Your Amazing Immune System: Understanding Your Body's Best Defense

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Your Amazing Immune System: Understanding Your Body's Best Defense

Our immune systems - exquisitely designed, flexible, uber-intelligent – and totally underrated.  The immune system is so complicated and only seems to get attention when it is compromised.  So, in an effort to give credit where credit is due, here’s a nod to the system of cells, molecules, and organs that fight off the bad stuff like viruses and bacteria to which we are subjected every day – the AMAZING IMMUNE SYSTEM.

Other systems have gotten our attention– the gastrointestinal system (you’ve no doubt heard it’s all about the gut biome), the circulatory system (and its dysfunctional manifestation - heart disease), endocrine system (hormones, hormones, hormones) – but with the new coronavirus, it’s timely that some focus gets shifted to the underdog of our biology, the immune system.

 All the diseases of aging – osteoporosis, dementia, arthritis – and their respective “systems” – skeletal, nervous, muscular – are intuitively understood by most people.   But the immune system – we may take that for granted.   This is partly due to the fact that the organs classically associated with the immune system like the spleen or bone marrow or thymus gland are organs with which we are generally not that familiar. Ask a first grader to point to where their brain or stomach or heart is. They can. Ask them where their spleen is, not so much.

Not since the industrial revolution has infectious disease been in the top causes of death in America. Antibiotics and vaccines changed the world.  And with the shift from mortality from infection to mortality from chronic disease, our immune systems may have lost the glory they are due.  With the emergence of the novel coronavirus, appreciation for a well-functioning immune system is gaining attention.  In very general terms, this is how it works:

There are two main aspects of our immune system — (1) cell-mediated and (2) humoral — that work together to keep bad stuff out.   (By bad stuff, this means any cell that is potentially dangerous to the host, which includes our own cells that go rogue and don’t work anymore but also pathogens like viruses).  

In crude terms, cell-mediated immunity is when immune cells (typically white blood cells) interact directly with a pathogen that is physically near the cell.  An immune cell can literally eat a virus, for example, which would be an example of cell-mediated immunity. The immune cell can also send chemical messages (called cytokines) that cause the enemy (i.e. virus or bacteria) to die.  Cell-mediated immunity is what causes inflammation around a cut so that it eventually heals. As humans, we are born with the ability to fight basic threats via these systems of cellular communication and inflammatory chemicals. That is why cell-mediated immunity is sometimes called innate – we are born with the ability to perform basic protective measures at the cellular level. Then we grow up, and so does our immune system.

Humoral immunity comes from antibodies, which are like little soldiers that travel through our blood making sure everything is cool.  The way we develop antibodies is actually a pretty amazing process that involves recognizing certain patterns on the shapes of viruses (or bacteria, or other stuff) and then developing a protein that accommodates that pattern in an effort to disable it.  Humans are not born with the memory of all these bad pathogens in our world – we either have to be exposed to the pathogen during the course of our life or, in the case of viruses, have been successfully vaccinated against it. Once our immune cells encounter a virus, it stores that information for later, partly via antibodies. The reason it is called humoral immunity is because antibodies travel throughout the body and this extracellular fluid is sometimes referred to as the humor.  (Fun fact: humor is not just blood, but also includes mucus, bile, lymph, etc.)

If an immune cell were a soldier, cell-mediated immunity would be the equivalent of the soldier disabling an enemy cell with physical force in direct man-to-man combat. Conversely, humoral immunity would be akin to that soldier sending in a targeted missile (antibody) that would disable the enemy in a distant location.

One final note – the cell-mediated and humoral facets of immunity interact with each other constantly.  Both have “memory” and both have feedback systems.  Some of the cell-mediated immune response chemicals can turn the humoral response on or off.  They can ramp up or down depending on the environment and the chemical signals they are capable of sending.  So, in conclusion, cell-mediated and humoral immunity overlap and interact and adapt.  You can see why the immune system is so unappreciated!

There is a way to measure the cell-mediated immune response.  It is called the Immunidex and has been a lab test performed by SpectraCell Laboratories for almost 30 years. It is not a new concept, just an underrated one.  Find out your Immunidex score by ordering a SpectraCell Micronutrient Test today.

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