Immune System: What Is It & What Is Its Role?
Conventional modern medicine combats diseases directly through medications, surgery, radiation, and other types of therapies, but true health can only be achieved by maintaining a properly functioning immune system.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is the Immune System?
- 2 What Is the Role of the Immune System?
- 3 How the Immune System Evolves Throughout Life?
- 4 Symptoms that Indicate an Immune Imbalance
- 5 Why Do Immune Imbalances Occur?
- 6 Recommendations for Strengthening the Immune System
What Is the Immune System?
The immune system is different from other systems in the body in that it`s not a physical structure but an ensemble of complex interactions involving different organs, structures and substances, which include white blood cells, spinal cord, lymphatic vessels and organs, specialized cells in certain body tissues and specialized substances called serum factors which are present in the blood.
Ideally, all of these components work together to protect the body against diseases and infections.
This system comprises immunocompetent cells, their lymphoid organs (bone marrow, thymus) and host cells (lymph nodes, digestive tract lymphoid tissue, spleen, circulating blood) and the various molecules that cells are capable of producing them. It can be divided into 2 main subsystems, whose association is needed to effectively fight infections: the natural immune system and the adaptive immune system.
Natural Immune System
It aims to prevent germs from penetrating and attacking them when they have crossed the external barriers of the body, causing acute inflammation.
The natural immune system is constituted, besides the physical barriers, from different cells present in circulating blood, as well as the 2 types of specialized proteins, complement and cytokines.
- The physical barriers include superficial layers of dead skin cells, as well as antibacterial substances that cover the skin and are present in sweat such as lysozyme. Dense mucus secreted by cells located on the body`s holes is able to retain microbes. Another form of protection is provided by strong acids in the stomach and by substances like lactoferrin, which fix on vital elements like iron and prevent them from interfering with the multiplication of many bacteria.
- The circulating blood cells are phagocytes, which include macrophages and polynuclears, which incorporate germs and kill them, “natural killer” cells, which recognize virus-infected cells, fix themselves on them and kill them by penetrating lethal chemical substances into them; mast cells, which contain large granulations of chemicals released as soon as they receive adequate stimulation.
- The complement is an enzymatic system which contains a series of at least 20 distinct proteins which envelop the germs when they enter the body. One of the proteins is attached to the germ surface, the other components being attached to the cascade. This reaction has the role of attracting phagocytes out of the bloodstream to germ (a process called chemotaxis), making it “attractive” for the phagocyte to attach, inject and make a break in its outer membrane, which causes its breakage.
- Cytokines include interferons, molecules secreted by cells in response to a viral infection which protects neighboring cells by “interfering” with the release of new viral particles, starting from the infected cell. Other cytokines favor the development of new tissue as a result of tissue damage of microbial origin and help cells eliminate the germs they contain.
Adaptive Immune System
This occurs when the natural immune system isn`t enough to remove a germ.
The cells of the adaptive immune system T and B lymphocytes and the substances they develop antibodies. Unlike the natural immune system, the adaptive system change to each infection in order to react more effectively to the microbes it has already encountered.
- Lymphocytes contain on their surface molecules, the receptors, which allow them to recognize the antigens of the germs they meet.
- T lymphocytes have 2 main functions. They facilitate the activity of other cells that belong to the immune system. Their other major function is the direct destruction of cells infected with the virus.
- B lymphocytes, produced by the bone marrow, have the main function of elaborating their antibodies with T lymphocytes.
- Plasmocytes are the mature form of B lymphocytes and the primary site of their antibody production.
- Antibodies are specific specialized proteins.
What Is the Role of the Immune System?
The immune system is fighting against microorganisms that cause diseases and slows the healing process. The immune system is the key to fighting any problem involving the body, starting with small scratches from shaving to the mutant viruses that are abundant in our day to day activities. Even the aging process can be associated with the functioning of the immune system rather than with the passage of time.
Understanding some basic elements of the immune system and how it works, we understand how important it`s in our health and we can be responsible for maintaining our own health.
Simply put, the task of the immune system is to identify things that are naturally found in the body and those that are harmful, and then neutralize or destroy everything that is alien.
How the Immune System Evolves Throughout Life?
The human immune system is functional at birth, but not at full capacity. This is known as innate immunity, meaning the immunity you are born with.
The immune function develops and becomes more sophisticated with the maturation of the system and as the body learns to defend itself against the various foreign invaders called antigens. As mentioned above, this is called adaptive immunity. However, acquired immunity can be supported and modeled, either by contact with an antigen or by vaccination.
Just as the aging phenomenon affects the cardiorespiratory system and the other organs, so is the immune system. Although immunological memory becomes much richer, lymphoid organs become worn with aging.
Symptoms that Indicate an Immune Imbalance
A vulnerable or deficient immune system exposes the body to infections, viruses and various illnesses. Among the most common symptoms that indicate immune imbalances are:
- Frequent colds;
- Urinary infections;
- Skin infections;
- Vaginal and oral candidiasis;
- Herpetic eruptions;
- Inflammation of the lymph glands;
- Chronic diarrhea;
If you recognize one or more of the symptoms listed above, talk to your doctor and take steps to restore your immune balance.
Why Do Immune Imbalances Occur?
Among the environmental elements that destroy the immune system`s ability to fight include: excessive use of antibiotics, intensive use of cleaning solutions, pesticides used in agriculture, additives and antibiotics present in the food we consume and exposure to environmental pollutants. Another factor influencing the immune system is stress. This is the result of biochemical reactions that suppress the normal activity of white blood cells and overstretch the endocrine system by eliminating the nutrients needed for body functioning As a result, it decreases the body`s defense and healing ability.
Recommendations for Strengthening the Immune System
Proper nutrition is the dreaded barrier of microorganisms, so try to include in the diet the nutrients needed (vitamin A, C, E, zinc), which consists of eating fresh fruits, vegetables, algae, spices.
- Sleep well and avoid stress as much as you can.
- Make moderate physical exercises regularly. They reduce stress and improve mood, which has a beneficial effect on the immune system. Additionally, the production of lymphocyte is stimulated by motion.
- Avoid smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and anything it isn`t healthy.
- Don`t take antibiotics unless prescribed by your doctor and follow the administration method.
- Hydrate yourself and eat healthy.
- Wash your hands properly.
- Relax yourself every chance you get.