By Andrea Jacobs, Certified Naturopath
In part one of our 5-part “Common Colds and Influenza Series” we discussed how infectious winter diseases develop, how they spread, how you can protect yourself against them and which natural remedies exist . Today our topic is:
HOW DOES THE IMMUNE SYSTEM WORK?
Our immune system protects our bodies from microorganisms like viruses, bacteria and fungi. It is a complex system of specialized cells, tissues and organs that work synergistically. Important components of the immune system are: the skin, bone marrow, lymph vessels and lymph nodes, spleen, thymus gland, tonsils, appendix and digestive system.
For microorganisms to initiate an infection, they first have to pass through the physical barriers like the skin or mucous membranes. Mucous membranes in the mouth, the eyes, the intestines, the respiratory tract are packed with anti-microbial compounds. The digestive system produces stomach acid which kills microbes. The intestines are also populated by symbiotic bacteria which help repel harmful bacteria.
Microorganisms also have to overcome a large amount of unspecific defence mechanisms. This includes white blood cells called granulocytes and macrophages. They target and neutralize foreign matter, poisonous substances and microorganisms. It is estimated that approx. 90% of all infections are blocked by the unspecific defence system.Intruders that overcome the physical barriers as well as the unspecific immune defence system are confronted with specific defence mechanisms. This includes white blood cells called lymphocytes. These cells target invaders in a highly specific manner and B-Lymphocytes can even remember how prior infections were defeated. When the same parasites show up again, the lymphocytes are prepared and swiftly neutralize the threat. The individual is then considered immune to the illness.
The outbreak of an infection depends upon the intensity of the attack, namely the number of attackers as well as the virulence of the pathogens. Furthermore, the strength of your own immune system plays an important role. With a strong immune system many infections produce no symptoms at all, or very minor ones.
The immune system is frequently attacked by viruses that can trigger influenza and common colds. They are highly infectious and mutate very quickly. There are many hundreds of new variants of the same viruses every year. They use the body’s cells as hosts within which they multiply. As soon as the host’s cells become infected the specific defence system needs some days to adapt to the pathogen. This is why even slight colds can require more than a week to clear up.
The good news: the immune system is not only just very adaptable but can also be actively supported with the deliberate intake of nutrients.
Research has shown that certain ingredients in elderberries, so-called flavonoids, have an anti-viral effect and may prevent the viruses from infecting host cells. By consuming large amounts of these flavonoids you actively support your immune system and prepare yourself far better against the typical winter infectious diseases.