“Optimal functioning of the immune system, it turns out, is dependent upon feeling good.”
Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against illness, and it also kicks in to lead charge over the healing process when you become injured. While we are born with many natural tools that support immune function, we can also strengthen it with tactics such as strategic lifestyle habits.
As the team which has pioneered the medical specialty of age management medicine, Cenegenics is committed to helping patients do everything they can to stay protected against serious illness. For this reason, we take a highly scientific approach to perfectly tuning the body at the cellular level, optimizing overall functioning, including the immune system. Find out more about how your immune system works below and what you can do to make it even stronger.
How Does the Immune System Work?
The core role of the immune system is to prevent against or control infections. It can differentiate among healthy cells and those that pose a threat with the ability to recognize danger-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs). These cells may be dangerous due to infection or other types of damage, such as cancer. Infections, including viruses, also release signals called pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs), which the immune system recognizes as well.
At the first sign of these issues, the immune system responds to combat the illness or other damage-causing agents. If it can’t activate properly, issues like infection occur. Yet, issues also develop if the immune system is activated when it shouldn’t be, as seen in conditions such as autoimmune disorders and allergies. The immune system must therefore function optimally to maintain health. 
Key Components of the Immune System
The immune system is complex and far-reaching, encompassing many different cell types which each have a specific role. With that being said, every immune cell originates from precursors in bone marrow and ultimately develops into a mature cell through changes which take place throughout the body. Here are the key players in the body’s immunity:
- Skin: The first barrier against harmful agents, skin cells create antimicrobial proteins. Each layer of skin has its own specific set of immune cells.
- Bone marrow: Stem cells, the powerful cells which can give rise to various cell types, are found within the bone marrow. The common myeloid progenitor stem cell can transform into innate immune cells, which act as the first-line response system against infection. Common lymphoid progenitor stem cells, on the other hand, give rise to adaptive immune cells, including B cells and T cells, which create responses to microbes which the body has encountered in the past.
- Bloodstream: Immune cells travel via the bloodstream, staying on the lookout for issues. Physicians use blood drawings to look for white blood cells (immune cells), which can provide insights into overall immune system health.
- Thymus: A small, specialized organ located in the upper chest, the thymus is the maturation site for T cells.
- Lymphatic system: A system through which tissues and the bloodstream communicate, the lymphatic system features lymphoid organs, vessels, and tissues. Immune cells flow through the lymphatic system to meet in the lymph nodes, which have multiple locations throughout the body. In this central hub, immune cells share information, such as the recognition of a microbe, which can trigger a response of activation and replication.
- Spleen: The spleen enriches immune cells, and if pathogens are present in the blood, they will activate in this key organ, which is located behind the stomach.
- Mucosal tissue: Mucosal tissue in areas such as the respiratory tract and intestines house specialized immune hubs. The gut, for example, is home to Peyer’s patches, where immune cells assess samples to look for pathogens. 
What Can Affect Your Immune System?
In certain individuals, the immune system doesn’t work properly due to an immune system disorder. There are several factors that can impact immune system functionality, including:
- Primary immune deficiency: a person is born with a weakened immune system
- Acquired immune deficiency: a person gets a disease that weakens the immune system, such as HIV or hepatitis C 
- Allergic reaction: an individual’s immune system overreacts, as seen in food and seasonal allergies
- Autoimmune disease: the immune system turns against someone, as seen in rheumatoid arthritis 
Under normal circumstances, the immune system responds to issues like injuries and illness through acute inflammation. The blood vessels dilate, resulting in redness and swelling, so that white blood cells can swarm the affected area and promote healing. The damaged tissue releases cytokines, or emergency signals, which recruit immune cells, hormones, and nutrients to address the issue. As healing takes place, the acute inflammation fades.
Yet, if inflammation lasts too long or occurs when it’s not needed, chronic inflammation ensues. Also known as persistent, low-grade inflammation, chronic inflammation may have long-term effects throughout the whole body. It results in a consistent, low levels of inflammation which are detected by increases in system markers in the blood. Systemic inflammation has been linked to heart disease, stroke, and autoimmune conditions such as lupus. 
Aside from medical issues that prevent the immune system from working as it should, there are several other factors that impact immune system functionality and potentially trigger chronic inflammation, such as:
- Stress: Researchers suspect chronic stress, spurring from issues such as relationships and work, can take its toll on the immune system, potentially contributing to issues like heart disease over time.
- Diet: Like other systems in your body, the immune system requires sound nutrition to function well. Experts have witnessed altered immune system responses in test subjects with micronutrient deficiencies, suggesting an important link between diet and immune system health. This link appears to be particularly strong in older adults. 
- Sedentary lifestyle: Neglecting physical activity and sitting too much can impede your body’s ability to fight infection. Inactivity has been shown to impair the immune system and lead to inflammation and chronic illness. 
- Alcohol: Excessive drinking can impair the immune system’s ability to respond to pathogens. A major metabolite of alcohol, acetaldehyde, appears to impact the lungs’ ciliary function, leaving individuals more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections. 
- Nicotine: Smoking both traditional and e-cigarettes increases cortisol levels and restricts the formation and response of B and T cells. 
Fortunately, just as there are many lifestyle factors that can impede immunity, there are also ways you can adjust your habits to boost your immune system.
Strengthen Your Immune System
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 See above. Derived from: https://www.niaid.nih.gov/research/immune-system-overview
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 Evaluation of immune response after moderate and overtraining exercise in wistar rat. Zahra Gholamnezhad, Abolfazl Khajavi Rad, Mohammad Hossein Boskabady, Mahmoud Hosseini, and Mojtaba Sankian. National Institutes of Health. Derived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3938879/