The immune system is a complex network of organs, tissues, cells, and proteins that identify potential threats, mount attacks, and promptly remove the invaders. It supports optimum health by defending the body against possible infections, healing the damaged body organs and preventing abnormal cellular changes.
It includes the spleen, thymus gland, bone marrow, white blood cells, and lymph system. Together this network does more than what many people realize to keep us disease-free and healthy. When most people think of the immune system, they immediately envision white blood cells protecting us from common viruses and bacteria. But what else does the immune system do? Here are three major facts about the immune system.
The Body’s 24-hour Cleaning Crew
We are exposed to hundreds of environmental toxins in the form of microbes and chemicals. The immune system is the armed forces of the body and white blood cells are the frontline soldiers. They patrol the body identifying and removing foreign invaders that enter the body.
The immune system has two main units for defense systems:
- Innate immunity
- Adaptive immunity
The innate immune response is fast, non-specific, and starts the moment it finds a harmful foreign body (Pathogen). It deals with the millions of pathogens that enter the body round the clock. It does not differentiate among intruding elements and quickly starts to remove it whether it is a dirt particle, bacteria, or a common virus. Fever is usually the sign of an active response against an infection.
On the other hand, adaptive immunity is highly specified and takes time to starts its cleansing process. The adaptive system can remember attacking pathogens by way of specialized white cells known as memory cells. When the same pathogen attacks the next time, the response is quicker and intense than the first encounter. Our general wellbeing is the result of the round-the-clock cleaning conducted by our immune system.
The Immune System Supports The Healing of Injuries
The immune system plays a pivotal role in the healing of injuries ranging from small abrasions to big gap wounds.
Healing occurs in four phases:
After an injury, platelets (tiny blood cells) collect at the injury site and stop the bleeding by forming a clot. After this temporary scab, immune cells and chemicals orchestrate the entire healing process. Neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, act first to clean the wound by removing the debris and bacteria. Then macrophage cells move to the injury site and start the healing ‘construction work’ by clearing layers of debris and starting the groundwork for the next phase of repair. Once the inflammatory response is triggered macrophages secrete fibroblast growth factors so that fibroblasts (repair cells) are activated and healthy tissue is deposited to heal the injured body part. In addition to these cells, the immune system releases several chemicals to cause migration of the required cell types at the injury site and creating harmony among different cells.
The Immune System Prevents The Development of Cancer
Besides protecting from infections and promoting healing of wounds, the Immune system is strongly involved in cancer prevention. It does so in several ways including killing the abnormal cells at initial stages and settling the chronic inflammation that can culminate into carcinogenesis.
Longstanding inflammation has been proven to change normal body cells into cancerous tissues and immune cells fight this inflammation to reduce the cancer transformation. The Immune system can identify the normal body cells from the abnormal ones to some extent.
First, it identifies the cells with abnormal DNA and imbalanced growth and secondly immune cells attack these cells to their eradication. They also release several kinds of chemicals known as cytokines that consolidate this tumor prevention mechanism.
Apart from prevention, the immune system has a primary place in cancer treatment as well. Immunotherapy is based on activating the immune cells in a specified way to get rid of tumors and malignant changes.
Functional medicine teaches that the body’s major systems overlap and work harmoniously to create a natural state of wellness. The immune system is a perfect example of this idea.
Our immune system influences our bodies from head to toe and it is the protector of every system, organ, tissue, and cell in our bodies. It performs many tasks for which it seldom receives any attention. Having a strong immune system does provide a hefty amount of protection against infections and tumors while a weaker one is an important risk factor for the disease.
What Do You Think?
Did you know how important the immune system is?