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Immunity 101

Getting sick with any type of infection, be it a cold or a stomach bug can be very disruptive in our busy lives. Many people seem to be ‘lucky’ and rarely get sick whilst others seem to be sick frequently, catching anything that is going around. Why the difference? It’s all about our immune system…

Why is The Immune System so Important?

The human immune system is an amazing, complex mechanism that works 24/7, yet mostly we don’t notice its hard work. It is extremely complex and we are still discovering new aspects of immunity almost on a daily basis.

We all know that our immune system helps protect us from infection but it does much more. It also helps protect us against damage from free radicals and cancer. A healthy immune system is also important for wound healing. There is emerging evidence that the immune system is involved in depression, ageing, obesity, metabolic syndrome and a number of other chronic diseases.

So What is the Immune System?

To keep it simple we can say it is primarily made up of two parts – innate immunity and acquired (or cellular) immunity. Innate immunity is our first line of defence against infections and comprises many different types of immune cells, all with different functions. In order for acquired immunity to work well, innate immunity must be working efficiently. The cells of innate immunity also function as our first line of defence against cancer cells. One of our most important immune herbs (Echinacea) works, at least in part, by enhancing innate immunity when it is deficient. This makes Echinacea one of our most important immune herbs.

Acquired immunity is exactly what its name implies, it is acquired in response to specific infections. For example, when we come into contact with an infection our body develops antibodies against that specific infection. Once the infection has passed, the levels of these antibodies reduce but the body retains a ‘memory’, so that next time we are exposed to the same infection the levels of these antibodies increase quickly and we fight the infection much quicker than when we were first exposed to it. In many cases the immune system is so efficient we will not even know we have been infected.

Unfortunately, things can sometimes go wrong. When different aspects of the immune system are not in balance there is a risk of allergies and autoimmune diseases developing in susceptible people. Many chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis are caused by an imbalance or dysfunction of the immune system. As in case of infection, these conditions are also well treated and/or managed with natural medicines.

So, you can see how important it is to keep your immune system healthy. Not only to keep you free from winter infections but also to prevent more serious, chronic health issues.

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