People often make reference to the immune system when feeling under the weather, but we wondered how many people truly understand the complexities of this internal task force?
To put it plainly, the immune system is a network of cells, tissues and organs that work together to protect the body. It is the immune system’s responsibility to tell your body what belongs and what does not. In rare chronic cases, like primary immunodeficiency, the immune system is either missing or isn’t working properly, but for most healthy people, it separates friend from foe ― and responds to enemies (like bacteria, viruses and parasites) that threaten invasion.
In order to maintain overall wellness, all of the organs and cells that make up this defense network have highly specific assignments to carry out. That’s why we’ve partnered with Shire to uncover five little-known facts about the body’s top defense team.
1. The Immune System Can (Usually) Course-Correct
Your immune system is designed to work behind the scenes to keep you healthy. For most healthy people, the immune system adapts to changes by responding to new germs like bacteria, viruses, and parasites every day. This constant exposure to new germs allows our immune systems to learn as they go, building immunities day to day. However, in rare cases, people with chronic immune conditions, like primary immunodeficiency, have a defective immune system that is unable to course-correct like a healthy immune system does, which leaves them prone to infections.
2. The Gut Acts As Gatekeeper
The largest part of your immune system is in the gut (or gastrointestinal tract), according to Dr. Katharine Woessner, a California-based physician who specializes in allergies, asthma and immunology. “[The gut] is also the hardest working part of the immune system… as it is constantly regulating what is going on,” she says. Your gastrointestinal system works to differentiate bad bacteria from the good ones that are key for overall immune health. Believe it or not this, er, gut checking, starts when a baby is in utero.
3. The Thymus Gland Has A Prime Time
Much like a high school prom king, your thymus sees its best days and is in prime condition during its youth. The thymus ― located behind your sternum and in between your lungs ― is responsible for producing an important type of white blood cell called T-lymphocytes or T cells. Immature T cells are sent to the thymus where they mature and become an important part of the body’s innate and adaptive immune system, as defenders against bacteria and viruses. And interestingly, once you hit puberty, the thymus begins to shrink and slowly becomes fatty tissue deposits.
4. Yes, You Can Live Without Your Spleen
The spleen is one of the largest lymphatic organs in the body, and works to clean your blood of virus, bacteria and other illness agents. Located behind your stomach and under your diaphragm, this multi-purpose organ filters defective red blood cells, as well as stores white blood cells that can produce antibodies. The spleen grows temporarily when your body is fighting an infection, but if it ruptures, it has to be removed. Though you can live without your spleen, it’s easier to stay in optimal health with it, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Your immune system has a lot of built-in redundancies,” Woessner says, so in most cases if there are deficiencies, there are also work arounds.
5. Antibodies Are A Microscopic Infantry
When your body detects germs, or foreign substances that elicit an immune response, it may trigger the creation of antibodies. Once created, antibodies remember the invaders, and prevent these same antigens from making a repeat attack. This scientific discovery made the efficacy of vaccinations a reality.
Though antibodies are your body’s safeguard, a little TLC from time to time can, for most people, keep the immune system functioning smoothly. It seems obvious, but remembering to wash your hands is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of illnesses. Though more than 90 percent of Americans agree it’s important to wash up after using a public bathroom, only 2 out of 3 actually admit to doing so.
Lifestyle changes that may help give the immune system some support include getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, and practicing stress-reducing techniques, like meditation and yoga. However, people who feel they get sick more often than usual should consult their doctor.
A healthy immune system is important when it comes to living a healthy life; however, some people have chronic conditions where their immune system is either missing or working improperly. Shire is a leader in providing support to those with chronic diseases, such as Primary Immunodeficiency (PI), and offers a broad portfolio of immunoglobulin (IG) products and support services for people living with PI. Click here to learn more.