With cold and flu season in full swing, everyone starts to make their immune systems more of a priority. But what is your immune system, exactly, and how does it work? All this, and more!
What Is an Immune System?
The immune system is a network of cells, organs, and tissues that make up your last line of defense against germs and diseases. One crucial and pretty memorable part of your immune system are white blood cells or leukocytes. There are two types of these white blood cells: one type seeks out and destroys disease, and the other allows your body to remember and defend better against a virus or different kind of sickness. The second type of white blood cell makes antibodies or a new, customized set of defenses against a virus or bacteria, and the first type of cell produces them.
Say you’ve gotten sick with this year’s strain of the flu. Once you’ve gotten it and gotten over it, you gain adaptive immunity to it: you are less likely to get an illness because you’ve already experienced it and your body has developed responses to it. The other two types of immunity that your immune system can provide are passive immunity and innate immunity. Passive resistance comes from external sources, like breastmilk for example, and protects you for a limited amount of time. Innate immunity, the other type, includes both your external sources of protection, like the mucous membranes in your nose or skin on your hands, for example, and the kind of germ. The same bug that causes dogs to get sick with distemper, for example, won’t get you sick, and your skin and nose are good at keeping germs and bacteria out of your body. Now that you know how vital your immune system is, how do you go about protecting it?
How Do I Protect My Immune System?
There are a few things you can do to keep your immune system healthy and functioning. Many of these factors, some of which include eating fruits and vegetables and getting plenty of sleep, help keep your body healthy as well. Healthy immune system, healthy life!
Wash Your Hands
The immune system is only so good at keeping you healthy, and your mucous membranes can only do so much! Being sure to wash your hands often, especially after touching or caring for someone who is sick or when touching things like raw meat, is essential. If an illness never makes it to your immune system in the first place, you’ve done yourself a favor and kept your immune system safe.
Get Plenty of Sleep
As tempting as it can be to binge that new show or finish all your homework in one night, you need your sleep to stay healthy. Getting enough sleep is essential to your immune system because when you’re asleep, your immune system releases cytokines, which hunt down and deal with illnesses. Even if you aren’t sick, giving your immune system downtime to deal with whatever it’s fighting with is vital for its continued function.
Long-term bouts of stress do your immune system no favors. If you find yourself stressed for long periods, your immune system doesn’t have time to rest and send out those cytokines that it needs to function and fight off diseases properly. Short-term bursts of stress can be helpful for heightening your body’s responses to illnesses, but long-term, stress can be dangerous for your immune system’s function.
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