How the Immune System Works

by Melissa Chichester

Your immune system is always working hard to keep you at your best, all-year-round.

Age, genetics, and lifestyle factors all impact the health of your immune system. Healthy habits such as not smoking, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, and eating a nutritious diet all support your overall health.* These habits become even more important with age since immune response typically begins to decline after age 60. 

So what is the immune system? Your immune system is a complex network of organs, cells, tissues and proteins found throughout the body. Everything you touch is covered in tiny microorganisms.

Some of these microorganisms are good, and others are not-so-good. Your skin serves as an external barrier to potentially harmful microorganisms; however, some unwanted materials might be inhaled or ingested. That’s when antibodies in saliva, acids, and mucosal membranes act as security guards to delay entry.

In short, your immune system recognizes what doesn’t belong.

The four jobs of the immune system

Your immune system has four important functions: 

  • Physical barriers stop pathogens from entering the body
  • When pathogens pass the exclusion barrier, the immune system recognizes them as foreign bodies 
  • Your body eliminates unwanted pathogens and substances
  • Immune system “memories” recognize new foreign bodies 

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The innate immune system 

The innate immune system is comprised of physical barriers such as your skin and mucous membranes. It acts quickly to identify and draw attention to foreign substances.

The innate immune system is characterized by its ability to act quickly, and its goal is to stop pathogens from spreading throughout your body.

Within a few minutes or a few hours, the innate immune system identifies and works to remove threats. This part of your immune system is your first line of defense.

The adaptive immune system

The adaptive immune system is also known as the acquired immune system. This is part of the immune system that contains specialized cells that remove pathogens. The cells that carry out these activities are lymphocytes or white blood cells. This part of your immune system is your second line of defense. 

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The role of immune support supplements 

The immune system needs good nutrition to function optimally. Supplements can play a role in supporting immune health.* However, more is not always better. Some immune support supplements, such as Vitamin C, are water-soluble. This means your body can only hold so much of it, and what isn’t used will be excreted through urine. Immune support supplements should be used as directed to complement your healthy lifestyle unless otherwise directed by your personal physician.

Supplements that support immune health: 

  • Echinacea supports the body’s natural defense system.*
  • Elderberry is a traditional immune support herb that contains antioxidants*
  • Andrographis supports healthy nasal passages and immune health*
  • Vitamin C is one of the leading vitamins for immune support*
  • Vitamin D helps maintain a healthy immune system*

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Ultimately, there are many factors involved when it comes to maintaining optimal immune health.* With healthy habits, a nutritious diet, and supplements that fill in the gaps, you can support your immune system every day.