It’s truly amazing how many commonly talked-about terms are misunderstood or not even properly understood in the first place. Our “immune system” is one of these. You will hear people refer to the body’s defence mechanism (how many times have you heard, for example, someone say that “their immune system is strong,” or that their immune system “is shot”) without having the slightest clue about how it works or, even, what it does.
This short guide is intended as a lay-persons guide to understanding that often misconstrued part of our body’s ecosystem.
What is The Immune System?
The immune system is your body’s mechanism for recognizing when a foreign and harmful invader has entered you body. It is then able to destroy this alien body using various mechanisms. It is essentially a system of processes and and biological structures that ensures your body is protected against disease.
The Different Parts of the Immune System
Lymph nodes (also known as “lymph glands”): these are small bean-like structures that are distributed all over your body, including the neck and armpits. They form a small part of the much larger “lymphatic system.2 The lymphatic system is responsible for producing the white blood cells necessary for fighting against disease. These disease-fighting cells are transported around your body by a transparent fluid called lymph. Lymph nodes are primarily responsible for filtering the lymph fluid, and can trap harmful invaders. Swollen lymph nodes are one of the most common sypmptoms of an infection.
Spleen: This single organ is the largest part of the lymphatic system and is responsible for storing the white blood cells needed for fighting disease. It’s almost the size of a clenched fist and and is situated in the upper left part of your lower abdomen. The spleen’s importance in regulating your body cannot be underestimated as it’s also responsible for monitoring and replacing red blood cells.
Bone Marrow: The substance that exists in the interior of your bones and that is responsible for the creation of white blood cells. People who require a bone marrow transfusion often do so because their body’s ability to produce white blood cells has been compromised.
Lymphocytes: This is the proper name of the white blood cells that have been referred to throughout the article. It is a blood cell that is primarily involved in protecting your body against disease and foreign invaders. There are two types of white blood cells, or lymphocytes. B Cells are those that create antibodies (proteins used to attack harmful bacteria). T Cells attack cancerous cells and will even attack organs.
In a simple sense, the immune system operates by first detecting a foreign antigen, where it is then transported to a special cell called a macrophage, which ingests it. T Cells are then activated and will signal for B Cells to come and “read” the specific nature of the antigen that the macrophage has absorbed. It will then release antigen-specific antibodies to destroy the virus or bacteria. This process will be repeated all over the body.