About Your Immune System
Your immune system protects your body from outside invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins they create. It is made up of different organs, cells, and proteins that work together.
There are two main parts of the immune system:
- The innate immune system, which you are born with.
- The adaptive, acquired or antibody-mediated immune system, which develops over the first 6 years of life and continues to change throughout your life.
The Innate Immune System
This is your rapid response system. This system is inherited and is active from the moment a child is born. Immune cells patrol your body. When they recognize an invader, they go into action immediately. The cells of this immune system (called phagocytes) surround and engulf the invader. Inside the phagocyte a mini-explosion, called an oxidative burst, happens. This kills the harmful invader.
The Acquired or Adaptive Immune System (or Antibody-Mediated Immunity)
You develop this as your body is exposed to microbes or chemicals released by microbes. In children this doesn’t mature fully until after age 6.
The acquired immune system, with help from the innate system, produces cells (antibodies) to protect your body from a specific invader. These antibodies are developed by cells called B lymphocytes after the body has been exposed to the invader. The antibodies stay in the body. It can take several days for antibodies to develop. But after the first exposure, the immune system will recognize the invader and defend against it. The acquired immune system changes throughout your life. Repeated exposure to everyday bacteria, viruses (and dirt!) in childhood help train your immune system to make antibodies to protect you against harmful diseases as well as allergies like asthma.
The principle of vaccination works in the same way – it’s a training process. Vaccination exposes you to a protein (antigen) from a microbe (or a whole microbe that has been killed). This is to train your acquired immune system to recognise it in future and react super-fast.
Your immune system not only protects against infections but also against cancer. A well-functioning immune system “sees” the cancer cells (which we all produce, by the way) and destroys them. A well-functioning immune system also means you don’t over-react to harmless proteins e.g. in in pollen, house dust, foods.
80% of your immune system is in your gut
Although you have immune organs such as tonsils, spleen, bone marrow and lymph nodes it is in your gut that most of your immune cells are located. Anything that impacts on the health of your gut impacts your immune system.
The approximately 1kg of microbes that live in you (mainly in your gut) are a huge part of your immune system. If they are not in balance, your immunity suffers. Beneficial bacteria make bactericides kill disease-causing bacteria and viricides that suppress harmful viruses. What goes in your mouth, when and how you eat and even your physical activity levels replenish or drain your good gut bacteria. And either explode or suppress harmful species.
10 Common Things That Sabotage Your Immune System:
- Concentrated and processed sugars like sweets, desserts, fruit juices (yes fruit juices) and sweetened drinks. These lower phagocytic activity for hours after every intake. Remember phagocytes are the immune cells that engulf and destroy invaders.
- Beige diets. This means diets low in antioxidants and flavonoids found particularly in fresh vegetables as well as herbs and spices.
- Foods fried in vegetable, nut or seed oils which are in packaged, fast or processed foods. These foods deplete your antioxidant reserves and include oven chips, crisps and popcorn.
- Avoidance of healthy fats from raw nuts and seeds, oily fish.
- Diets high in processed meats (e.g. ham) and meat cooked at high temperature.
- Starchy, high carbohydrate and flour-based foods that make you tired after you eat. This tiredness after meals is a sign you’ve had an insulin surge. This is very pro-inflammatory and weakens your immune system.
- Poorly managed stress. Tired but wired? Always on the go? Never ending to-do list? Anxious? Difficulty sleeping? Depressed? Bereaved? All these mean chronic stress. This puts your body into emergency mode and derails immune function. The food you eat has a massive impact on your ability to feel more happy and chilled.
- Digestive disorders including acid reflux, gallbladder issues and bowel problems. All of these upset the balance of bacteria in your gut. This compromises your immune system.
- Eating frequently, even if your diet is super-healthy.
- Sedentary living.
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