The body’s immune system has many jobs, including fighting against bacteria, parasites and fungi; it is also essential in keeping the body healthy from infection.
The immune system is made up of a network of cells, tissues and organs that together prevent and defend against attacks to the body, according to Rachel Perkins-Garner, 56th Medical Group registered nurse.
“The attackers are called ‘foreign invaders;’ the most common being microbes, tiny organisms such as bacteria, parasites and fungi,” she said. “Our body is the ideal environment for many microbes, but it also has a defense system — the immune system.”
The primary function of the immune system is to keep out anything potentially harmful, and if invaded, the immune system will seek out the microbes and viruses to destroy them, Perkins-Garner said.
“The immune system is extremely complex,” she said. “It can recognize and recall millions of different invaders and can produce secretions (antibodies/cells) to match up and destroy the majority of these microbes and viruses.”
Perkins-Garner relates how the immune system works to how bees work.
“Billions of cells, which are organized into sets and subsets, swarm like bees around a hive and pass information back and forth in response to a threat such as an infection,” she said. “When the immune system detects a foreign cell or organism they initiate an attack.”
Having a strong immune system keeps the body healthy, but a weak immune system can compromise the body’s ability to fight back.
“A poor or weak immune system leaves the body susceptible to infection,” she said. “Think of a cancer patient who is receiving chemotherapy; even a simple trip to the store can expose them to hundreds of foreign organisms. This exposure is enough to enter the body, which may overwhelm the immune system and lead to an infection. If the immune system is functioning normally, it will easily destroy the virus or microbe.”
While a weak immune system can be detrimental to health, according to the Harvard Medical School website, www.health.harvard.edu, there are things one can do to help keep the immune system strong and healthy.
Harvard Health Publications recommends people who want to maintain a healthy immune system:
- Avoid smoking
- Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in saturated fat.
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Control blood pressure
- Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation
- Get adequate sleep
- Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly
- Get regular medical screening tests according to age and risk category