Our Incredibly Super Intelligent Immune System
Nowadays, we spend so much time surfing the net or watching television on COVID-19 news. However, should we not spend some time educating ourselves about our amazing immune system, which protects us from all unwanted foreign pathogens like viruses, bacteria, fungus, or toxins?
I wish to explain to you the incredible sophisticated immune machinery which God and nature have provided all of us. No army of this world can match its ingenuity. The purpose of this article is not a biology class but to enable us all to comprehend the resourcefulness of our defense system so that we can have more confidence and trust in it.
The moment we are born, we have in place an innate or inherent immune system already at work. This army is on 24-hour surveillance at our first line of defense, i.e., the skin, mucus membranes, tears, and primarily in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. If the (WBC) white blood cells, also known as the leucocytes, encounter anything suspicious or foreign, it is instantly engulfed and killed in a process known as phagocytosis. This attack is non-specific, meaning anything which does not look like self (part of the body) will be attacked and destroyed. Few of the white blood cells involved in this innate response are the neutrophils, macrophages, dendritic cells, eosinophils, mast cells, and NK cells.
Let us presume in an unfortunate scenario, our first-line defense is overwhelmed and breached, and viruses or pathogens invade into our bodies. Promptly our adaptive or acquired immunity is drawn into action too. Information by cytokines, i.e., signaling molecules like interleukin, is transmitted to the adaptive division of our army. Adaptive or acquired means learned over time. As we grow, depending on our surroundings, we develop specific protection to pathogens from that area. Hence the term travelers diarrhea, meaning people getting ill with water and food of other regions where they are visiting as their adaptive immunity never experienced those pathogens before. The acquired or adaptive immunity is very specific; that is, it recognizes and targets the specific pathogen which needs to be exterminated. It takes about 5-7 days for this adaptive army to get into action. This is usually the time for the viral flu to be overcome. Fever is a sign that our immunity is at work. As tremendous energy is required to mount this attack, our body’s other system’s power is conserved and redirected for the task of the immune response. Hence we have no appetite and are tired and sleeping! This is the wisdom of our body’s functioning.
The soldiers of the adaptive army are the lymphocytes forming two divisions that are the B cells and the T cells. When the B cells encounter the pathogen, they engulf it in, kill it and then stick a tiny fragment of the dead virus or pathogen on its surface membrane like a flag (tagging) with the help of protein MHC-II. Now the surveilling immune cells mainly the T-Helper cells see it and come along, reconfirm this antigen (dead virus fragment) to be the threat, and activate the tagged B cell to start replicating itself and also start producing antibodies specific to this exact virus. Antibodies then neutralize the virus and have them destroyed. All this could be happening extracellular, i.e., outside the cells; hence it’s known as humoral immunity. If the virus had entered inside our cell, hijacked it, and taken over its functioning to reproduce itself, then our cells also stick a protein MHC-I on its outer membrane, flagging that it has been hijacked. T-Cytotoxic cells detect them and destroy the cells and the virus in it. This happens with cancer cells too. This is cell-mediated immunity. While this is all going on, there are specialized B memory cells, and T memory cells being synthesized to be kept aside for future attacks. If the body happens to reencounter the same pathogen in the future, adaptive immunity can go into action much faster as the blueprint of the specific antibodies is already ready.
To call upon help, inflammation is part of the immune response whereby the mast cells release heparin to thin the blood, and histamine to dilate the blood vessels to facilitate smooth and efficient transport of the WBC to the infected area.
Once the war is over, T-regulatory cells and anti-inflammatory cytokines dampen the attack by downregulating the aggressiveness of the immune cells. Monocytes clear up the debris of the dead viruses, and dead WBCs and soon normalcy is restored.
Is this all not a wonder, a marvel of nature? How all work is performed in split-second coordination and harmony. Should we not have gratitude towards our immune system? Research shows that our WBC cells have receptors on their membranes that pick up signals of the quality of our thoughts. Empowering and positive thoughts make them more efficient, whereas negative feelings like fear, hatred, anger, resentment, and guilt downregulate their responsiveness. Thoughts also release stress hormones or happy hormones. Stress hormones like cortisol compromise the immune system.
There is a lot of research on nutrigenomics and epigenetics! In simple words, they mean the quality of food has a direct reaction to the genes of our cells and their functioning. Whole foods plant-based, which is provided directly from nature, nourishes the body, and broken or damaged food, which is the modern refined junk food, places stress on the immune system.
The quality and time of sleep are again interrelated with immunity. When we are asleep in harmony with nature’s circadian rhythm, the body chemistry is available to replenish and recalibrate the immune cells. When we are awake and eating against the natural circadian rhythm, the body’s system is violated, and it produces hormones and enzymes at the inappropriate time, which leads to dysfunction in the body.
Regular physical activity and fresh air provide more oxygen and energize the cells. UVB rays in the sunlight activate cholesterol the precursor to Vitamin D3 synthesis which is a vital component for immune performance.
Let us not stand in the way of our body’s wisdom, a gift from God. Live in tune with nature. Always have compassion, love, and good wishes for self and all. Thank your immune system, have gratitude for it, and support it with the best lifestyle choices. Stay healthy and safe!