Media is full of ‘expert’ advice on the best foods, super foods and super supplements to boost our immune system and keep ourselves safe from anything from flu to cancer. But, although each advice talks about ‘secret’ foods and ingredients, the truth is much simpler: according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the secret to strong immune system is healthy, balanced nutrition and good hygiene.
What is immune system?
The immune system is, well, a system, which consists of organs, tissues, cells and chemicals which have the job of protecting our entire body and all bodily functions from agents causing diseases. To do that, immune system has to be capable of detecting all potential dangers, which we call pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, fungus or parasites. Then, once the danger is detected, the immune system has to neutralize the danger.
It is not always easy distinguishing real attackers from those that are good for us, such as intestinal bacteria, or even from our own tissue. On top of that, pathogens change and adapt very fast, so the elements of our immune system have to be able to adapt fast too.
There are two types of protectors: immune system that is non-specific and non-adaptable and is always there (called innate) and adaptable immune system, which is specific to each pathogen. Skin is our first line of defense and it protects most of our body and organs. Many pathogens reach our internal organs from the skin, especially hands, which got in contact with pathogens. That is why washing hands is so important at times of epidemics, or even to keep healthy in general. We have other mechanical mechanisms of getting rid of attackers: sneezing keeps lungs clean, and tears clean our eyes of debris and pathogens.
But, at times, our mechanical line of defense fails and the pathogens enter the body. Then the other part of the immune system response takes over, on cellular level: our white blood cells or leukocytes.
Leukocytes are created in lymphoid organs such as spleen, the thymus and bone marrow. They circulate between our organs and lymph nodes, which store them, through blood vessels and lymphatic vessels, constantly on the lookout for pathogens.
Leukocytes can be phagocytes, chewing up invaders, and lympho