WTH Is That? #2: The Immune System
With COVID-19 affecting every nook, cranny, corner, and cell of our lives, if there was ever a time to re-assess priorities, now would be a prime occasion to catapult caring for immune health to the top.
I didn't pay much attention in science class during junior high (or high school... or college..) so while we all know that the immune system is your body's mechanism that keeps you healthy, if you'd asked me a week ago to explain what the immune system is, you would've gotten back a long, shameful stare.
As it turns out, there isn't really any specific place to point. At its most basic breakdown, your immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to identify and fight off "foreign invaders".
The human body is an ideal environment for many microbes (germs) which is why they all want in and it's the immune system's job is to keep them out. But if an invader does make it past the first barrier, it's game on..
There are two subsystems of the immune system:
- the innate immune system, the first line of defense that identifies any foreign pathogens that try to invade and spread throughout the body. This system does not distinguish between different pathogens and uses the same method of attack on every infection.
- the adaptive immune system, which are cells that identify the specific pathogen, attack and destroy, will continue to battle it out until all the germs are wiped out (however long that takes). The cells in the adaptive system will form memory cells after an infection so that it knows how to attack the same pathogen if it ever returns (immunity!).
There are multiple bodily systems working together creating layers of defenses that keep pathogens (a bacterium, virus, or other microorganism that can cause diseases) out:
First line of defense
Second line of defense
|Third line of defense|
|Your skin and your body's mucous membranes. If a pathogen gets through a tiny cut or abrasion in your skin, your nose, throat, mouth, and eyes will produce mucous or fluids to trap it and your stomach will produce acid to destroy it. Coughing, sneezing, diarrhea are all ways in which the body is trying to fight off early infection.||Fevers which increase your body temperature and prompts certain cells to fight harder; an army of cells that rush to the scene of infection and engulf foreign cells which causes an inflammatory response.||White blood cells produce antibodies made to attack the specific antigens (foreign cells) trying to infect healthy cells. Once the battle is almost over, memory cells are formed.|
Some important things to note:
- All immune cells begin as immature stem cells in the bone marrow to eventually become specific immune cells (like T cells, B cells, phagocytes).
- A healthy immune system can identify body's own cells (self) and foreign cells (non-self). When a body mistakens its own cells for foreign cells, that is an autoimmune disease.
- Immune cells congregate in the Lymph Nodes which are clustered along the Lymphatic Vessels in the neck, armpits, abdomen, and groin.
"The immune system can remember millions of different enemies, and can produce secretions and cells to match up with and kill all of them."
Understanding the Immune System: How It Works, by the National Institute of Health, September 2003.
Your body, at any given moment, is ready to come to your defense and back. You. Up. Mind. Blown.
I hope this provides a very, very, base understanding of the immune system but enough so that you can at least dive into this Medium article (posted March 24, 2020) explaining how our immune system reacts to coronavirus. It's a quick and worthwhile read.
I thought a good way to round out this post would be to regurgitate some information about how this or that herb can magically boost your immunity. But the overwhelming sense from the digging I've done is summed up pretty well like this: