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Understanding your Immune System

Article by © Diana Thurbon

BA. Dip Med. Herb., Dip Soc Science Snr Fellow AANMP
Naturopath, Herbalist, Nutritionist, Meditation Teacher - Keysborough - Melbourne Victoria


Your Immune System

There are battles going on inside your body, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

From the point of view of the pathogen (a term used interchangeably with disease-causing bugs such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi), we are just big storehouses of goodies for them to grow on. Whether the pathogen is the flu, tuberculosis, or deadly smallpox, it is the strength of your immune system that decides whether or not you will get sick.

All the antibiotics, vaccines, and medications don’t compare to your own immune system.

Sub-clinical infections (ones that haven’t yet caused you to feel ill) are going on all the time within your body. Every time you breathe, you inhale hundreds of molecules that can cause disease. The immune system is a healing system that can be found on the surface of your skin and in the inner workings of your smallest cell.

It is important to keep your immune system in strong fighting shape through exercise, using natural remedies like herbs, having a healthy balanced diet, avoiding poisons and chemicals, not smoking and practising stress relief such as regular meditation.

Meet your bodyguards

The major organs of your immune system perform fascinating maneuvers when teaming up in the name of protecting your health.

They are: the adenoids, appendix, tonsils, skin, lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, and bone marrow.

Lymph, a transparent yellowish fluid, bathes the body's tissues with white blood cells, fighting cancer, viruses, bacteria, and infections.

Every 24 hours, approximately five gallons of lymph pass from the bloodstream to body tissues, providing oxygen and nutrients to cells and carrying away toxins.

Lymph nodes, also called lymph glands, are small pea-shaped structures that are most obvious in the neck, under the arms, and in the groin, but are found throughout the body. Their function is to serve as meeting places for cells of the immune system. The immune cells travel to these nodes by lymph ducts, and when your body is fighting an unusually strong pathogen or group of pathogens, your lymph nodes fill with immune cells and become swollen and tender to the touch.

Your personal militia - your innate immune system.

In order to better understand how your immune system works we can compare it to an army.

You have two systems. One is called the innate immune system, and that's ready to go immediately, but that doesn't work against all pathogens or bugs. The innate immune response, is similar to your local police force and is always available to jump in and eliminate or contain an infection.

They don't need specific instructions, as soon as the infection is encountered in your body, they react right away."

An important part of your "local police force" are cells called neutrophils. These are specialized cells that constantly patrol the bloodstream. If they get a signal from a tissue that there might be trouble, these neutrophils exit from the blood vessel into the tissue. If they encounter a microbe in the tissue they will try to engulf it and kill it.

Another example of your innate immune system is the mucous that lines body cavities to trap pathogens. Saliva contains natural anti-microbial agents. This is why animals lick their wounds, and the custom of kissing a child's wound may be a vestige of just such an earlier behavior among humans.

Marshaling the troops –the adaptive immune system.

The second immune system is known as the Adaptive Immune Response. While the innate response is working on the local front lines, the adaptive response system is being marshaled behind the lines to bring on the full force of your immune militia.

When it comes to fighting off pathogens, the immune system has the ability to detect and protect. We have the generals, the CD4 T lymphocytes (also called Helper T cells), that tell the various groups of troops what to do. Some of the soldiers that go out to kill infections are your CD8 T (Killer) lymphocytes, that specialize in finding viruses hiding out in cells of your body. There are sentries (dendritic cells) that sit in your tissues, posted and waiting for there to be a problem, such as an infection. If the dendritic cells detect a problem, they take up a microbe or parts of the microbe and bring it back to headquarters, i.e., the lymph node, where the generals and soldiers can confer as to what to do."

The lymphocyte generals and soldiers constitute a very specific military system called adaptive immunity that is tailored to deal with a particular pathogen or bug. In addition to the T lymphocytes, there are B lymphocytes that are part of this force.

This adaptive response takes about five to seven days to really get completely mobilized, and if you have a pathogen that works faster than that, you're in trouble.

One example is infection with Ebola virus or with bacteria that rapidly produce toxic products, such as anthrax. Your adaptive system can’t get organised quickly enough.

Another important group of immune cells are the natural killer lymphocytes, or NK cells, which do exactly what you might expect -- they look for and kill cells infected with certain viruses. NK cells detect the fact that normal cells have been infected and that the virus is attempting to make the cells invisible to the CD8 T Killer cells.

Guided missiles - the B cells

B cells are another important part of your body's immune troops. Their primary role is to make antibodies, which are protein molecules that can disable viruses or other pathogens, the antibodies are little guided missiles.  Also known as immunoglobulins, antibodies are found throughout your body, particularly in tears, saliva, mucous cells lining the nostrils, intestinal tract, bladder, and in your bloodstream.

Some B cells that have encountered pathogens become veterans or "memory" cells and remember their battles. They are able to respond better than raw recruits who have no prior battle experience.

Pathogens carry special molecules known as antigens, which may be thought of as codes or identification cards. The guided missiles (antibodies) produced by your B cells are able to lock onto the enemy cell's antigen, in much the same way as a piece of a puzzle fits. The antibodies then disable the pathogen by targeting it for pickup by the local police, the neutrophils. If the pathogen puts out a toxin molecule, the antibody handcuffs the toxin so that it can't cause harm to the body's cells.

Don’t be too clean and don’t rush for the antibiotic scrip

The immune system needs some stimulation once in a while to maintain a healthy population of memory cells.

Obsession with cleanliness prevents the immune system from developing in a normal manner.
(Too many Anti-bacteria soaps, spraus,mouthwashes, may do mor eharm than good)

You don't want more immunity or less immunity. You want a balance.

Some tips for a healthy immune system

  • Don't rush to the medicine cabinet every time you run a fever if you can endure it. For adults, realize that the fever response is part of your body's healing system at work.

  • Get plenty of sleep. During delta or slow-wave sleep, growth hormone is produced. Growth hormone promotes the growth of new cells, including lymphocytes.

  • Exercise. It will increase the flow of lymph by 10 to 15 times, and is important to a healthy immune system.

  • Learn to handle or decrease stress, which is a common cause of immune imbalance. Under emotional and physical stress (divorce, changing jobs, etc.), you are much more likely to get sick.  This is why a meditation habit contributes a great deal to life-long wellness. Meditators live longer – it’s a proven fact.

  • Provide your body with all the resources it needs by eating a diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and low fat proteins Your immune system will extract what it needs.

  • Herbs and rest and some extra Vitamin C should be your first line of defence against most simple illness.
    Unless you suspect something life threatening then call an ambulance and get yourself or your child to hospital emergency care.

Article provided by : Diana Thurbon

BA. Dip Med. Herb., Dip Soc Science Snr Fellow AANMP

Naturopath, Herbalist, Nutritionist, Meditation Teacher

 

Compiled by:

Dieter L. Editor of useNature

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Disclaimer:
The information provided in this article is intended for general use and for personal interest only. It should not be used or understood as suggestion or medical advice.

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