Our immune systems are amazing; they keep us safe and healthy, prevent us from picking up infections, and, if we do, fight them until we are back to good health, repairing damage and regenerating cells.
The immune system is a very complex system but in simple terms there are 2 types of immunity: innate and adaptive.
Our innate immune system provides an immediate and non-specific response when a threat is detected or as soon as any cells are damaged or injured from a cut, graze, bruise, or an infection. When cells are damaged or injured, they become inflamed which attracts white blood cells and immune cells to the affected area to fight the infection and start the repair process. This is our first response.
Our adaptive immune system is a stronger form of immunity and its response is specific and tailored to the threat. When a threat is detected for a second or third time, this subsystem of our immune system remembers the threat and how to get rid of it, so it can eliminate it quickly. Adaptive immunity, or acquired immunity, relies on the body's ability to recognise antigens and produce antibodies.
Acquired immunity can also provide long-lasting protection; for example, someone who recovers from measles is now protected against measles for their lifetime. Click here to read more.
Our adaptive immune system is focused on destroying the cause of infection and our innate immune response plays a major role in the repair and regeneration of our cells.
To find out more about what all of these parts of the immune system are responsible for, click here.
There are many things we can do to support a healthy immune system:
A lack of sleep or sleep deprivation has been shown in studies to impair our immune systems which results in a reduced ability to produce antibodies and a weaker immune response to an infection.
Shortly after we fall asleep our bodies release hormones which stimulate the activation of both innate and adaptive immune cells, their reproduction and differentiation. The concentration of immune cells in our bodies peaks whilst we sleep.
Nutrition and diet also play a massive part in supporting our immune systems. Maintaining a healthy body weight is key for the immune system to function properly; being either overweight or underweight can supress our immune system. The principles of a healthy balanced diet should be followed, which include:
It is extremely important to consider nutrition during pregnancy, as the baby’s immune system can be affected in later life based on dietary choices during this period. The NHS recommends that everyone over 1 year of age should take a vitamin D supplement containing 10mcg every day, which includes pregnant and breast feeding women. Vitamin D supports the normal function of the immune system.