Understanding how your immune system works

The immune system is an interconnected network of elements extended throughout your body. These include organs, tissues, cells and molecules, all acting in concert to create a symphony. Its effectiveness does not depend on the performance of one of its components, but of the system as a whole. In the immune concert, each one of its components has a role, and cytokines are undoubtedly the conductors of the orchestra. They are signaling molecules whose main task is to activate, recruit or stop the actions of immune cells. In the natural immune response, large amounts of cytokines are not required. They are such active molecules that even in small amounts they are capable of directing and leading the reaction. Each cytokine is a word in the immune message, and their presence or absence influences the final melody.

Although the function of the immune system is typically described as a shield, in a complex organism such as the human being, perhaps the most appropriate way to describe it is a balance.

On one hand, it constitutes a protective mechanism, by actively defending the body against pathogens and potentially harmful agents. However, it is not its sole function. Your immunity is also a self-recognition system, that remains tolerant to your body’s own tissues, your microbiota or to any other molecule that does you good. In fact, everything that belongs to your body, as well as everything that comes into contact with you, is checked by the immune control. Eating, breathing or reproducing are basic functions in which your immune system also plays a role.

Therefore, the immune system is functioning at its natural optimum when it is able to keep the balance between protection and tolerance in the right equilibrium.

Multiple factors can provoke immune malfunctioning. These may be from genetically based alterations or deficiencies to repeated or high exposure to disruptive factors such as an unbalanced diet, infections, sedentary lifestyle, lack of sleep, or even psychological stress factors.

Age is also a factor influencing immune competence. Children have an immature immune system, which makes them more susceptible to disease, and older people have a weaker and aged immunity.

Immune dysfunction is the common denominator in the vast majority of diseases. Chronic diseases, such as inflammatory or autoimmune pathologies, cancer, chronic infections, allergic reactions, etc. all have an immune-based component.

However, there are other signs that may alert from a weakened or hyperreactive immune system. Examples include:

  1. You take longer than usual to recover when you get sick
  2. You suffer from frequent and recurrent infections. For example, ear, nose and throat infections or recurrent urinary tract infections
  3. You get herpesvirus reactivations. Cold sores, shingles or mononucleosis are caused by herpesvirus, a family of virus that is capable to remain in the body in a dormant state after infection and reactivate whenever your immune system weakens.
  4. You are constantly stressed or fatigued.
  5. You suffer from allergic reactions, such as asthma or allergic rhinitis

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