If you're looking to elevate your health and wellness routine, understanding immune system function is a great place to start. Your immune system is one of the most complex systems of the human body, with many cells, tissues, organs, and membranes working both solo and in tandem to keep it in fighting shape. The immune system is constantly working hard to defend you, but you can lend a helping hand by caring for your immune health from the inside out. The best place to start is by learning more about how the immune system actually works!
How the immune system functions
The immune system's primary job is to serve as the body's protection system. Its overall function is to both prevent and limit infections by recognizing danger cues and distinguishing between normal, healthy, and unhealthy cells. Once a danger signal is recognized, the immune system responds to address the problem.
Problems like an infection or illness can occur when a sufficient immune response cannot be activated. Allergic reactions or autoimmune diseases, on the other hand, happen when an immune response is activated without a real threat, or isn't turned off once danger passes.
The immune system organs and cells
The immune system is a vast and incredible system of the smallest cells and largest organs, all working together to protect you. Some of the main immune system organs are the skin, which includes mucous membranes; the lymphatic system, which includes the bone marrow, tonsils, lymph nodes, and spleen; and your stomach and gut.
Let's talk a bit about a few immune system standouts. The lymph nodes, which are found all over your body, may swell up when you're feeling sick. They work as a filtering system to kill germs and bacteria. The bone marrow is the "manufacturing center” for red and white blood cells; it makes millions of them per day. Your mucous membranes help defend you in a variety of ways; mucous and tiny hairs in your nose trap bacteria and help you sneeze, for example. Even your sweat can play defense against germs! Stomach acid kills bacteria, and a great deal of immune tissue is found in the gut itself.
These organs and cells make up the two immune systems: the innate immune system and the acquired immune system. The innate immune system is the first to respond when it recognizes danger. The cells of the innate immune system engulf the invader and work to kill it.
The innate system then sends information from the frontlines to the acquired immune system to produce targeted cells, called antibodies, to protect against a specific invader. This means that after initial exposure to a given invader or sickness, the body remembers it and can respond accordingly in the future.
When your immune system is working properly, your body can easily fend off sicknesses and bounce back from colds. When it isn't, well, it's time to break out the tissues and noodle soup. So, how can you best support this crucial system each day?
How to support your immune system
All sorts of actions in our daily lives can affect our immune system, so maintaining good sleep patterns, eating a healthy diet, and reducing stress is key to ensuring your immune system stays healthy and strong.
To keep your immune system functioning at its strongest, some key micronutrients to be aware of include zinc, selenium, iron, vitamins A, C, E, and B-6, and folic acid. That's why you often hear of eating oranges when you're feeling sick or making sure your diet includes lots of leafy greens and vibrant fruits. If you have gaps in your diet due to lifestyle or dietary sensitivities, immune system supplements designed to round out these gaps may help make up for inadequate nutrient intakes to keep you feeling your best.*
We all know that getting enough sleep is essential for general health and wellness. During sleep, the necessary functions to maintain balance in the body are carried out, making it also an incredibly valuable time for maintaining the health of your immune system.
When it comes to health and wellbeing, stress is generally thought as a negative overall, but chronic stress is the main culprit. This happens when your body experiences stressors to the point that it can't regularly activate its relaxation response, which in turn affects many functions of the body, including immune response. If you're experiencing high levels of stress at work or at home, it's imperative you find ways to reduce it and relax on the regular — the benefits to your mind and body are worth it.