Immunity is a SMART defense system of our body that learns and adapts!
Immunity is described as “Ojas” in Ayurveda. It is one of the most emphasized areas of well being apart from a balanced state of mind, body, and soul – which itself results in a strong immune system. Immunity is the ability of our body to defend itself against the pathogens such as harmful bacteria, fungi, or even chemical substances. Immunity of our body is a super SMART system that is able to identify harmful foreign substances, attack and destroy them, remember them for the next encounter, and also trigger the healing processes such as tissue repair and wound healing. Adaptive and ever-evolving in nature, immune function’s strength is dependent on the external stimuli such as its interactions with friendly and hostile microbes and living bodies.
Generally, if you fall sick due to a virus or bacteria, your immune system develops its memory and defense against that, making it difficult for the same pathogen to make you sick again. Additionally, your immune system is able to distinguish the friendly microbes and your body’s own cells from that of pathogen’s. This is the reason why our immune system doesn’t attack our body parts that are made up of different types of cells. This is also the reason why immunity of a mother and a baby is very low – it is to avoid their respective immune system from attacking each other’s foreign cells during pregnancy. Your SMART immune system is also the barrier behind thousands of microbes that we come across on daily basis!
What does it mean to have good immunity? Understanding the functionality.
Immunity is the biological defense system of our body. It consists of several functions, organs, and structures that protect us against the diseases by identifying and killing the pathogens. Immune cells are produced in the bone marrow. From there, they travel throughout our body via the blood. Apart from this, there are lymph nodes that act as a hub for different immune cells to exchange information such as that of attack by pathogens and to share memory codes.
Our gut consists of trillions of microbes that control multiple physiological and psychological functions in the body. These functions such as digestion of food, absorption of nutrients, and release of neurochemicals directly affect our immunity. This is the reason why gut is often referred to as the largest immune organ.
Innate Immunity – First line of Defense – Nonspecific but Fast
Our skin, the mucosal secretions in our nose and mouth, and mucosal membranes on internal organs act as the first line of a barrier for foreign particles. If a pathogen passes through this barrier, it is acted upon by the immune system into several steps that try to destroy it and retain its information for the future. This system acts fast on the pathogens and is non-specific in nature, i.e. the response is the same for all kind of pathogens. It is also termed as Innate Immunity.
These immune cells move across the whole body via blood, lymph, and tissues to keep a check on the antigen encounter. Additionally, there are cells on the skin, which are static and sample the environment on a continuous basis. Both of these mobile and static immune cells are capable of sampling and destroying foreign particles without any symptoms of illness. These immune cells are capable of the following functions:
- Trigger Inflammation
- Attract killer immune cells to attack location
- Coat the antigens for information sharing with other cells
- Destroy the antigens
Acquired immunity – Adaptive Response – Specific – Slow
Should the pathogens escape the first line of defense, immune cells activate full response which involves generation of antibodies and communication cells that are capable of destroying the specific pathogen and also of retaining the information of pathogens. As it would involve communication and production of new cells, this system is relatively slower but selective. It is termed as the Acquired Immunity.
Cell numbers multiply and increase greatly during the response mode requiring both energy and food. This makes it imminent that nutritive foods and ample of rest are provided to the body at this point. Symptoms of illness such as fever, sore throat, running nose, and inflammation usually accompany the response mode.
White blood cells called lymphocytes originate in the bone marrow. They travel through the lymphatic system comprising of lymph vessels and nodes and reach different parts of the body where an action is required. Lymphocytes are capable of antigen-specific attack, information retention, and information transfer to train new immune cells.
Once the antigens are destroyed and removed, the immune system and body functions should go back to normal. This is an essential step as an overactive or never-ending immune response can lead to chronic inflammation!
A strong immune system is, of course, the one that is capable of fulfilling all the functions effectively:
- Quick and complete innate action of surveillance and destruction.
- Fast and effective acquired response to generate new cells that would kill the antigens
- Retain and transfer the information from earlier attacks
- Effectively distinguish self from non-self
- End the immune response when antigens are destroyed and removed
Our immune system evolves with age!
It evolves and grows with its regular encounters with foreign substances. Hence, it is very important that children should be exposed to a diverse range of microbes through outdoor play and pets. If the environment around children is over sanitized, their immune system will never be able to encounter the microbes and hence develop its defense against them in the first place. This will make even the most harmful microbes dangerous for them going forward!
Newborns have immature immunity level, however, their environment shouldn’t be over sanitized!
The immune system operates at a very basic level for newborns, who are mostly dependent on the passive immunity from their mothers through breast milk. During the first few weeks of a baby’s life, its immune system evolves very fast along with its gut microbiota, which further affects the immune system response. Hence, it is critical that their surroundings are not over-sanitized as it will remove all kind of expected friendly exposure to foreign matters as well. However, for pre-term babies, it may be vital to protect them from pathogens as their immune system has not reached the required milestones.
As the baby grows, its encounters lead to development and growth of the immune system and it reaches its peak performance during adulthood. For mothers, their immune system is again compromised during pregnancy and post-delivery as their body needs to make space for a new life inside it.
Elderly have weakened immune response as our capacity to produce antibodies goes down with age!
By the time we get old, our t has gained huge numbers of memory immune cells that have a storehouse of genetic codes against pathogens. However, the capability of our immune system to produce new cells such as antibodies and killer cells goes down as we age. This affects our immune response or the speed and accuracy with which the fight takes place. Hence, the elderly are highly prone to infectious diseases and need assistance via nutrition and lifestyle practices to keep them on track.
Critical factors that alter Immunity and Immune Response
Our immune system involves multiple organs and affects their functioning. It is highly dependent on how we nurture and take care of our body. Physical and psychological factors constantly involve hormones, nutrients, and anti-nutrients that are circulated throughout our body. Some of the key factors are listed here:
Some of the nutrients such as Vitamins A, C, D, E, B6, and B12 directly impact the growth and activity of immune cells. Other nutrients are minerals such as Zinc, Selenium, and Iron – deficiency of which becomes evident with multiple health disorders.
Level of our physical activity keeps the functioning of our organs into a good check. Several nutrients are better absorbed, helpful hormones released, and toxins flushed out of our system when we undergo physical activity. Apart from that, it keeps our mental health under a check.
Our immune system is also dependent on the functioning of our Central Nervous System (CNS). Stress releases Cortisol into our bloodstream, which has become one of the major factors behind all inflammatory health disorders apart from bad diet.
Functioning and maintenance of our immunity are directly dependent on the level of sleep we get. Even a few hours of compromised sleep hours can impact your immune system, making you prone to allergic reactions under any circumstances. This event is more pronounced in people who are sensitive to breathing or food allergies.
Season or Time of the year
The immune system of our body is directly affected by our metabolism – our ability to digest and assimilate food.
- Since our metabolism levels are low in Late Winters, Spring, and Summers – our immunity is affected and we become prone to several digestive, skin, and breathing disorders.
- Similarly, our metabolism levels are higher in Winters, Rainy Season, and Autumn – hence our immune system functions well in these seasons.
Age of a person
As stated earlier, the immune system is immature during childhood, fully developed during adulthood, and less effective during old age. Thus, kids and the elderly are more prone to health disorders and should be carefully handled with.