The Immune System: A Little Known Marvel (1 of 4)

Our natural state is one of health. Nature has designed our body to heal itself. And the immune system plays the dual role of protection and healing. Yet we know so little about it … and how to keep it in optimum working condition. Learn more in the 1st article of this series.

Our in-built defence system

While there exist innumerable disease agents inside and outside of us (bacteria, viruses, toxins, cancer cells etc.), nature has also provided us with an in-built defence system which is constantly at work.

Given the sheer number of cells and potential disease agents, there is a constant battle raging between our immune system and these damaging factors. We, of course, are blissfully unaware of this and carry on with our lives, feeling fit and fine, until we catch a cold or cut a finger.

The amazing thing is that this system continuously learns, adapts and improves its effectiveness. If we come into contact with a disease (for example, if we catch the influenza virus from another person), the immune system notes it and develops a defense mechanism, which it will deploy, the next time it encounters the influenza virus. With this recognition, it is possible to stimulate the immune system to build its defenses in advance (this process is called vaccination).

Protection and Healing

Our immune system is the second most complex biological system we have, after our nervous system. It has two functions:

  • The better known protective function, ie as a barrier between us and any contamination or invasion
  • The lesser known healing function, ie working along with other body systems to restore the body’s natural, healthy balance and to repair wear-and-tear.

Where Is It located?

We are more familiar with the body’s circulatory system whose hub is clearly the heart, or the nervous system whose hub is the brain, or the digestive system whose hub is the stomach.

Unlike all of these, the immune system is more like a liquid organ, present everywhere and nowhere, all at once. There is no easily locatable hub, though some experts would point to the thymus gland (behind the breastbone, just above the heart).

One way to visualise it is to think of the internet which has countless networked nodes but no single hub, because of which information flows instantly and seamlessly.

How Does It Work?

Because war is a handy metaphor for the human body’s reaction to disease, the immune system is often described in militaristic terms: The body’s Armed Forces. But, as we have seen above, the immune system has no headquarters or commander-in-chief. And its operations are usually swifter and more efficient than any army’s could be.

Rather than “making war,” our immune system is really more like an immigration service: a highly differentiated cellular bureaucracy that supervises our biological commerce internally and with the outside world, sorts through billions of pieces of information about incoming materials and takes routine action as required. Only occasionally does it declare an emergency.

Skin – most important component of the immune system

Most people are surprised to learn that the skin, including the mucous membranes, is among the most vital components of immunity. The skin not only forms a wall against intruders, but actually alerts the immune cells if the wall is breached by invading organisms (through a wound, for instance). The protection afforded by the intact skin is why it’s nearly impossible to catch a disease from a toilet seat, for example.

Reflection

  • How can you pay more attention to your immunity?
  • What aspects of your lifestyle compromise it and what can you do to strengthen it?
  • How can you use the immune system effectively in healing from illnesses, including cancer?

Source

  • Coordinated Science – Biology” by Mary Jones and Geoff Jones, Cambridge University Press
  • “The Immune Power Personality” by Henry Dreher

More from this series

Title About the article
A Little Known Marvel While there exist innumerable disease agents inside and outside of us (bacteria, viruses, toxins, cancer cells etc.), nature has also provided us with an in-built defence system which is constantly at work.
How It Works The immune system mainly functions through a highly specialised group of cells that travel to every nook and cranny of our body through our blood and lymphatic system.
Dealing With Cancer According to available research, an average person typically has around 70 cell mutations in their lifetime. Any one of these mutations could lead to cancer … and yet, a large majority of them don’t.
Mind Body Bridge Until recently, medical science considered the immune system to be an independent, self-regulatory system.

 

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