When your immune system is in tip-top condition, you probably don’t even notice it working away to protect you around the clock. However you’ll know when there’s something wrong as your immune system is your body’s in-built defence system against illness and infection. If you feel good today, thank your immune system (and give yourself a pat on the back for looking after it!)
If you’ve ever wondered what your immune system does and why it’s so important then this article should help shed some light.
The immune system basics
The main purpose of your immune system is to protect your body from viruses and bacteria. Without it, they’d have free reign and you’d be constantly falling ill. Your immune system works by recognising the difference between your body’s cells and alien cells, allowing it to destroy any that could be potentially harmful. This usually works well but can cause problems if your immune system wrongly classifies some of your own cells and attacks them instead.
Why exactly do you need a healthy immune system though?
A robust and properly functioning immune system helps you go about daily life as you come into contact with germs and bugs from pets, other people, and your environment. Without a healthy immune system, you could pick up infections and infectious diseases more easily, and the effects could be serious – even fatal.
Your body’s first line of defence is its physical barriers. If viruses and bacteria manage to break through, there are specialised cells that will jump into action. Your bloodstream and key areas of your body contain white blood cells that can fight and destroy the viruses and bacteria they find.
Sometimes, our immune system can over react and even attack your body’s own cells. This is what happens in the case of allergies like hay fever and autoimmune diseases. It’s why donated blood and organs must be very careful matched.
It’s easy to take the immune system for granted because it does such a good job at keeping us free from infection around the clock! If you’ve got a healthy immune system, look after it and it will look after you.
What makes up your immune system?
There are several components to the immune system. Some you will have heard of before but others are more obscure. Here is a brief summary of the different parts and the important roles they play in keeping your body protected:
The skin is a physical barrier that keeps bacteria and germs at bay. Tears and saliva offer further protection as they’re anti-bacterial so can neutralise any invaders.
Anti-bacterial, sticky mucus lines your lungs and this catches germs and stops them from entering your bloodstream. Mucus is also found in your nasal passage and works in the same way.
Around seventy to eighty percent of your immune system cells are found in your gut. It’s often a place where bacteria and viruses attack so it’s important that your gut is in good condition and has plenty of friendly bacteria at its disposal.
Your lymph system carries water, food and oxygen to your cells and removes waste. It is made up of your bone marrow, spleen, thymus and lymph nodes.
In your bone marrow, your body’s disease-fighting white blood cells are produced and released. There are many different kinds of leukocytes (white blood cells) but they all produce anti-bodies to fight off specific bacteria and viruses. The main three types are granulocytes, lymphocytes (T-cells and B-cells) and monocytes.
Your spleen regulates how much blood is in your body and removes damaged cells. The thymus gland is where bacteria-fighting T-cells mature. It’s located behind your breastbone and in the front part of your chest. It’s a vital part of a child’s immune system but is less important in adults. Lymph nodes are designed to detect any bacteria or infection in cell fluid and remove them. This can cause them to swell temporarily.
How you can help your immune system
It’s vital that your immune system is in good working order if you want to stay as protected as possible. There are several ways you can do this. You can cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink, start exercising regularly if you don’t already, and try to reduce your stress levels. If you live a hectic life, simply learning to slow down and rest occasionally can have a big impact.
Diet has an important part to play and if you can, you should try to eat some immune-boosting fruits and vegetables every day. You can take them in liquid form by making juices and smoothies if you’ll find this easier. Click here for more information on the foods and drinks you should try.