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How your immune system works

03 August 2021
2-minute read

Everyone knows that their immune system is key to staying fit and healthy, but most of us don’t know the ins and outs of how this system works. Sons believe that everyone should understand the importance of their immunity and its impact on the body, so here’s a breakdown of the immune system and how it works.


What is your immune system? 

Your immune system is a vast network of different cells, tissues, organs and proteins all around your body. The main organs of your immune system include your spleen, lymph nodes and thymus. The main function of the immune system is to prevent infections, chemicals and toxins from invading your body. However, your immune system can also play a role in protecting from many other diseases including cancer, by killing cells that may turn into tumours. On the other hand, if your immune system is unhealthy, and becomes over-activated, it can contribute to other diseases including inflammatory diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease or rheumatoid arthritis, and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and obesity.



How does your immune system work?

There are two main parts of your immune system:

  1. The innate immune system

The innate immune system is the first line of defence. It includes:

  •  Physical barriers into your body, such as your skin and the mucus lining your gut.
  • Certain immune cells, including types of T cells such as macrophages and neutrophils, which help to kill bacteria, viruses and other infections
  • Chemicals produced by those immune cells, such as cytokines.
  1. The adaptive immune system

The adaptive immune system is triggered with help from the innate immune system. The adaptive immune system has a memory, meaning that if you are infected with a particular bacteria or virus on one occasion, your adaptive immune system will learn to recognise it and be able to fight that infection much more quickly the next time. Your adaptive immune system includes other types of immune cells, called B cells. B cells produce antibodies which help to neutralise infections. 

What can your immune system affect?

Your immune system helps to prevent you from getting infections. Humans are exposed to trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes every day, some of which can cause colds, flu and gut infections. Your immune system identifies which of these microbes could cause an infection and attacks them. On the other hand, it also learns to recognise the healthy microbes. Therefore, your immune system is essential for your body’s ability to fight off colds, flu and other infections.


However, recent scientific research has shown that your immune system also plays a role in many other diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and even mental health and brain disorders. Many of these diseases are driven in part by a process called inflammation. Inflammation occurs when the immune system becomes activated and it is important for fighting off infections, toxins and other invaders. However, too much inflammation is bad for the body, as the immune cells and chemicals begin to harm the body itself. Therefore, an unhealthy immune system can become over-activated, leading to inflammation, which may contribute to many other diseases and disorders other than infections.


Ultimately, the immune system is one of the key drivers of your overall health and wellbeing - helping to prevent illness and infection, whilst also warding off many other diseases. If you want to make sure that your immune system functions properly, check out our science pages to find out more today.

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