Monday, October 18, 2010

12 things about your immune system your doctor didn't tell you

As you sit reading this, your body is under attack. The kind of attack that could kill you. It's all about the predator and the prey. Thankfully, you have a few bodyguards protecting you from harm.

Your immune system is your body's defense against foreign invaders that cause illness and disease. I like to think of it as an army. There are Generals and there are Soldiers. When everything is working correctly our bodies are able to stay healthy. Sometimes there is damage from friendly fire. The two most common (although different) types of friendly fire damage are Allergy and Autoimmunity.

Before you can truly understand autoimmune disease, it's wise to learn about your immune system itself. This is a complicated, multifaceted subject our doctors don't usually have time to teach us.

This post is designed to give you a few general bullet points you may not have already known about your immune system.

* Each person has three types of immunity - innate immunity you're born with, adaptive immunity that develops throughout our lives, and passive immunity which is 'borrowed' from another source.

* Your skin is the first part of your body's defenses. It protects your insides from all the bad things outside. It secretes antibacterial substances. Special cells called Langerhans cells help to regulate the immune response of the skin.

* Your nose, mouth and eyes, as well as mucosal tissues such as that found in those areas and the digestive, respiratory and reproductive systems, all secrete substances that kill bacteria. These areas are also lined with mast cells - special cells that defend our bodies against potentially harmful assaults.

* Inside your body are additional defenses: Thymus, spleen, lymph system, bone marrow, white blood cells, antibodies, complement system, and hormones all play significant roles in our immune system. Inflammation is vital to our immune system. More on those defenses in upcoming posts...

* Bacteria that gain entrance to the body give off unique chemical signals that alert special cells called phagocytes, which reach around and surround it, then consume/digest it with special chemicals.

* Phagocyte means "cells that eat". There are different types of phagocytes including 'professional' and 'non-professional' phagocytes. Professionals always have the job to eat invaders. Non-professionals sometimes eat invaders, but also have another job.

* Every cell in our bodies, including pathogens (invader cells) have special chemical markers on its surface called Antigens. Identifying these antigens is how the body is able to tell the difference between a pathogen and a normal part of the body (self). When a new pathogen is introduced into the body, its antigens alert the immune system that it is foreign.

* Lymph nourishes cells and carries away bacteria and germs. Among other things, the lymphatic system is the "trash system" of the body. Somebody's got to take out the garbage!

* Lymph glands are designed to act as "trash cans" for invaders. Bacteria and viruses collect there before they are removed by the body. Special cells called Lymphocytes also reside there and respond to pathogens (invader cells) by producing antibodies. Lymphocytes remember pathogens, and once they have met a specific pathogen, they are quick to remember and create the appropriate antibodies so you don't get sick again.

* Antibodies are shaped like the letter Y. The top ends of the Y shaped cell are custom fitted so they can attach to the specific antigen markers of each particular pathogen. You may think of the pathogen's marker as a lock, and the specially shaped top of the Y shaped antibody as a key. When the antibody has attached to the pathogen's antigen, it renders it harmless. It also may act to clump the pathogens together so its easier for phagocytes to eat them.

* Antibodies take time to be created, so the first time a pathogen is introduced it may get the upper hand and do damage. When this happens, we become sick. When we're well, those pathogen specific antibodies will remain in the bloodstream, keeping watch for more pathogens to attach to. This is why we become sick once with a disease, then not again, or not as sick as the first time. Our bodies have built antibodies against it from the first illness, and it is said that we have become 'immune' to it.

* If you want to see what would happen when your immune system fails, consider what happens when something dies. Its immune system stops working, and the body is quickly invaded by bacteria, mold, fungus, parasites, etc. This is part of the same thing that would happen to us if our immune system failed.

For more information on immune system basics, check out these interesting pages:

Understanding Autoimmune Diseases...
Discovery Health - How your immune system works
The microbial world

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Views: 653
Comment by asburyparkangel on October 18, 2010 at 5:31pm
WOW, thanks Ellen for this informative POST. Excellent. We should all take heed to this one. I'd like to pass this oen to everyone on Face Book:)
Comment by Ellen S on October 18, 2010 at 9:38pm
Awesome - thank you so much!!! <3
Comment by Kelly Young on October 18, 2010 at 11:04pm
Fantastic work Ellen.

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