Symptoms, conditions and causes

How do I keep my immune system in check?

The Immune System: Our Body's Defense Force

Your immune system is like a highly trained military force, working tirelessly to defend your body against invading pathogens.

It's a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that join forces to identify and neutralize harmful substances like bacteria, viruses, and toxins.

Think of your immune system as having two main branches: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. They work together to keep you healthy but have different roles and strategies.

Understanding Innate vs. Adaptive Immunity

Your innate immune system is your first line of defense. It includes physical barriers like your skin and mucous membranes and general immune responses like inflammation and phagocytosis (where immune cells engulf and destroy invaders).

The innate immune system is non-specific - it attacks anything it recognizes as foreign.

In contrast, the adaptive immune system is more targeted. It develops specific antibodies and immune cells tailored to fight off particular pathogens that you've been exposed to before.

This is why you typically only get diseases like chickenpox once - your adaptive immunity remembers the virus and is ready to fight it off if it ever tries to invade again.

The Role of the Thymus Gland in Immune Training

The thymus gland in your chest is like a boot camp for T-cells - a critical part of your adaptive immune system. Immature T-cells are "trained" in the thymus to recognize the difference between your body's own cells and foreign invaders.

This training process is rigorous—only about 30% of T-cells make it through. The rest are eliminated to prevent autoimmune reactions, in which the immune system attacks the body's own tissues.

The thymus is most active during childhood and starts to shrink after puberty, but it continues to play a role in immune regulation throughout life.

Did you know that the internal skin of the body covers an area of about 400 square meters? That's a lot of territory for your immune system to patrol. Beneath the surface of your skin, billions of immune cells are constantly on the lookout for any signs of trouble.

Immune defenses illustration

Last updated: Apr 29, 2024 15:32 PM