Immune System Basics

The human immune system, a complex network of proteins and cells that defends our bodies against any infection keeps track of every microbe it has ever destroyed in case it needs to do so again. In very few cases a person who has had chicken pox, for instance, will get it twice, because the body has built up antibodies to fight it if the healthy person comes into contact with someone who suffers from it. 


Our immune system consists of antibodies, white blood cells, the spleen, the complement system, the thymus, the lymphatic system, and the bone marrow. All these actively fight infections in your body.

Antibodies assist our bodies in fighting microbes or the poisons they produce. When antibodies recognise substances called antigens on the surface of the microbe, they mark these for destruction. Many cells, proteins and chemicals are involved in this attack.

White blood cells, the kingpins in our immune system, are part of the lymphatic system and are manufactured in our bone marrow. They move through tissue and blood and throughout our bodies in search of fungi, bacteria, parasites or viruses. If any of these are found, the white blood cells launch an immediate immune attack.

The spleen is a blood-filtering organ. It destroys old or damaged red blood cells, removes microbes and makes antibodies and lymphocytes, the disease-fighting components of the immune system.

The complement system is made up of proteins whose actions complement the work done by antibodies.

The thymus monitors and filters our blood content, and it is here where the white blood cells called T-lymphocytes are produced.

The lymphatic system, a network of delicate tubes found throughout our bodies react to bacteria, cancer cells, manage the fluid levels in our bodies, and absorb some fats from the intestine. The lymphatic system consists of white blood cells, lymph nodes, and lymph vessels.

Bone marrow, the spongy tissue found inside your bones, produces the red blood cells that carry oxygen, the white blood cells to fight infection, and the platelets needed to help blood clot.


Besides the immune system defending our bodies, the body uses many other ways to defend itself. The human skin secretes oil containing bacteria killing properties and is a waterproof barrier. The skin also protects vital things like superficial veins from infection. Our lungs in turn trap foreign particles and contain small hairs that help get rid of phlegm. The mucous lining in our digestive tract contains antibodies while the acid in our stomachs can kill most microbes. Our stomachs also discard things we ate that may make us sick. Those that had food poisoning before will know what I am talking about. Our tears and saliva also have anti-bacterial enzymes to reduce the risk of infection.

When humans develop a fever, it is a clear indication that their bodies have an infection. The sudden rise in temperature is an attempt to kill the microbes attaching the bodies, almost like our bodies are trying to ‘boil’ them to death. Some people have an underactive immune system, and believe it or not, there are some with over-active immune systems. People with over-active immune systems suffer from allergies as well as autoimmune diseases. 


Signs of a weak immune system include inflammation of organs, anaemia, digestive issues like diarrhoea, and autoimmune diseases. Intensive studies have been done over the years on auto-immune diseases, and to date there are many that are not curable.

Our immune system is like a platoon of soldiers that defends our bodies with everything it has. These soldiers are assisted from infancy stages when babies are vaccinated against certain illnesses. Vaccines help to produce antibodies against diseases. 

Stress can affect our immune systems negatively as our bodies make an increased level of cortisol, which blunts our immune systems. Stress, if ongoing, can bring on many serious health problems if left untreated. It is important to identify where the stress emanates from and try and de-stress for the sake of your health. If not, seek medical advice. However, if you can pinpoint the problem and are able to eliminate it, try to combine it with a healthy lifestyle. If you can add a positive outlook on life, all the better. Ever heard the saying ‘happy people are healthy people’?

Did you know that your immune system can attack itself? In cases like these white blood cells cannot distinguish between harmful and harmless cells and ends up destroying the body’s healthy tissue. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with one of the more than 80 different types of autoimmune diseases, so it is important to boost your system if you are susceptible to ailments.


You can strengthen your immune system by eating various raw fruits and vegetables, quit smoking if you are a smoker, keep up a healthy weight, drink in moderation or not at all, exercise regularly, get ample sleep, and take the necessary steps to avoid any infections. What steps are these? Washing hands frequently, cooking meat thoroughly, -especially pork-, and drink an assortment of vitamins.   Vitamin C is a powerful immune booster, while vitamin B6 is vital to assist biochemical reactions in the immune system, and Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight off infection.

There are foods and drinks that obviously weaken our immune systems. Sugar is one of the biggest culprits here and it is an ingredient of most of the manmade products on supermarket shelves. Other items to cut down on are processed foods, cold drinks, alcohol, and refined carbohydrates. Instead of cold drinks or alcohol, rather opt for immunity boosting beverages like juices made from tomato, orange, grapefruit, apple, carrot, beetroot, celery, strawberry, mango or kiwi fruit. You can combine ginger or mint with any of these for an extra healthy boost.

Serious gym goers need to eat foods like kidney beans, apples, vegetables, blueberries, dark chocolate, cherries, artichokes and oily fish that are high in antioxidants. Drink lots green tea with a dash of mint, and coffee.

What exactly do antioxidants do? They reduce the death of cells in a human body which slows down aging. They also help to fight cancer. Body builders in turn rely on them to repair damaged cells and reduce muscle tears.


Now, let us talk about a superfood that many people pull their noses up for: garlic. If eaten on a regular basis garlic provides a whole list of health and physical benefits. Garlic contains a bioactive compound named allicin, which has anti-bacterial properties that assists in preventing illnesses. Studies have proved that garlic also heals certain cancerous cells. The allicin in garlic, combined with sulphur-based chemicals, boosts the white blood count in humans. If raw garlic is not readily available, it can be consumed in tablet form and is most effective when about 1000mg is taken in per day. It is better to have a garlic breath than an illness.


The health of our guts is something we do not often consider. In order to maintain a healthy body, we need to maintain a healthy gut. It makes sense, doesn’t it?  Okay, how does one improve gut health?

Start by eating foods containing fish oil or take cod liver capsules. You can also assist your gut’s health by consuming lots of raw vegetables, and a special type of fibre that improves gut microbiome. You can enquire from your nearest health shop about this fibre. It works miracles.

You really need to look after your gut as this is the epicentre of your body. Most of your bodily functions are affected by the condition of this area of your body. A healthy gut will help you reach health, fitness and weight loss goals. The gut wall is the main centre for immune cells which is where the detoxification of human bodies originates from.


Added supplements like Vitamin D, glutamine, and zinc also boost the human immune system. Our immune system works hardest at night, that is why it is imperative that we get enough deep sleep. Medication against illnesses always seemed to work faster at night, and now you know why. Sleep plays an important role in keeping our immune systems strong. Deprivation of sleep can bring on a sudden cold, which in turn can result in other more serious diseases. Continuous interrupted sleep will not only leave you feeling groggy, irritated and tired, but it will open the door to illnesses.

If you are unsure which vitamins to take, start by taking a daily multivitamin tablet or capsule. There are a whole range of reliable multivitamins available for men, women and children in most supermarkets. Most of us live off processed foods that contain no or little vitamins, and a daily capsule will go a long way.

Our immune system is our friend. We should look after it and treat it as such. It does, after all, help us live a longer life, and if we play our cards right, it can be a longer, happier and healthier life. Who would not want that?


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