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The Immune System: An Overview


The immune system is a complex system of bodily functions and processes that fight against disease and other negative, infectious pathogens. This system is made up of a variety of cells, tissues, and organs that work concurrently to keep the body healthy. Our immune system keeps us alive and functioning on a daily basis. As we get older, our immune system deteriorates, making us more susceptible to disease. There are two parts of the immune system: the innate and the adaptive.

Innate Immune System

The innate immune system is our body’s first response to infection. This is known as the body’s first resort of basic response to pathogens. This differs from the adaptive immune system, in that it doesn’t provide long-term immunity to the host. The cells that perform the function of the innate system are called leukocytes, or white blood cells. These are special cells, in that they are not part of another organ. Rather, their sole function is to fight infectious disease. More specifically, there are two types of white blood cells. The first type are is phagocytes, which destroy simple, invading organisms. The other type of white blood cells are lymphocytes, or cells that help the body determine which pathogens are harmful to the host. Below is a diagram of the different types of white blood cells.


Sometimes, the innate immune system is not able to protect the body from all infectious microbes. For example, we all get a cold from time to time. This is where the adaptive immune system comes in. This part of the immune system fights diseases that stay in our body for days, even weeks. Moreover, the innate immune system is responsible for the development of immunological memory to prevent certain types of diseases. This is what happens when you get a vaccination.

Immune System Disorders

For some, the immune system does not function properly. There are three main categories of immune system disorders: Immunodeficiencies, Autoimmunity, and Hypersensitivity. When multiple components of the immune system become totally inactive, this is called an immunodeficiency. Immunodeficiencies are often seen in old people, as their immune system becomes weaker with age. Poor diet can also lead to immunodeficiencies, along with acquired diseases, such as AIDS.
When the immune system fails to distinguish harmful and normal bodily pathogens, an Autoimmunity has occurred. Here, the immune system attacks bodily tissues, leading to more complicated disease. Some autoimmunities include Celiac disease, Grave’s disease, and Arthritis.
Finally, there are immune system disorders that fall under the Hypersensitivity category. Here, our immune system produces undesirable reactions to certain pathogens. These can be immediate, such as allergies, or long-term, such as Immune complex disease.

How to Improve your Immune System

As described, the immune system is vital for overall health. Daily activities that benefit your overall health improve your immune system, including: abstaining from smoking, exercising daily, and maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure. In addition, it has been shown that adequate sleep can also be beneficial to the immune system. Some elements known to boost the immune system include Selenium, Vitamin A, and Zinc.

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