Meeting Your Immune System -Yasmin Mohseni MSc
As Londoners, the daily hustle bustle keeps us busy with little time to rest. Keeping up
our social circles, balancing a full time job and / or business, whilst keeping up a gym
routine and healthy eating regime, oh and squeezing in a love life; sometimes it all gets a
bit too much. This is when we get run down, and I’m sure we can all agree that being
bed-bound fighting an illness is the most frustrating situation when trying to juggle all of
the above. But while lying there contemplating when you’re body will finally fight off
the infection, a few questions may loom to help speed up the process. Typically: should I
go vegan to help boost the immune system? Maybe I should take some vitamins and
supplements? Surely I shouldn’t do any training today? I heard turmeric and ginger shots
are great for the immune system right?
Your immune system is made up of different types of white blood cells that all have a
defined purpose and function. These cells all work together in perfect harmony to ensure
they clear any invading pathogen – be it bacteria or viruses – as swiftly and effectively as
possible. In order to get a better understanding of how to help our immune system out a
bit, in this post we will dive into the basics of inflammation and the immune system.
Immune system cells are born in the thymus or bone marrow and are released to different
homing sites, such as the lymph nodes and spleen, waiting on standby until called. Cells
such as macrophages, are on constant patrol of the body, looking for any breach from
invading pathogens. Once a physical barrier such as skin or mucosa is breached by a
pathogen, say bacteria, macrophages begin “chasing” the pathogen. Once caught,
macrophages will break it down to little antigens and present them to the rest of the
immune system cells, calling an attack. Cells will leave the homing site to seek and
destroy this pathogen.
Now, your first line of defense - the innate immune system - is always initiated first.
All pathogens have one thing in common: they emit “danger molecules”, which is what
the innate immune system will be triggered by. Natural killer (NK) cells and neutrophils
will seek the invading pathogen and destroy it using various tools – neutrophils actually
use Nets to grab the pathogen a bit like Spiderman, I thought this was cool so just letting
you know. Anyway, your innate immune system is a first line for a reason; it’s non-
specialised as it responds only to typical danger signals released by all kinds of pathogen.
It can only do so much and does not guarantee to totally clear the pathogen by itself. In
order to build a more targeted, efficient, power response with in-built memory, we need a
more advanced attack. Cue, the adaptive immune system.
Whilst the innate immune cells are seeking and destroying the invading pathogen, the
army of adaptive immune cells is building simultaneously over a few days. That
macrophage that initially chased, gobbled and presented the antigen to the rest of the
immune system, also activates T and B lymphocytes to start forming receptors (or
antibodies) that are specific to that antigen, based on its protein structure.
The T cells have an army differentiated into Killer cells and Helper cells that are released
to target the antigen. These cells have their own weapons too: Killer cells effectively
“shoot” the pathogen or infected cells, even sticking a hole in them triggering them to
explode; while Helper cells release tags that stick all over the pathogens and infected
cells, which attract other killer cells (including the innate cells) to come. When the
infection is cleared, the other subtype, Regulatory cells, switch off the immune system.
Meanwhile, the B cells have produced an array of antibodies to target and stick all over
the pathogen, marking the killer cells to that region in a similar manner to the T cells.
Both B and T cells will have a subset of Memory cells that will be stored in the homing
sites, therefore if there ever is an attack again with the same antigen, these cells will
automatically activate the rest of the immune system, informing it to use the same
repertoire as before, to ensure a quicker and more efficient kill.
I hope like me, you’re in slight awe of how perfectly functioning our immune system is
to keep us alive. Maybe you are also like me where you don’t do it justice and keeping
overworking it; but does overtraining affect the immune system? Or is being “too clean”
dangerous as well, risking developing abrasive allergies and autoimmune diseases?