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What is the Immune System?

April 26, 2022

While we are in the midst of the cold & flu season, you hear more and more about the immune system. How we can fight back against sickness. How we can boost the immune system. How to gain natural immunity. But no one talks about what exactly the immune system is.

The immune system defends the body from pathogens that are harmful to your health. A healthy immune system is always defending you from infections by recognizing and killing harmful bacteria through very sophisticated and adaptable mechanisms. Your immune system also aids in the development of immunity, so that when you come into contact with specific invading germs again, you will be able to fight them off faster the next time, frequently without being ill.

Finding Infectious Organisms

The immune system must be able to tell the difference between a foreign substance and your own body's cells in order to execute its function.

Self-antigens are proteins found in your body's cells and tissues. Living creatures that can cause infections perform the same thing, however their antigens aren't identical. Your immune system “flags” foreign antigens so that invading microbes may be rapidly targeted and destroyed, saving you from harm.

Leukocytes (White Blood Cells)

Leukocytes are the cornerstone of your immune system's white blood cells (WBCs). Leukocytes come in a range of shapes and sizes, each with its own set of characteristics that work together to defend you from infections.

Depending on the leukocyte, it may aid the immune system's “search and destroy” function by:

  • Rapidly recognizing germs
  • Binding to germs
  • Engulfing and surround germs
  • Using chemicals contained within to destroy germs

Others take their time recognizing infectious germs and responding to them.

Macrophages, Neutrophils, Mast Cell, Basophils

Macrophages are leukocytes that flow all throughout the bloodstream and tissues, whereas neutrophils circulate in the bloodstream and patrol for new foreign antigens.

Invading germs and microbes enter the body through a variety of routes, including the nostrils or a cut on the skin's surface. When these leukocytes detect infectious risks, chemical signals are sent out, attracting additional leukocytes to surround, absorb, and eliminate the hazardous substances.

Lymphocytes: T- and B-Cells

Leukocytes are divided into lymphocytes and monocytes. They take longer to mount an infectious response than other leukocytes, and they help you build long-term immunity. T-cells and B-cells are two types of lymphocytes that perform separate functions.

B-cells are primarily responsible for the production of antibodies, which are particular proteins. Antibodies bind to antigens on a foreign invader's surface and mark them for elimination by the immune system. B-cells play an important role in defending you against bacterial illnesses.

  • Antibodies: Your body produces antibodies in a variety of ways. Antibodies are used to treat a variety of ailments, including infections of the skin and the gastrointestinal tract. Antibodies bind to antigens to form an immune complex, which is then destroyed by the body's leukocytes and chemicals.
  • Autoantibodies: When the immune system makes autoantibodies, which are antibodies that fight your own body, problems arise. The immune system misidentifies self-antigens—your own cells, tissues, and organs—as alien things, which is the defining problem of autoimmune disorders like thyroid disease.

Antigens on the surface of your own cells are recognized by T-cells. Your body's major histocompatibility complex (MHC) modifies the surface of your cells when a microorganism, such as a virus, penetrates your cells, introducing new antigens. Because of these changed antigens, passing T-cells are alerted to the existence of the virus within your cell. T-cells are capable of eliminating viruses and cancer cells on their own.

The MHC is a complicated device. A microbe “hiding” inside a human cell would go unnoticed—and might cause mayhem. The MHC can bind to microbe pieces within a human cell and transport them to the cell's surface, where they can be identified by their new antigens.

Antigen molecules on an infected cell and antigen molecules on a responding T-cell combine to generate co-stimulatory molecules, which mediate an immune response.

Cytokines and Chemokines

Cytokines, which are signaling molecules, can be released by lymphocytes. Cytokines have a role in the immune response in a variety of ways, including:

  • Chemokines
  • Interferons
  • Lymphokines
  • Interleukins

These immune-mediated cytokines might influence lymphocytes as well as non-immune cells in the surrounding area. They do so by inducing an inflammatory response as well as tissue healing after an infectious microbe has injured them.

The Complement System

The complement system, a group of specialized molecules that function in a variety of ways to remove intruders, is a part of the body's immunological action. The complement system, for example, can build a structure called the membrane attack complex, which punctures the pathogen and inserts deadly substances from within to kill it.

Allergies & Autoimmune Diseases

Even if you are not infected, you may experience repeated inflammation and an immunological response. Thyroid illness, lupus, and multiple sclerosis are examples of autoimmune disorders in which the body's immune system fights itself. The body can assault cells that make thyroid hormone in some types of hypothyroidism, interfering with the hormone's production and function.

Allergies are inflammatory reactions to harmless substances such as pollen or specific meals. Although genetic factors can play a role in the development of various disorders, it is not always obvious why someone develops them.

The blueprint for your body's cells and tissues is your genes. Your immune function, including T-cell receptors, the sort of MHC molecules produced, and your antibody response, are all patterned by the same design. Recurrent discomfort, swelling, and potentially life-threatening allergic reactions are all symptoms of an overactive immune system.

Innate and Adaptive Immunity

In our ability to avoid illness, the adaptive immune system, which remembers previous interactions with particular viruses and kills them when they strike again, plays a role. Adaptive immune responses, on the other hand, take a long time to develop after being exposed to a new pathogen due to the activation and expansion of certain clones of B and T cells; it can take up to a week for the responses to become effective.

In contrast, a single bacterium with a one-hour doubling period can produce over 20 million progeny in a single day, culminating in a full-blown infection. As a result, during the critical hours and days following being exposed to a novel pathogen, we rely on our innate immune system to protect us against infection.

Unlike adaptive immune responses, which are specific to a certain pathogen, innate immune responses are not. They rely on a collection of proteins and phagocytic cells that recognize infections by their conserved traits and become activated immediately to assist kill intruders. Unlike the adaptive immune system, which evolved less than 500 million years ago and is only present in vertebrates, innate immune responses have been discovered in both vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as in plants, and the basic mechanisms that regulate them have remained unchanged.


Given the immune system's complexity and importance, it's in your best interest to do everything you can to promote optimal immunological function.

If you suspect you have an infection or an autoimmune problem. If you have any health concerns or want to improve your immune health, reach out to Nature Cures Clinic at (503) 287-4970.

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