And so begins my multi-part article on a very important subject: your immune system; the things inside you that attack foreign invaders and prevent disease from setting in. Before I get to the ways you can boost your own immunity, I’ll begin here with an introduction.
Do you suffer from chronic allergies, yeast infections, colds or respiratory infections? If so, you may have a depressed immune system. What’s more is that infectious disease experts predict that, during the usual flu season in late fall and winter, there are chances that various flu outbreaks (i.e. swine and/or avian) can strike. So, it is vitally important that you fully understand not only your immune system, but also what might depress or boost it.
The original meaning of the word “immune” is “protection” in Latin. Indeed, your body’s immune system is a complicated built-in system (a network of specialized cells, chemicals, organs and tissues) that protects you from attacks by any foreign substance, such as bacteria or viruses.
Your immune system has the wonderful ability to tell whether or not a particular substance belongs to your own body or is foreign. Moreover, it can eliminate any foreign substance quite effectively by mounting an immune response, which involves the production of antibodies. Antibodies are produced by specialized white blood cells called the “B lymphocytes.” The body gets rid of these foreign antigens or pathogens by having the antibodies latch onto to them.
Antibodies are divided into five different classes, with each class designated by a letter attached to the short form for the word “immunoglobulin” (Ig): IgG; IgM; IgA; IgD; and IgE. IgG, the most common antibody, is found mostly in the blood and tissue fluids; whereas IgA is found mainly in the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tracts or the respiratory system.
There are two types of immune response. The “innate” immune system is already present at birth and consists of skin, stomach acidity, and the secretions from various mucous membranes lining the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. The “adaptive” immune system is acquired later in life, such as through vaccinations or exposure to foreign antigen or pathogen. In general, the defense mechanisms derived from these two immune systems can be classified into three categories: 1) physical barriers (skin, mucosa, mucus secretions); 2) immune cells; and 3) antibodies.
There are a few key differences between the two. The innate system is present in all living beings, while only vertebrates with jaws develop the acquired system. The innate system issues a nonspecific immune response. The acquired system issues a specific response based on what threat has turned up. The other is very technical in what sort of chemicals and cellular substances it uses to fight the threat. Innate’s best-known ones are natural killer cells, while acquired includes B and T lymphocytes.