The Surprising Complexity of Our Immune System

The immune system is an amazing and complex system of tissues, cells and organs that keep us healthy by protecting us from harmful microbes, bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxins.  This very intricate system is working for us silently in the background 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  If our immune system stopped working for any reason, we would find ourselves with serious health problems in a very short period of time. To maintain our health we need to help our immune system stay strong so that it can work at peak efficiency.

The Surprising Complexity of Our Immune Systems

Here are just a few examples of what our immune system does for us on a continual basis, without our being aware of it:

  • It protects our body against invasion of bacteria and any resulting infection through any sort of cut or crack in our skin. The redness around a cut or scrape is a sign that the immune system has kicked into action.
  • We are continuously exposed to germs, viruses and pollution every day – through food, objects we touch and the air we breathe.  A healthy immune system automatically deals with any invaders that get past our first lines of defense, without any problems.
  • If we have a foreign object in our body – such as a wood sliver or fragment of glass – our immune system is quick to mount an attack against the object itself and any germs that came with it.  Swelling and puss are signs that the immune system is once again doing its job.

Inflammation is also part of the body’s immune response system. It is the body’s effort to heal itself or respond to something harmful or irritating.  Inflammation can sometimes be beneficial, in cases such as a joint becoming sprained and the tissues needing to be protected.  But there are times when inflammation can be harmful, such as when the body has an existing inflammation, and more inflammation is created in response to that existing inflammation. Then it can become damaging, chronic inflammation.  Chronic inflammation can also occur due to a number of other factors such as stress, toxins, lack of exercise, or a genetic predisposition. The food choices we make can also play a significant role with chronic inflammation.

There are times when the immune system can overreact or become confused, and that can cause health issues like allergies and rheumatoid arthritis.

What components form our immune system?  There are many different tissues and organs that contribute to this amazing protection system:

  • Our skin is one of our largest organs, and it is also one of our first lines of defense by keeping bacteria and germs from entering our body.
  • The mucous membranes of our eyes, nose and mouth, as well as our saliva are all designed to deal with
  • The lymph system, which is made of lymph nodes and lymph fluid, is very important for waste removal.  The lymph fluid delivers nutrients to our cells and takes waste and toxins away from the cells. The lymph nodes are the filters and the processing center for the waste and toxins gathered by the lymph fluid. Lymph nodes are located in the neck, groin, stomach area, and underarms.
  • The thymus is an organ in the chest where T-cells (from blood stem cells) mature. The thymus is especially important for newborn babies, as their entire immune system is not fully developed and the thymus plays a large role for them.
  • The spleen plays a major role in filtering and revitalizing our blood.
  • Our bone marrow produces stem cells, which later mature to become either red blood cells or white blood cells.  The white blood cells produce antibodies that fight infection and disease.
  • Antibodies, produced by the white blood cells, fight invaders and infection by binding to the invader or toxin, thereby rendering it inactive.  There are several types of antibodies.
  • Hormones also play a part in the immune system.  Hormones called lymphokines are actually generated by the immune system.  Other hormones inhibit our immune system, such as steroids and corticosteroids (constituents of adrenaline).
  • The Complement System is a series of proteins that are produced by the liver, and are designed to work with antibodies.  These proteins float freely in the blood and when they are activated by the antibodies, they cause an invader to burst so it can be removed from the body.

Free radicals lower our immune system’s efficiency. Free radicals are unstable molecules that have unpaired electrons.  They attack our cells, damage our cell’s DNA, and turn healthy cells into more free radicals.

Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by donating an electron to the free radical without becoming free radicals themselves. Unfortunately, it is impossible to avoid free radicals, since some free radicals are produced from our own metabolism (breathing).  There are a number of other sources of free radicals that we have some control over, such as environmental factors, overexposure to the sun, consuming poor quality processed (junk) food, consuming excess alcohol, poor quality sleep, too much exercise or too little exercise, and stress.

Our immune system is very complex and works for us all the time, whether or not we are aware of it. Since it is such a vital part of our health, it makes sense for us to support our immune system and keep it strong through healthy diet and healthy lifestyle.

Are you interested in knowing more about small, sustainable steps you can take to enhance your healthy lifestyle and support your immune system?  Contact me – I can help!

 

Informational Resources:

How Stuff Works 

National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Disease

Kids Health 

 

Copyright © 2014 Cathy Ormon – All Rights Reserved