If you were to think of your body as your home, your immune system is your built-in housekeeper, grounds crew and bodyguard. The immune system has distinct organs, tissues and cells that work with other systems and organs within your body with the overall purpose of keeping every part of you healthy and functioning normally.
Your immune system tends to your body much in the same way you take care of your home. There are different functions, processes and responses that happen daily, seasonally and on demand. Your immune system interprets and reacts to everything you experience in the world. These things are happening without your even thinking about it. Your immune system manages your body day in and day out, helping to ensure your foundation is strong, your basement is dry and your rooms are tidy, so to speak.
What is the immune system?
The immune system includes your skin, bone marrow, bloodstream, tonsils, thymus, spleen, lymphatic system and mucosal tissues, including those in the linings of your eyes, nose, mouth, respiratory tract and digestive tract. Though you have a specific system dedicated to immunity, you also have immune cells in every organ and system within in your body. This is a good reminder that everything within the body is connected.
All of your immune cells originate from precursors in your bone marrow, and your immune cells travel through the body via your bloodstream, keeping tabs on everything that’s happening in your systems, organs and tissues. Your lymphatic system contains lymphatic fluid and lymph nodes, which help your tissues and bloodstream communicate. Lymph nodes are located throughout your body, and they serve as hubs for the immune cells to gather and plan.
The roles of the immune system
Your immune system is designed to serve many functions, including:
- Maintaining your microbiome, the balance of flora in your gut
- Natural detoxification, including removing old or dead cells and debris leftover from bodily processes
- Supporting the body against foreign bodies
- Repairing cells and tissues
Types of immunity
Your body has two basic forms of immunity, innate and adaptive. Your innate (or non-specific) immune system is primitive, and it’s designed to be your first response. It includes your skin, white blood cells and mucosal linings.
One major way the immune system gathers information is via the gut lining, as the digestive system is an important part of how we interact with the world. More than half of our immune cells that produce antibodies are located within the small intestine and appendix.
Your adaptive immune system is more complex, and it serves as backup for your innate immune functions. It’s designed to focus on specific outsiders or invaders, both new and those that have been previously identified, then take action as needed. If you think of your home, this is like setting your security system or checking the batteries in your smoke alarm, so they can alert you if needed. You could also think of your body as an exclusive club — your adaptive immune system has a list to keep people out and let those who are approved in.
Though your immune system is your natural defense system, it is intelligent and highly attuned. It is naturally designed to respond after assessing a situation and weighing its options. Both types of your immunity work together.
In addition, there is passive immunity, which includes the support babies get from their moms at birth.
Most of the time, we don’t give a second thought to our immune system. It’s there, behind the scenes, tidying up and keeping your “home” safe.