The immune system (from the Latin word immunis, meaning ‘free’ or ‘untouched’) protects the body from harmful environmental factors and is essential for our survival.
The immune system is made up of a complex network of cells and organs that protect the body from infection. If the immune system encounters a pathogen, for example, a bacterium, virus, or parasite, it mounts a so-called immune response. Essentially, they identify and attack anything foreign that gets into our bodies.
Most of us have perfectly adequate immune systems. We notice the immune response when we have symptoms such as inflammation, swelling, rash, the release of fluids or a fever. These are all signs of our immune system responding and, while having a fever or inflammation can be unpleasant, they are signs that your body is doing its job. When we have a fever, our bodies release white blood cells, increase our metabolism, and prevent harmful organisms from multiplying.
Complications arise when the immune system doesn’t function properly.
One serious condition, known as immunosuppression, is a suppression of the immune system and its ability to fight infection. Immunosuppression may result from certain diseases, such as AIDS or lymphoma, or from certain drugs, including some of those used to treat cancer. Immunosuppression may also be deliberately induced with drugs. This is the case when patients are being prepped for bone marrow or other organ transplantations, in order to prevent the rejection of the transplanted organ.
Overactivity of the immune system can take many forms, including
allergic diseases; where the immune system makes an overly strong response to allergens. Allergic diseases are very common. They include allergies to foods, medication, insect stings, anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergy), hay fever (allergic rhinitis), sinus disease, asthma, hives (urticaria), dermatitis and eczema
Autoimmune Diseases – where the immune system mounts a response against normal components of the body. Autoimmune diseases range from common to rare. They include multiple sclerosis, autoimmune thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic vasculitis.
With conditions like immunosuppression or overactivity of the immune system, people need professional support and adequate medical help.
There’s an astonishing variety of claims about all sorts of products and practices that can ‘boost’, ‘strengthen’, ‘stimulate’ or ‘support’ your immune system. However, ‘boosting’ the immune system is probably not a good idea, as it could end up doing more harm than good.
The immune system is a system and not a single entity. Therefore, to function well, it requires balance and harmony. There is still a lot that researchers don’t know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. However, your first line of defence is to live a healthy lifestyle.
Your immune system works hard to protect you every day, but there are things you can do to help it work more efficiently. These are:
– Get a good night’s sleep. Your body can’t function correctly if you aren’t sleeping well.
– Practice good hygiene. Washing your hands regularly can prevent infections.
– Eat a balanced diet and get plenty of exercise. Eating nutritious food and staying active will help your body fight off infections.
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