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The beauty of your immune system.

Every second of every day of your life, while you’re


busy working, playing, eating, sleeping or taking your
dog for a walk, a marvelously complex network of
cells, tissues, organs and fluids is collaborating within
your body to keep you free from disease and infection.

You’ve probably heard a lot about the immune


system recently, since more and more researchers
are finding connections between your immunity and
your overall health. And right now, the connection
between the beauty of your skin and the level of its
immunity is making news.

But how does immunity work? And what can you do


to keep it operating at its highest capacity? Let’s take
a little tour of your immune system and get a look at
the highlights.
There are two overall parts of the immune system:
The specific immune system and the non-specific immune system.

Specifically, the specific immune system. What’s an antibody?

The specific immune system responds whenever antigens—disease- Antibodies are the proteins that recognize and bind to foreign agents
causing cells such as viruses or bacteria—invade your body. The within the body, (think viruses and bacteria.) These proteins come in
microscopic gladiators sent out to save the day here are your white various shapes to bind to different agents, so each intruding cell is
blood cells, or leukocytes. greeted by an antibody designed to fight it. When the antibodies bind
to these foreign aggressors, they send signals to other parts of the
Two basic types of leukocytes work together to ward off antigens: immune system, alerting them to the invaders that need to be destroyed.
phagocytes and lymphocytes. Phagocytes essentially exist to trap
intruder cells and eat them. Lymphocytes are responsible for recognizing An alert like this sends armies of T cells over to the sites of infection,
earlier invaders, and helping to destroy them. where they destroy the antigens that the antibodies have marked. This is
why T cells are often called “killer cells.”
B cells from bone marrow. T cells from thymus. Once an antibody is produced in response to a foreign agent, it remains
in the body for life. Then, if the same antigen is reintroduced to the
Two types of lymphocytes make this possible: B cells and T cells. Like immune system, the antibodies quickly recognize it and destroy it. This
all lymphocytes, they’re born in your bone marrow. Some stick around is why if you get sick with a disease once, you generally don’t get sick
and mature within the bone marrow, becoming B cells. Others head with the same disease again.
out to the thymus gland where they become T cells. B cells trigger the
production of antibodies when antigens are detected.
What does the non-specific immune system do, specifically?

Your non-specific immune system include organs, tissues, and cells that Inflammation isn’t all bad.
respond immediately to disease-causing intruders, but in a general way.
Another aspect of the non-specific immune system is called the hu-
Skin: protecting your body’s borders. moral response, which creates inflammation of the skin at the site of an
infection. This occurs when damaged cells send chemical signals to
Its first line of defense is the largest organ of your body— your skin. A the body, communicating that foreign bodies are present. This causes
physical barrier against bacteria and other infectious agents, your skin phagocytes to rush on over for a big feast, where they’ll consume the
minimizes the work the rest of your immune system has to do. And the invaders to keep them from causing infection.
outer layer of the skin is comprised of dead cells, your skin even helps
remove bacteria as it sheds its waste. The Lymphatic System

Good chemistry. An important component of the body’s immunity, the lymphatic system
is made up of miles of lymphatic vessels, which transport the lymphatic
Acids in sweat and oils of the skin provide a chemical defense against fluid (lymph) to and from all parts of the body. This clear fluid carries
infection, as these secretions inhibit the growth of foreign agents. The proteins and other substances, either sending them back to the blood,
mucus that lines your lungs, intestines, and nasal passages helps to or removing them from the body. Lymph filters the bloodstream of toxins
trap intruding microorganisms. And the flushing effect of your tears and and wastes, collects the refuse at the lymph nodes and glands, and
saliva help prevent rid the body of toxins, too. then gets rid of it all through one of the body’s convenient exits, such as
the bladder or bowels.
The organs of the immune system

The Spleen
The spleen is responsible for filtering blood, removing dying and damaged blood cells that are no longer functioning efficiently. It is home to large
cells called macrophages, which consume these damaged cells. While it’s doing all this filtering, the spleen also remains vigilant against foreign mi-
croorganisms. It produces and stores lymphocytes, which act as the spleen’s starting line of defense against these invading organisms.

Bone Marrow
Every blood cell starts off in the bone marrow, beginning life as a generic stem cell. After the initial development, cells become differentiated, trans-
forming into red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. A lymphocyte is a type of white blood cell.

Thymus Gland
The thymus gland is vital to your immune system as well as your endocrine system—the system that produces your hormones. The thymus gland’s
role in the immune response is to process lymphocytes. So it releases a hormone that tells the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells,
which are then dispatched back to the thymus. At that point, the thymus orders the cells to go attack antigens in the body.

Thyroid and Adrenal Glands


Your thyroid and adrenal glands produce hormones that are vital to the immune response. These hormones include:

Cortisol—Often called the “stress hormone, ” cortisol is necessary for maintaining immunity, but too much of it can hamper the immune response by sup-
pressing leukocyte production.

Thyroid Hormone— Healthy levels of this vital hormone helps to maintain the immune response by supporting the functions of natural killer cells and aiding
the inflammation process.

Estrogen— This hormone helps balance production of thyroid, as well as the activity of white blood cells. The balance is critical, though. Too much estrogen
in the body can suppress thyroid production and decrease stimulation of white blood cells, while low levels of estrogen can also weaken immunity, by de-
creasing white blood cell activity and causing an increased inflammatory response.

Progesterone— Having the correct balance of progesterone is important for healthy lymphocyte activity. It also supports immune system development in a
growing fetus.

Testosterone—The right levels of testosterone in your body ensure that natural killer cells are not overproduced, and that immune activity functions correctly.
What if the immune system fails?

If your immune system is compromised, you’ll notice, because you’ll Immunodeficiency


experience physical effects. Here are some signs of immune system
malfunction. When all or part of the immune system malfunctions, the body can’t
protect itself against pathogens, and to becomes extremely vulnerable to
Allergies disease. Immunodeficiency can be have a genetic cause, or it may arise
later in life in response to chemical or biological agents. In addition, obesi-
Allergies occur when the body has a hypersensitive reaction to certain ty, alcohol, drug use, and malnutrition all cause impaired immune function.
environmental antigens, commonly called allergens. When the body Some cancers, such as leukemia, as well as acquired immunodeficiencies
comes into contact with them, an inflammatory response is triggered. such as AIDS actively damage the body’s immune system by affecting
production and response of white blood cells.
Anaphylactic shock is an extremely intense allergic reaction. Blood ves-
sels dilate abruptly, causing an immediate and dangerous drop in blood
pressure.
Immune boosting habits

The more scientists learn about immunity, the more information becomes
available to us about how we can keep our immune systems operating
most effectively. Here are some of the best practices for boosting your
body’s defenses.

Take your vitamins. Since malnutrition is a major cause of immuno-


deficiency, a diet with plenty of protein, iron, zinc, selenium, vitamins
A, C, E, B2, and B6 are essential for keeping your immune system
healthy.

Stay on the move. Exercise also helps with hormone balance and white
blood cell production, so everyday exercise will also help boost immunity.

Get your beauty sleep. Proper immune function depends on a


well-rested body. The immune system is active while you sleep, so if
you’re not getting your 8 hours, you may be impairing your body’s
capacity to produce the cells it needs to keep the immune function high.

Go with your gut. Research reveals links between helpful bacteria found
in the digestive organs and immunity. This suggests that eating food
containing probiotics (often found in certain yogurts and drinks) provide
the body with beneficial bacteria that aid in the production of T cells.
And there’s so much more.

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