The immune system is the defence system of the body. It can be compared to the military of any nation. Each nation’s military system is unique. It has its own mechanisms to identify the enemy, remember who its enemy is and fight to protect the nation from any attack. Every individual’s immune system is unique and works similarly.
Generally, the immune system is made up of special organs, cells and chemicals that fight infection (microbes) and the toxins that may be produced by them. The main parts of the immune system are white blood cells, antibodies, complement system, lymphatic system, spleen, thymus, and the bone marrow.
These are the parts of the immune system that actively fight infection. These different systems and cell types work in perfect synchrony (most of the time) throughout the body to fight off pathogens and clear up dead cells. However, the front line soldiers of this system are lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells.
In the immune system, there are two important types of white blood cells― B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes.
The B lymphocytes spot the antigen and begin to secrete antibodies. The antibodies are special proteins (called immunoglobulins) that lock on to specific antigens. Antibodies are the ammunition to eliminate a particular antigen. The specialty of the immune system is that it produces specific ammunition to kill a particular enemy.
Antibodies lock onto the antigen, but they do not kill it; only mark it for death. (B lymphocytes arrest the enemy).
There are three main types of T lymphocytes― Helper T cells, killer T cells and memory T cells. Helper T cells coordinate the immune response and stimulate B cells to produce more antibodies. Killer T cells (cytotoxic T lymphocytes) — as the name suggests― attack the antigen. They are particularly useful for fighting viruses. They work by recognising small parts of the virus on the outside of infected cells and destroy the infected cells. The memory T cells are produced following an infection. They are antigen-specific and live long. Memory T cells are important because they can quickly respond to re-exposure to the antigen. They provide the immune system with memory against previously encountered antigens. Once an antibody has been produced, a copy remains in the body system, and should the same antigen invade again, it can be dealt with more swiftly.
Before the advent of immunisation, many people died from infective diseases as is happening with COVID-19 now. Thousands of people have died due to small pox. Babies used to die of measles, whooping cough, tetanus and other similar illnesses. But now, babies are immunised using vaccines. A particular vaccine against an infective organism is produced using the same organism. The disease-causing pathogens are attenuated (weakened) or part of their protein is extracted and introduced into the healthy individual. This material is termed as ‘vaccine’. Once the vaccine enters the system, it produces antibodies and when the real organism invades the system, it is eliminated. Through immunisation, deadly diseases, such as small pox, have been totally eliminated.
The best way to improve the immune system is to choose a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle has to be followed from a young age and attempts should be made to maintain good health naturally. Immunity depends on general health and general health depends on good immunity. Every part of the body, including the immune system, functions better when protected and improved by healthy-living strategies such as these:
Smoking has to be stopped. Smoking is bad for overall health. Many elderly who have succumbed to COVID-19 infection were chronic smokers.
A diet high in fruits and vegetables is good for health. The deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E — alter immune responses in experimental animals. These micronutrients are commonly present in fruits and vegetables. If not possible to consume the fruits or vegetables, dietary supplements may be used.
Regular exercise is a boost to health. It is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, helps to control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system.
Adequate sleep is also a natural immune booster. The human body prepares and releases cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection effectively creating an immune response. It is proved that chronic deficiency of sleep reduces body’s ability to respond to infection.
Try to reduce stress. When a person is stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced. That is why humans are more susceptible to infections during stressful situations. The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system (e.g. lowers the number of lymphocytes).
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