The immune system is essential for life and health, and one of its main functions is to distinguish “self” from “non-self” and remove any old or damaged cells, and non-self invaders. In many ways the immune system works in a similar way to keeping the house clean and tidy, so if it’s a bit lazy the house gets messy and all sorts of rubbish clutter it up, and if it’s too aggressive the house isn’t ‘homely’ and valuables get thrown out in the cleaning process. In adults between 50 and 70 billion old or damaged cells a day are removed in a process called ‘apoptosis’ and recycled, which isn’t just essential to maintain health, but also allows the body to make repairs and alterations, and is especially important during implantation when the body needs to rapidly adjust structures to accommodate a pregnancy.
There are two parts to the immune system:
a) The ‘innate immune’ system is the body’s first, non-specific line of defence. At its most simple this includes the protection given by the skin as well as the action of tears, saliva and the mucous linings of the digestive tract and lungs which trap possible threats before they have a chance to enter the body.
If bacteria or viruses enter the body white blood cells called ‘leukocytes’, ‘macrophages’ and ‘neutrophils’ can then literally ‘eat’ them or destroy them with toxic chemicals. These white blood cells aren’t specific to any particular disease but simply recognise ‘self’ or ‘non-self’ and act on that basis.
b) The ‘acquired immune’ system is the body’s second line of defence. This is a specialised, adapted response that’s activated by certain white blood cells that bind to pathogens (infectious agents) the body recognises because the person’s either been exposed to (or been immunised against) the illness before, although it’s also possible this type of response has been passed to the person from their mother when they were a baby. There are two types of these specialist cells: B cells which develop in the bone marrow and T cells which originate in the thymus gland that’s next to the heart.
The acquired immune system response is based on its ability to produce an effective response to a recognised threat, but first it needs to be able to recognise the intruder…. which is where antibodies and antigens come in.
- ‘Antibodies’ are a type of protein (they’re also known as ‘immunoglobins’ (Ig)) produced by the B cells and their function is to identify antigens
- ‘Antigens’ are other specific proteins, usually found on foreign objects like bacteria and viruses, but they can also be a hormone made by the body, and the term ‘antigen’ comes from the understanding that they stimulate antibody generation
- Neither antibodies nor antigens are ‘alive’ as such, but are simply specific types of proteins, and there’s an exact match between the structure of the antibody and the antigen which allows them to physically bind together with precision; like a lock and key
- Once the antibody attaches to its antigen it means that the antigen’s been ‘tagged’ by the body, and other players in the body can now recognise and respond to the antigen, which in terms of immunity often means attacking and destroying the tagged substance
- These specialist antibody cells are coded according to the antigen receptors on their surface (called ‘clusters of differentiation’,‘CD’); they start at CD1+ and hundreds of CDs are now recorded and it’s possible for a single antibody to have a number of CDs
When the body’s first exposed to an infectious foreign substance (which will have antigens on it) it will produce B cells ‘primed’ to make antibodies to tag it, and this recognition of antigens specific to a virus or bacteria can remain in the body a long time and form the basis of vaccinations. The advantage of this ‘acquired immunity’ is that when a person’s exposed to an illness again it’s able to rapidly ‘mass produce’ large numbers of specific antibodies that quickly and effectively stop the infection before it has a chance to damage the body too much.
The body can produce different classes of antibodies to the same antigen, and these relate to different ‘layers’ of immunity in the body:
- IgM are antibodies in the blood
- IgG are antibodies in the lymphatic system and lymph nodes
- IgA are antibodies in the mucous membranes
The immune system in balance:
The immune system has two sides to it:
- The aggressive autoimmune response, also called the Th1 response
- The restraining suppressive response, also called the Th2 response
There needs to be a relative balance between the Th1 and Th2 immune responses to maintain good health, and especially during pregnancy:
- An immune system that’s too aggressive (Th1 excess, or Th2 deficient) it leads to[ immune cells attacking even healthy cells in the body
- If the body’s immune system is overly suppressive (Th2 excess, or Th1 deficient), it leads to the immune system being unable to fully protect the body against foreign illnesses, or unable to recognise and remove dysfunctional cells of the body’s own making, such as cancers
There are many things that contribute to the health of the immune system, including genetics, diet, lifestyle, the environment and stress, and morefertile® promotes a natural way to raise health and fertility by recognising the natural differences in types of wellbeing and helping people make positive, focused changes through specific changes to diet and lifestyle.