You have been hearing talks about the immune system for a long time especially now that coronavirus is spreading rapidly, but you barely understand what anyone is saying.
They say “eat this and that, so your immune system will be able to fight against the virus, and you’ll survive the pandemic.”
But, you don’t even know what the immune system means, and you don’t know why you should be doing what anyone says.
It’s your body, right?
Before you listen to any talks about your immune system and what you should and should not do, we’ve prepared a guide that you should read to the end.
This guide explains everything you need to know about improving your immune system and how it helps in the fight against coronavirus and other flu.
Let’s get into it.
What is the Immune System?
The immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and proteins that protect the body against infectious agents. When your immune system spots coronavirus and other invaders, it attacks right away.
The immune system is not located in one area of the body. It is well spread through all the organs and other body systems. It involves various tissues, organs, and cells of the body to fight against these pathogens.
It is responsible for identifying self-tissues (tissues that should be in your body) from foreign tissues. After identification, it then proceeds to clear away these faulty cells from your body.
There are cases where your immune system attacks the normal cells in your body, but we’ll take a look at that later on in this guide.
An immune response is formed when your body encounters pathogens like coronavirus. It keeps a record of every microorganism it has ever encountered. So, when a familiar invader enters your body, it knows the best ways to eliminate it quickly before it makes you fall sick.
But in the case of coronavirus, since the virus is new, your body generates an immune response when fighting it, and you may experience some sickness symptoms like fever. But these will subside if your immune system is strong enough.
Let’s take a look at the parts of the immune system that makes this possible.
Parts of the Immune System.
The immune system comprises of:
- White blood cells.
- Complement system.
- Lymphatic system.
- Bone marrow.
White Blood Cells
White blood cells (WBCs) are the main component of the immune systems. They are the ones that make everything happen.
These leukocytes which are made in your bone marrow move through your blood and lymphatic vessels, circulating your entire body.
They are like the patrol officers – always roaming your body, looking for the next pathogen to attack. When they finally find these pathogens, they replicate quickly and send signals to other immune cells to start replicating so that they will be strong enough to face the enemy.
The other white blood cells they call out to, are located in the lymphoid organs (the other organs listed above – thymus, bone marrow, spleen, and lymph nodes).
Types of White Blood Cells.
There are two main types of infection-fighting white blood cells: phagocytes and leukocytes.
These are also known as the eaters.
They surround these pathogens and absorb them to weaken and break them down. After breaking down the infectious organisms, the phagocytes eat them.
They are very effective in eliminating these organisms.
- Neutrophils: These are bacteria-eating leukocytes, and are the most common of the phagocytes.
- Monocytes: They are the largest phagocytes, having many holes on them.
- Macrophages – These are the patrol officers. They look around the body for pathogens, and when they find dead or dying cells, they clear them out.
- Mast cells – They do many things including defending the body from pathogens and assisting in wound healing processes.
They are the second type of white blood cells; responsible for storing memories of previous invaders. So when the same pathogens return, the lymphocytes remember them.
Lymphocytes start their life cycles in the bone marrow. Some stay back in the bone marrow and become B lymphocytes while the others move to the thymus and become T-lymphocytes.
As lymphocytes differentiate, they start playing different roles.
B-lymphocytes: They are responsible for producing antibodies that help fight antigens like coronavirus, and they also help signal the T-lymphocytes of any invader.
T-lymphocytes – They destroy any cell in your body that has been affected by the foreign organisms.
Earlier on, we mentioned that your body generates an immune response when a foreign body attacks.
Here, we’ll be looking at how the immune response works.
Before we do that, I’ll define two terms for you. We’ll be using them a lot here.
Antigens – The substance/pathogen that attack the body.
Antibody – Chemicals that help you fight these antigens and keep your immune system safe.
Your immune system identifies foreign substances by detecting the proteins on all cell surfaces in your body.
So, over time, it knows all your self-proteins, and will easily recognize non-self-proteins.
An immune response is triggered when an antigen enters your body. The antigen can be a foreign body, bacteria, fungi, toxin, or virus.
But it isn’t always foreign.
Our bodies also trigger an immune response when it recognizes our faulty or dead cells. They should not be there, so it flags them as invaders.
Antibodies play a major role in the body’s immune response, and they are released by the B lymphocytes.
The antibodies of the body include:
- Immunoglobulin G (IgG) – which marks microbes for identification and destruction.
- Immunoglobulin M (IgM) – Deals with foreign bacteria.
- Immunoglobulin A (IgA) – These are antibodies found in fluids like saliva and tears. They protect the areas where foreign substances can pass through on the body.
- Immunoglobulin D (IgD) – Stay with the B lymphocytes and help them start the immune response.
- Immunoglobulin E (IgE) – Is responsible for all your allergies, and also helps protect the body against parasites.
When antibodies find antigens, they do not kill it. They only mark them so that your phagocytes can recognize them, break them down, and then eat them.
You may be wondering:
Then, what are the T lymphocytes doing all the while? Everyone else has a role.
There are two types of T lymphocytes.
- Helper T cells: They are responsible for coordinating the immune response. They have different functions which include attracting phagocytes to the foreign body, stimulating the production of more antibodies by the B cells, and communicating with other immune cells. They are helping everyone.
- Killer T cells: They are built to attack other cells. Most times, they focus on defending your body against viruses like coronavirus. When they spot coronavirus on your cells, they destroy both the virus and the infected cells.
That’s how your immune system helps you to fight viruses and keep it safe. Before we see if you can boost your immune system or if you should even do it, let’s look at other ways your body fights infections.
Other Ways the Body Defends Against Pathogens.
Your immune system isn’t the only body system responsible for keeping you safe. Your body has other ways to protect itself.
- Skin: Your skin is the first defense against foreign microbes. If your skin wasn’t there, it would have been so easy to get infected by pathogens. The skin is a waterproof barrier secreting oils that have antibacterial properties.
- Lungs: Microorganisms cannot easily get into your body through your lungs. The walls of the lungs have mucus that traps foreign particles. The hairs in your lungs then move these particles up. They are ejected from your body when you cough.
- Digestive system: If the digestive system wasn’t protected, pathogenic microorganisms could have easily multiplied in your body. However, there are mucous linings in your stomach that contain antibodies to deal with these antigens. Also, the stomach is highly acidic, and this kills most microorganisms.
- Others: Other defenses of the body include antibacterial enzymes in your tears and saliva, urinary tract, constant flushing of the bowels, skin oils.
Disorders of the Immune System.
Some people have immune systems that work overtime, while some have immune systems that barely work. If you fall under any of the categories, you will experience some immune disorders.
Overactive immune system causes:
- Autoimmune diseases – This is what we talked about above. This is when your immune system attacks normal cells and organs of the body. Some of the diseases it can cause include type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, autoimmune thyroid disease, and systemic vasculitis.
- Allergic diseases – If you have experienced any allergies, it means your body is experiencing a very strong immune response to allergens. You can experience allergic reactions to foods, stinging insects, and medications. Others include asthma, sinus disease, anaphylaxis, eczema, and hay fever.
An underactive immune system is when your immune system does not function properly. It many cases, it can cause life-threatening diseases because you’re more vulnerable to infections. There’s nothing to protect you from strong pathogens.
A weak immune system (immunodeficiency) can be inherited from your parents, could occur due to medical treatment such as chemotherapy or corticosteroids, or can be caused by another disease like cancer or HIV/AIDS.
Can You Boost Your Immune System?
This is one question many have asked themselves even as coronavirus spreads further across the world. There has been lots of misinformation online about how to reinforce your immune system, and nobody knows what to believe anymore.
Many factors play a role in the strength of your immune system. They include germs that you’ve been exposed to over a lifetime, diet, stress, sleep, and exercise.
Now that you know this, you can tell that your immune system can be boosted. This study of twins even made us know that the strength of the immune system is not determined by heritable factors.
Although you can boost your immune system, there is no magic food or pill that will do this for you and protect you from viruses like the coronavirus.
If you want to boost your immune system, you have to:
- Lower your stress levels – Worry will get you nowhere. All it does to you is release stress hormones that prevent your immune system from functioning well and make you susceptible to respiratory diseases like coronavirus.
Learn new techniques for managing stress such as controlled breathing, meditation, yoga, and speaking to a therapist.
- Sleep well – Many people deprive themselves of sleep. Your immune system doesn’t work well when you only sleep for five hours every night. You should sleep for at least 7 hours each night, and learn better sleeping habits to ensure that you sleep properly.
- Eat a balanced diet – One of the major ways to get a healthy immune system and develop more cells that can keep you safe from illness due to coronavirus infection is by eating a balanced diet containing the right amount of carbs and protein. You also need all your vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise and use proven supplements – Exercising helps the immune cells in your body to circulate properly. Also, when you exercise, your temperature heightens, and this also helps you fight pathogens (just like when you’re having a fever).
Also, there are many supplements like vitamin C, zinc, turmeric, and many others that have been shown to improve your immune system function. You can add them to your diet.
Optimunity is a proven vitamin C supplement that has been used by patients recovering from coronavirus infection. You can also use it to boost your immune system.
Why You Need to Boost Your Immune System Against Coronavirus.
You may be asking yourself:
“Why is boosting my immune system so important? I should be safe from coronavirus infection by staying away from people.”
Here’s what I want you to know:
Some people who have tried to maintain all the social distancing protocols have been infected. A slip up could happen anytime, and you have to be prepared for it.
The main reason you need to boost your immune system is so that your body will be strong enough to fight coronavirus if you get infected.
We’ve seen many people with strong immune systems get infected by COVID 19 and not experience symptoms at all. They don’t need to spend their time in the hospital because they’ve done the work on their immune system.
Your immune system is a major way your body defends itself against pathogens. Nobody completely understands how it works, but you can make conscious efforts to ensure that it is strong enough to prevent you from falling ill and dying due to coronavirus infection.
When you carry out activities that boost your immune system, you will be fairly certain that your body can fight any virus that comes its way.
Sleep well, lower your stress levels, exercise, take supplements, and eat a balanced diet to stay healthy.