The Keys to Your Immune System

immune system
labeled diagram of the immune system

There are two ways of motivation to learn about your immune system.  One is by taking initiative to study it on your own, through a natural interest of some kind.  The other way is out of desperation, like when you or someone else gets sick.  In a situation with no other choice, you’re looking for all the help you can get!  This is the way I learned.  Either way, you’ll be glad to have this knowledge and it will help you live a healthier life by maintaining your immune system.

So let’s start with a quick look at our immune system. There are a variety of immune responses, which happen when the body recognizes and fights against pathogens.  Pathogens can be bacteria, viruses and any other infectious organisms that cause disease.  Immune responses can be such things as fever, swollen lymph nodes, or vomiting and diarrhea, just to name a few.

The immune system is made of several different types of cells, tissues, organs and systems that work skillfully together.  These include:

  • skin
  • thymus
  • spleen
  • lymphatic system
  • bone marrow
  • white blood cells
  • antibodies
  • complement system
  • hormones
  • the gut

A Fortress of Protection

The immune system is like a well secured fortress with different lines of defense.  The outer barriers that form the 1st line of defense in the immune response are:

  • Coughing
  • Enzymes in tears and skin
  • Mucus – where bacteria and small particles are trapped
  • Your Skin

These are immune responses known as innate immunity.   These make up the defense system we are born with.  If pathogens get by this barrier and enter the body they are attacked by other parts of the immune system.  From this point there are different forms of immune responses.

Immune cells

Also called white blood cells, immune cells originate from the bone marrow found inside your bones.  These are stem cells that develop into various types of immune cells that patrol your body.  Innate immune cells act as first-line responders to infections.

Another immune response is known as acquired immunity, which is an immune response that develops as the body is exposed to various pathogens.  The immune system actually builds a specific defense against each specific invader.

These adaptive immune cells, are called “B cells” (which produce antibodies) and “T cells”.  They both mount responses to specific pathogens that were previously encountered, based on memory.   “Natural Killer” cells or “NK” share features of both innate and adaptive cells.  These are used in either first-line response or held back to be used as memory cells.  “B, T and NK” cells are also known as lymphocytes.

“T” cells are produced by the thymus, which also produces various hormones that help develop the “T’ cells before they are released into the bloodstream.

The Complement System

Worthy of its namesake, the complement system is made up of 30 different proteins produce in the liver that work in combination with antibodies.  There are situations where antibodies can neutralize pathogens on their own, however many times they are useless without the complement system.  In these cases, antibodies are responsible for identifying pathogens while the complement system proteins actually destroy the invader.

The Lymphatic System

The lymph system is a series of passage ways that run alongside the bloodstream collecting and transporting waste.  It is filled with a clear fluid called lymph.  Immune cells are carried by the lymph fluid to find and attack pathogens.  There are anywhere from 600 to 700 lymph nodes throughout the body where adaptive immune cells gather to communicate and work to overcome pathogens.  Lymph nodes are the meeting place for immune cells to analyze the pathogen they’re fighting and determine how to respond.  Hence, lymph nodes often become swollen once you have an infection, another sign of an immune response.

The Spleen is an organ that is part of the lymphatic system.  It’s often considered to be a larger version of a lymph node.  It plays a strong role in filtering the blood and producing and enhancing of immune cells.

The Gut

It consists of the small intestine, large intestine and colon.  Its role is crucial in protecting the body because it is the main entry point for pathogens into the body.  Everything you eat and drink will eventually pass through the gut, so it needs to be strong to do its job absorbing nutrients, water and eliminating waste.

Immune cells and healthy bacteria are the security guards provide the protection the gut to function properly.  The gut is loaded with them!  But if the gut becomes weakened, we’re setting up for a disaster waiting to happen.  Eventually other areas of the body will also suffer as pathogens begin to roam freely setting off a chain reaction of negative effects.  In other words, disease sets in and we get sick far more often.

Be sure to learn more about the gut and its role in your body’s defenses.



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