Medical Science / Medicine Essay

How the immune system works and How to strengthen it

The immune system is made up of a complex set of organs and cells highly specialized in defending the body from infections.

Our organism is equipped with a real defensive system, called the immune system, essential for protection from numerous foreign substances. Most of these external substances are made up of various types of microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses, freely circulating in the air. Each of these shows on their surface molecules called antigens, which are recognized as foreign by the immune system and therefore attacked.

The elements of the immune system

The immune system consists of a complex " surveillance network" made up of several highly specialized organs and cells, shared by the lymphatic vessels, and located in various parts of the body that cooperate, each with a well-defined role, to defend the organism and keep it healthy.

Specifically, the immune defenses involve:

- Lymphatic organs: bone marrow, thymus and lymphatic tissues of the spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes, appendix, Peyer's intestinal plaques;

- Cells: white blood cells (leukocytes) circulating in the blood and tissues;

- Chemical mediators: such as cytokines, proteins that coordinate and perform immune responses, exchanging signals that mutually regulate the level of cellular activity with the different organs and tissues.

The immune response

The lines of defense that activates the immune system against external pathogens can be of three types:

- Innate/non-specific: acts against any pre-existing external agent naturally; immunity does not require the previous contact with the pathogen, but its response will be immediate.

- Acquired / specific: immunity against the external agent develops slowly and is established following first contact (both natural and artificial due to vaccinations). The resulting antibodies will retain lifelong memory for future further exposure.

- Mechanical/chemical: our body activates barriers such as skin, sweat, sebum, the acidic pH of the stomach, and the epithelial membranes that line the respiratory, reproductive and urinary tracts, intending to prevent external agents from entering the body.

But how does the immune system work?

The various types of immune system cells are produced in the bone marrow; this tissue is found inside some bones of the organism, particularly the wide and flat bones, such as those that form the pelvis.

The most important cells produced by the immune system are found in the blood. They are phagocytes - that is, special white blood cells that act by "engulfing invaders" for natural non-specific defense - and lymphocytes - that is, those white blood cells that modify antibodies against specific pathogens.

There are, then, two particular classes of lymphocytes:

- B lymphocytes: they develop in the bone marrow and are responsible for the production of antibodies, particular protein molecules capable of recognizing a specific antigen, and binding them to neutralize them subsequently

- T lymphocytes: they mature in the thymus, an organ located in the chest behind the sternum, and can regulate and coordinate the entire immune system by attacking and destroying the altered cells recognized as foreign bodies.

The other components of the immune system

White blood cells and antibodies are the immune response par excellence intended to protect the body from external attacks but to perform this task, the work of the whole immune system is necessary, namely:

- Lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels: they are part of a particular circulatory system that transports lymph, a transparent fluid that mainly contains white blood cells. The lymph is drained into the circulatory stream where it flows into the blood. Lymph nodes are stations within the lymphatic circulation, where the cells of the immune system can reproduce to counteract a specific foreign agent. When an infection develops, the lymph nodes will swell;

- The spleen is the largest lymphatic organ and is located in the upper left part of the abdomen. It constitutes another collection point, where lymphatic cells transport foreign organisms and then fight them.

How to strengthen immune defenses?

Our immune defenses are naturally alert and ready to intervene in case of an emergency to defend the organism, but nevertheless, it is possible to strengthen it with simple rules.

Increase immune defenses with nutrition

To increase our immune defenses, we must first start with nutrition. Few but effective rules at the table could safeguard us from the risk of ailments, such as:

- Do not neglect a diet as balanced as possible in this season of transition from hot to cold weather: vitamins at will be the shield against the most common ailments. Also, take fresh fruit and vegetables every day. Remembering to complete each meal with a portion of vegetables is a good habit all year round, and even more so when you need to help your immune system;

- In this period, fresh juices of citrus help reach the daily requirement of vitamin C, favor the ' iron absorption, and prevent colds and sore throats. Even a dietary supplement at this stage can help you be in better shape. Peppers, spinach, broccoli, and kiwis are, in addition to citrus fruits, a good source of vitamin C;

- Even vitamin D is important in the fall to strengthen the immune system and bone health. When the sunny hours of the day are gone, the body may need to supplement the dose of vitamin D with other sources besides natural light. Dairy products and bluefish are good, but also eggs and green leafy vegetables ;

Trying to spend as much time as possible outdoors in the warm sunny autumn days is in this regard a great way to strengthen our immune system, as long as we take the right precautions for the skin against UV rays and against thermal changes;

- Do not forget that vitamin A (dandelion is rich in it), a powerful antioxidant, and vitamin B, which helps the metabolism and protects hair, skin, and eyes.

More sport, more sleep and less stress to strengthen the body's defenses

In addition to strengthening the immune system and taking care of nutrition, it is also important to take care of yourself with a few more precautions than usual.

- Avoid smoking and alcohol;

- Trying to reduce stress as much as possible is essential. Stress weakens mentally and physically; when you are stressed, you are more easily exposed to the disease. To avoid this risk, it is useful to work on the conditions that contribute to undermining our well-being;

- Cover yourself properly, but don't go overboard. A scarf in front of the mouth could help, for example, to warm the air that enters before it reaches the trachea and bronchi;

- Playing sports; sport is a great ally of the immune system, it strengthens the body in every season hand in hand with correct nutrition;

- Sleeping more (maybe going to bed a little earlier in the evening): in autumn, you are more prone to tiredness and drowsiness. It is important not to ignore these signs of our body and its invitation to slow downHow the immune system works and How to strengthen it, following the natural rhythms of the season more.

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