Understanding the Immune System

Woman sitting on a couch under a blanket and sneezing into a tissue.

The immune system is essential to our overall health, and is impacted by our diets, lifestyles, and outside environmental factors. Many people do not have an understanding of just how complex our immune systems are and what components all work together to fight disease and protect the body.

How Does the Immune System Work?

The immune system is intricate and made up of multiple components working together to prevent disease and keep the body healthy. Here is a basic breakdown of what makes up the immune system.

Skin & Mucous Membranes

Skin and mucous membranes are the body’s first line of defense against disease, working to keep harmful germs from entering the body in the first place. Mucous membranes, such as those in the nose and eyes, secrete mucus which traps germs before they enter the body. Skin produces natural oils that work to stop and destroy harmful substances. 1  Some germs will get past the defenses of the skin and mucous membranes, but many are stopped here before infiltrating the body.

Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes are small structures located throughout the body in different areas, including the neck, groin, gastrointestinal system, armpits, and between the lungs. The lymph nodes are where lymphocytes, also called white blood cells, are activated, replicated, and sent through the body to fight off specific invading disease. 2

Bone Marrow

Bone marrow is housed in the inside of the bone, and has a spongy texture. This is where all of the blood cells are produced and then released into the bloodstream, including disease-fighting white blood cells, as well as red blood cells and plasma cells. Millions of blood cells are made every day in the body’s bone marrow. 3 4

White Blood Cells

One of the most important parts of the immune system, white blood cells circulate through the bloodstream, seeking out and fighting harmful viruses and bacteria throughout the body. 5 

Spleen

The spleen is the largest secondary lymphoid organ and the body’s storage location for white blood cells. The spleen also filters pathogens out of the blood and destroys damaged red blood cells in order to keep blood healthy. 6 

Tonsils & Adenoids

The tonsils and adenoids, located in the nasal passage and throat respectively, fight pathogens and prevent harmful germs from entering the upper respiratory tract and causing issues such as throat and lung infections. 7 

Gastrointestinal System 

The gastrointestinal system produces mucus that fights disease-causing germs. 8. Probiotics work to create a healthy microbiome that improves overall immunity. 9 

 

“How Does Diet Impact the Immune System?”

Many things affect the immune system, and diet is a major factor that is relatively easy to control in order to strengthen immunity. 10 Eating a varied diet that is high in macro and micronutrients improves the function and production of immune system cells. In particular, foods that promote a healthy gut microbiome are effective in boosting the immune system. Foods that harm the immune system include alcohol, heavily processed foods, and refined sugar. 11

For an immune-boosting diet, integrate more fermented foods, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and avoid refined sugars, heavily processed foods, alcohol, and tobacco products. Speak to a naturopathic doctor (ND) to come up with an immunity-strengthening diet plan that is tailored to your particular body and lifestyle.

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