Our immune system is constantly running at full speed and protects the body from pathogenic germs. Usually it is very successful in its work and we don’t notice it at all. But how does the immune system actually work?
The two parts of the immune system
Even newborn infants have an active body defense. This innate immune system fights against all kinds of pathogens that enter the body. Additionally, there is the acquired immune system . It develops over time and specifically attacks pathogens with which it has previously had contact. The acquired immune system develops mainly in childhood, but it also learns more and more in later years.
To ensure that both systems function perfectly, everyone can contribute. The immune system can be strengthened with simple tips such as a balanced diet rich in vitamins, plenty of exercise and not smoking .
How does the innate immune system work?
Our body’s defenses consist of a number of important components right from the start of life:
- Protective barriers : The skin and mucous membranes prevent bacteria, viruses or fungi from entering the body unhindered. They are lined with a protective acid layer that makes it difficult for pathogens to settle. Other helpers are good bacteria that colonize the skin. As a rule, they do not harm our organism, but instead occupy the places so that no foreign germs can spread.2
- Defense cells : White blood cells, also known as leukocytes, patrol the blood and look out for foreign particles. When they discover something, they release signaling substances into the environment that attract other immune cells. Ultimately, the intruder is destroyed by so-called scavenger cells.
But how do the cells of the immune system actually recognize who is foreign and who belongs to the body? In fact, every cell in the body has a special protein structure on its surface. This acts like an ID card : if the right one is present, the immune cells recognize it as belonging to the body. However, if the cell shows a “false” ID card, the intruder is exposed.
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How the acquired immune system works
If the innate immune system needs support, the specific or acquired immune system becomes active. The special thing about it: It can remember pathogens . As soon as these appear a second time, they are immediately identified and rendered harmless . That’s why we get certain childhood diseases like measles only once in a lifetime. Vaccinations also make use of the system. This allows the organism to get to know certain viruses or bacteria without becoming ill.
Important components of the acquired immune system are:
- T Cells : Their name derives from the thymus, an organ where T cells mature. There are different types of T cells. Some recognize when body cells are infected by viruses, others activate B cells.
- B – cells : They secrete antibodies that are specifically tailored to specific pathogens. They also bind invaders and render them harmless.
Although the acquired immune system reacts more slowly than the innate one, it is highly specialized.2 How both immune systems work in detail is complex and is still the subject of research to some extent. Yet it remains a fascinating system that guards our bodies around the clock.
When the immune system overreacts
The tasks of the immune system are clear: it should protect the body from diseases . This includes not only those who intrude from the outside. There is also a lot to do inside the body: for example, if cancer cells develop, the immune system takes action against them. However, some tumors trick the immune cells so that they remain unmolested and continue to spread.
In so-called autoimmune diseases, the immune system reacts to the body’s own cells, which are actually harmless. This is how diseases such as multiple sclerosis or rheumatism develop. How this erroneous immune system response works is still being researched. The main causes are genetic predisposition, changes in the hormonal balance, medication or infections.2
Tips for a healthy immune system
In order for the immune system to be able to take over its tasks without restrictions, it does not need that much. Support your immune system with the following recommendations:
- Sufficient sleep: the immune system is running at full speed, especially in the deep sleep phase. It is therefore important to ensure that you get enough sleep at night.
- Exercise in the fresh air: This improves blood circulation and the body is flooded with fresh oxygen. This is good for the immune system.
- Drink a lot: Sufficient liquid keeps the mucous membranes moist, so that their defense barrier is maintained. The air in the room should not be too dry either – you can help humidify the air by placing water bowls or damp cloths over the heater.
- Avoid constant stress: If the body is under stress for a long time, it weakens the immune system. Therefore, create islands of relaxation and reduce stress in a targeted manner.
You now know how the immune system works. With a healthy lifestyle, you encourage it to stay with you for the rest of your life.
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