By Aeon Mapa
Recently we have been talking quite a bit about bolstering our immune system by using healthy, organic food. In order for us to fully appreciate what we have been reading it is important that we have a good grasp of the mechanizations of the immune system. Natural immunity is something each of us are blessed with. The simple fact that you are alive reading this means that you have a functioning immune system. Think back to every cold, sore throat, cough, stomachache, rash or pimple you’ve had that healed on its own. Without your immune system, each one of those could have been fatal! But thanks to a good immune response, we barely even notice these minor ailments. I am not an expert but there is enough reliable information to be found that everyone can educate themselves on immune response.
Our immune system is made up of many parts, such as phagocytes, killer cells, immunoglobins, blood cells and more. It also works in several capacities such as innate and adaptive. Think of them like a little army that defends your body against invaders. Let’s learn a little more about each one.
Physical Defenses – Skin & Mucous
Our skin and mucus provide our first line of defense against any outside pathogens. Think of them as walls. They provide physical barriers against any threats from the environment. When a pathogen is able to make it past the skin or mucosal surface such as our eyes, mouths or other orifices, our immune response kicks in.
Adaptive & Innate Immunity
Our immune response can be broken down into two parts, innate and adaptive. The physical defenses are part of the innate system. Each one of these plays an important part in not only our health, but that of our species.
· Innate Immunity– These are the processes that recognize, react and neutralize threats to our bodies. When our innate immunity recognizes a threat, it marks it, attracting phagocytes (pathogen-eaters) which begin fighting the pathogen. Phagocytes also relay information to the Lymphocytes (white blood cells) which act to purge the disease from our body. Innate immune processes work to identify and remove the threat from our bodies and is important in keeping us from getting severely ill when we first encounter a pathogen. It is a generic response to any outside threat.
· Adaptive Immunity– This part of our immune system records the information that was gathered during the initial immune response. It does this when Lymphocytes create immunoglobins (antibodies) that are programmed to recognize and fight specific threats. Once the body has done this, it is now able to provide a more effective immune response to identical or similar pathogens. This is highly important because it allows us to adapt to variants of existing diseases. It is through adaptive immunity that a species learns to survive outbreaks of disease. 1 It is a specific response to previously encountered threats.
More and more scientists are beginning to realize that our gut microbiome plays a huge role in our immune response. This tiny ecosystem of good bacteria that lives in our digestive system supports the immune system in many ways. Our gut microbiome is important in both innate and adaptive immunity processes:
· Delivers nutrients essential for immune response- Our body is not able to digest much of the food that we eat on our own. It is up to the bacteria in our stomach to transform this food into the nutrients that we need for strong immune systems.
· Regulation- It has been found that our gut microbiome plays a big role in providing modulation to our immune system Certain bacteria for example regulate immune responses such as inflammation. This is a crucial aspect of our immunity because it stops the body from damaging itself.
Read more about the gut microbiome here
Complement System, Phagocytes & Killer Cells Protect us As Innate Immunity
The complement system are cells that act as the watchdogs of our body. As the first agents of our innate immunity their job is to identify, record information on outside pathogens, and communicate the threat to the rest of the immune cells. This system consists of protein cells which bind on to outside threats, marking them for the immune system to destroy. Cells called Phagocytes are the first to arrive on the scene, attempting to destroy the pathogen and triggering inflammation which attracts more phagocytes.
Phagocytes consume pathogens, neutralizing them. They then take hold of the genetic code, displaying it on their surface, and shows it to other immune system cells. Some phagocytes travel into the lymph nodes, where they present the pathogen to the lymphocytes. 2 3
Natural Killer Cells- These cells, produced by Lymphocytes seek out infected cells and bacteria and destroy them using cytotoxins which they produce. They are important when encountering a pathogen for the first time.
Lymphocytes Learn and Work on The Adaptive Immunity
Once a pathogen has been identified, the next level of the immune response kicks in. The Lymphocytes are white blood cells that live in our lymph nodes. Once they are notified lymphocytes spring in to action to destroy and record information on the pathogen. Think of them as the soldiers who fight off viruses and bacteria, and send reports back to “base” .
There are two kinds of lymphocytes in the immune system, B Cells that secrete antibodies and T Cells that destroy antigens that have may have escaped previous defenses
· B Cells– (B because they are produced in the Bone Marrow) are cells that serve the purpose of producing antibodies and remembering previously encountered pathogens. This is important in creating what we call adaptive immunity. When encountering the same or similar pathogen our immune response is stronger and faster. They are like the second wave of defense, who have already been briefed about the enemy they are facing.
· T Cells– (T because they are produced in the bone marrow but migrate to the Thymus) They are broken into several groups. Regulatory T Cells allow the body to recognize it’s own cells from infected ones. The Helper T Cells communicate information on encountered pathogens to the B Cells. The main defense of the adaptive immunity are the Killer T Cells that attack and can destroy virus -infected cells and even cancers. They are the main and final defense of the adaptive immune system.
Both B and T cells create memory versions of themselves which remember encountered viruses. Reserve B Cells are created to produce antibodies in case the virus or something similar enter the body again.
Immunoglobins/Antibodies Create Your Adaptive Immunity
Immunoglobins, also known as antibodies are the adaptive components of your immune system. Produced by the B cells after they have encountered a pathogen, they travel around your body providing protection. Antibodies are built specifically to combat previously encountered pathogens. Their structure is specific to the threat, and they are able to quickly lock on to viruses and bacteria, stopping them form infecting healthy cells. Imagine them as a defense force, organized an ready to face specific threats. We highlighted their importance in a previous article. There are three types of immunoglobin:
· IgA– Provides protection to our mucosal surfaces such as our lungs, respiratory tracts gut and urinary tracts.
· IgD – These are neutral Immunoglobins that are bound to B cells, waiting for information on antigens and pathogens.
· IgM– These are the initial wave of antibodies release to protect our body and fight of antigens while IgG and other antibodies are produced at a sufficient level to create long-term protection.
· IgE – binds to allergens and produces histamines. The are the cells that regulate allergic responses. They also protect against parasites.
· IgG – The most common antibody that make up about 75% of our antibody population. They circulate around our blood stream and are able to bind to bacteria and infected cells that they have been programmed to find, marking them for Phagocytes and other immune cells, resulting in much faster immune response. 4
This is, in a very brief nutshell the way our immune system works. There are many more details to get into if you are interested, but the process above covers the basics. It is important to understand how our immune system works so we can choose how to best strengthen it. Please see our other articles on how Organic food strengthens the specific aspects of the immune system by clicking here.