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Understanding Your Immune System

In the past, you might not have thought about your immune system until you felt like you’re getting sick. But nowadays, with COVID19 on the forefront of so many of our minds, it’s hard not to think about it almost daily. 

However, stress itself can be detrimental to our immune functioning. So, Wisdom in Wellness would like to do a series of articles about immune functioning as well as tips on how to naturally strengthen your immune system. Our hope is to provide you with more tools to help you stay healthy so as to empower you. 

Ultimately, we know from our experience working with both clients and patients that knowledge helps to allay fears. Sometimes it’s the unknown that worries us the most, so acquiring knowledge is how we work against that by making the unknown become known. 

Our immune system is complex yet we know that it is always working hard to keep us healthy and alive. There are so many factors in this world that can cause so much damage to our bodies, yet the miracle of our immunity is that despite all those factors, most of us can overcome most of these insults. Our bodies are truly amazing! 

To best understand our immune system, let’s start by talking about some of these potential insults to our body. Some of these potential environmental threats could include, but are not limited to, viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. So, how do these factors impact our body you ask? Well, the course and outcome of an infection depends on the characteristics of the pathogen and the circumstances of the host.

For example, viruses are responsible for a wide array of diseases. Some, like colds and influenzas, can usually be fought off by your immune system within a matter of days to weeks. Other viruses, like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), have mechanisms to weaken the immune system thus wreaking havoc on the body and usually necessitating long-term therapy to manage symptoms. Whether it’s fungal, bacterial, or viral, these various pathogens all work in different ways to suppress, disrupt, overcome, or evade our immune cells so they can continue to survive. So, how does our immune system overcome them despite their tricks? Let’s start by going over a brief summary of what makes up our immune system. 

There are multiple components that contribute to a healthy immune system, which include but are not limited to, physical barriers, ability to recognize self, innate immunity, and acquired immunity. The skin and mucous membranes provide the physical barrier that is your body’s first line of protection. Another important aspect of our immune system is that it has to be able to differentiate between our own cells and foreign, so that it knows which cells to attack. 

To make this easier to follow, we’ll again use the example of a virus to help us follow along the path of our immune system protecting us. Once a virus is past the physical barriers and is recognized as an intruder the innate immune system kicks in. Innate immunity is coded in your DNA so the cells are pre-programmed to launch a nonspecific attack on pathogens right away. This involves increased blood flow to the area, phagocytosis, and inflammation. Neutrophils and macrophages are part of this response. They secrete substances to kill the invader and then engulf and digest it in a process called phagocytosis. While the innate immune cells are doing this they signal the acquired immune system to get involved.

Acquired immunity, also called adaptive immunity, learns from each invader it encounters so that it is better prepared in the future. It sends lymphocytes, such as B and T cells, to help control the infection. After macrophages engulf a pathogen, they become antigen-presenting cells, and signal B and T cells to create an antibody specific to that antigen. Antigens are molecules on the surface of pathogens that can be used to identify them. Once bound to an antigen, antibodies signal the immune system to get rid of the pathogen by attracting killer cells, phagocytic cells, or immune cells with other functions. Symptoms that you experience during a cold are a result of different immune cells taking action. For example, phlegm and pus are collections of white blood cells and the debris of cells they’ve killed. In the case of fever, pyrogenic cytokines trigger the hypothalamus to raise the temperature of the body to help kill the virus.

Our immune system is truly miraculous and these cells are unfailing soldiers that try their hardest to protect us from foreign attacks and even internal attacks, such as in the case of cancer cells to try to suppress them. While the immune system operates without conscious effort, there are ways that you can support your amazing soldiers. Studies suggest that vitamins such as A, C, D, E, B2, B6, and B12, folic acid, iron, selenium, and zinc, just to name a few, may be helpful in supporting these soldiers since studies suggest deficiencies may predispose you to infections. These essential micronutrients can be found in supplements and whole food-based balanced diets.  Beyond these, proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep have also been shown to be important for immune functioning support…hence we will be talking more about these in our upcoming articles, stay tuned!

References:

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2005.09.034 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5091071/ 

https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(05)02120-2/fulltext 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24709587 

https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/10/10/1531/htm 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3899649/ 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2504709/