ that removes old or damaged red blood cells from the body. It also stores white blood cells.
- Bone Marrow produces and stores white blood cells such as B cells.
- Lymph Nodes: lymph nodes are located throughout the body and are linked to lymphatic vessels. They too make infection fighting white cells.
Antibodies also known as immunoglobulins. They are large Y shaped proteins produced by the adaptive or memory creating cells of the immune system. Antibodies are made from encountering chemicals or antigens that are not recognized by the body. These unknown invaders create an immune response that causes all the cells to attack, break it down and remember it. Once the white blood cells have encountered and battled the invader the memory is created and if they are encounter it again, white blood cells create and release these antibodies to attack the known pathogen. They are the search and destroy part of the army. They have specific targets in sight.
- The complement system.
This is a system of proteins whose sole purpose is to support the function of antibodies.
- The Lymphatic System,
The function of the lymphatic system includes reacting to bacteria, managing the fluid in the body, dealing with cell waste that would otherwise result in disease or disorders. The lymphatic system is made up of lymph nodes, lymph vessels and white blood cells.
Other defenses of the immune system include the skin. The skin is our biggest organ and it provides us with a barrier from moisture as well as protects us from bacteria. The lungs filter the air we breathe. The stomach lining contains antibodies that can kill bacteria found in foods. Flushing of the urinary tract and bowl movements also keep our immune system healthy. Even our tears contain antibacterial enzymes that lower the risk of infection.
Signs you have a compromised immune system.
If any of the above-mentioned components is even slightly compromised it can create a domino effect on the body as the immune system is extremely complex and interdependent to many functions in the body.
If you experience any of the following symptoms you could be dealing with a compromised immune system.
- You are experiencing high levels of stress. Stress can affect your lymphocytes and leave your body vulnerable to viruses such as the common cold.
- You have reoccurring colds, flus or infections.
- You have issues with digestion or have constant tummy flus.
- Your wounds heal slowly.
- You feel tired and drained all the time.
How to keep your immune system healthy.
- Sleeping is very important. Lack of sleep can affect the nervous system and the immune system. Getting enough sleep will make sure your body is rested and ready to deal with any infections or pathogens.
- Eat more whole plant foods and healthy fats. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes are rich in nutrients, antioxidants and fibre. Healthy fats like olive oil and omega 3 found in salmon can have anti-inflammatory effects and promote a healthy immune system.
- Eating fermented foods such as pickles, kimchi, sour kraut can promote a healthy gut and aid with digestion and protection against harmful bacteria.
- Limit processed carbohydrates and added sugars. Excessive sugar and carbohydrate intake can is linked to obesity which in turn affects the heart and may even lead to diabetes. These are all factors that can compromise your immune system.
- Engage in moderate exercise as this can promote a healthy immune system.
- Stay hydrated, staying hydrated is important for your overall health.
- Manage your stress levels.
- Supplement wisely. The most important supplements for the immune system are Zinc, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Folic Acid and Iron. For an extra boost you can supplement with probiotics to make sure your gut is healthy.
The immune system is one of the most important aspects of health and it requires us to also be responsible with our hygiene. Washing our hands and oral hygiene are also very important factors for the immune system. A simple tooth infection can carry bacteria into our blood stream and cause and immune reaction and our hands are constantly exposed to bacteria. Taking care of your immune system is taking care of your health.
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