Defenders for Health: Immune System Basics
Updated: Apr 30
The human body is a remarkable machine. What makes it especially unique is its immune system. When we get sick, our immune system kicks into gear to help us get better.
Think of your body like a military force sending out defender cells to neutralize the enemy whether it's a bacteria, virus, fungi or physical injury. Our body's first line of defense includes the skin and nose. Skin provides a physical barrier and the nose and upper airway use cilia (fine hairs) and mucus ("snot").
The immune system's defender cells are mostly made in the bone marrow and thymus gland and are known by names such as T and B lymphocytes, macrophages, eosinophils and neutrophils. Signs that your immune system has been activated include elevated temperature (fever), swelling, bruising, fatigue, runny nose, cough, etc. When the body is sick or injured, it causes inflammation. Inflammation primes the body to focus exclusively on fighting whatever ails it and to conserve energy in the process. That's probably why we find ourselves in bed when we don't feel well; our body is using its energy to fight illness or injury.
While these immune defense cells work 24/7 for us, we don't realize it unless there is a significant illness or injury affecting us. Sometimes, however, they remain on full-alert when there is no threat and that is known to cause a condition known as chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a blanket term that encompasses many chronic diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), diabetes, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and more. Researchers are discovering that many of today's mental and physical issues may be rooted in chronic inflammation. On the upside, much of it can be improved by good nutrition, medications, exercise and social support such as psychotherapy, hobbies and friendships.
Innate and Adaptive Immune System
Our body has two primary types of immune systems: Innate and adaptive. The innate immune system is inherited or the one we're born with. Our adaptive immune system is the one we develop after living and being exposed to a host of viruses, bacterias and toxins and developing antibodies to the offending agent. Both these immune systems work together. One way that immunizations work is by exposing us to “germs” in a controlled way so that we naturally develop antibodies. In this way when we are exposed to the germ in the real world, we either have a much less vigorous immune response or none at all.
As a living creature, we are constantly exposed to environmental toxins for which we have no control. This is why it is so important to help our immune system remain strong. Small improvements are usually sustainable ways to improve health and should never be underestimated. This includes ensuring a diet full of seasonal fruits and vegetables that are preferably organic. Reducing or eliminating nicotine products like cigarettes, vapes and cigars helps remove unnecessary exposure to chemical toxins as today's tobacco products are full of pesticides and other chemicals. Junk foods that are highly processed are not only full of inflammatory seed oils but preservatives that the body interprets as threats. And while a soda may be refreshing treat, it's shouldn't be a daily drink as it's also full of both chemicals and sugar, which can contribute to chronic inflammation. It is thought to be a dangerous habit contributing to both obesity and diabetes today.
Caring for your immune system means having a healthcare provider who knows you, your family history and your lifestyle. They can help direct you to lifestyle improvements that will help ensure a strong immune system or manage the medical aspects of helping you live a healthy and happy life. Don't have one? Internal Medicine Specialists is just a phone call or email away so let us know how we can help you and your immune system!