The Immune System: Our Body’s Homeland Security Against Disease

The immune system acts as our body’s own homeland security department, working nonstop to identify harmful invaders and prevent them from wreaking havoc on us. It is extremely complex, compared to such other vital systems as the circulatory and pulmonary systems. The heart has one main function, while the lungs have three; the immune system, on the other hand, performs hundreds of tasks that are divided between its two main components: the mucosal immune system and the circulatory immune system.

Both of these subsystems themselves have two arms: the innate arm and the adaptive arm. The mucosal immune system acts as the body’s first line of defense because it comes into contact with the external environment and its triggers. Secretory IgA plays a large part in maintaining immunological tolerance and providing protection for the mucosal immune system. Innate or nonspecific immunity is the “first responder”; it doesn’t need to be activated by a specific antigen but uses specialized cells to attack and destroy anything that it doesn’t recognize as “self.”

Adaptive or specific immunity is the “backup team” that takes longer to arrive; it must be triggered by specific antigens and produces antibodies that attack specific antigens. Essential to the successful functioning of the whole immune system is the establishment of immunological tolerance, which is divided into central tolerance, peripheral tolerance, and oral tolerance. If this mechanism is disrupted by environmental triggers, the immune system may start attacking the body’s own healthy cells, resulting in inflammation and autoimmunity. Fortunately, clinicians can use protocols, including dietary interventions, to keep the immune system functioning smoothly.

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