Want the 411 on your body’s natural defense system? Read on to find out how the immune system works and how to maintain its health.
As long as our immune system is running smoothly, most of the time we don’t give it a whole lot of thought—until something goes wrong, that is. Usually, that shows up in the form of us starting to feel run down. You know that icky moment when you realize you’ve come down with something because you can’t seem to lift your head off the pillow in the morning? That telling sign something is off when your throat feels scratchy, or those days when your energy is so low that all you want to do is lie on the couch and skip your afternoon run? That’s your immune system telling you something isn’t quite right, and that likely it’s fighting something off. Soon after comes that instant regret of realization that we haven’t been paying attention to our body’s signals or giving our immune system the attention, it deserves.
When it comes to our immune system, it doesn’t live in just one part of our body, rather it’s connected to every part of our being—an entire complex network of cells, molecules, tissues (as deep as our bone marrow), and organs working together.
The immune system is made up of two-layered sub-systems:
- Innate Immune System: The part of our immune system that we’re born with—aka the generalized immune response—which is through breast milk, called passive immunity.
- Adaptive Immune System: The part of our immune system learns over time through exposure. When we get a vaccine, our body learns so that next time that antigen arrives, our body can defend it. 
When any foreign substance (also known as an antigen) enters the body, our immune system fires up to target and destroy them with the release of special fighting cells. This is our immune response.
These specific antigens can enter our bodies in so many ways, including through the skin, eyes, mouth, open wounds, or insect bites, which is why these parts of our bodies produce so many liquids (sweat, tears, mucus, etc.). According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), once the body has come into contact with an ‘antigen’ for the first time, it usually stores information about how to fight it. Then, if it comes into contact with the ‘antigen’ again, it recognizes it straight away and can start fighting it faster.  When our immune system is compromised, we may not feel well. Thankfully, the immune system does a great job in keeping us in good health, as long as we give it the tools it needs to do so.
So how do we support our immune systems? While no miracle cure or superfood is going to ensure you’re protected (according to scientific research and actual medical professionals, no vitamin or mineral can actually “boost” your immune system), we can support our immune systems. We can do this by paying close attention to what foods and vitamins we put in our bodies, learning how to reduce daily stressors and manage chronic stress, ensuring we get enough sleep at night, and making time in our day to break a sweat, moderating alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy weight.
So, while there’s a lot our immune system is doing to keep us healthy behind the scenes, there’s also a lot we can do as our part to be in control of our health and wellness. Always listen to your body—it’s pretty intelligent and gives us a lot of warning signs. And if you have any concerns, it’s always a good idea to check in with your health practitioner for medical advice.
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