A Crash Course on Your Immune System

April 21, 2020 • Shannon Flynn


With all the news about COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, one thing constantly on our minds right now is our body’s immune system. While modern medicine might help you treat the virus’s symptoms, your immune system is ultimately the only thing standing between you and the illness. How does your body’s immune system work? Is there anything you can do to make it stronger? Here’s a quick crash course on your immune system to answer those questions and more. 

The Basic Parts of the Immune System

Before start our crash course on the immune system, we need to know what components make up this system? There are six individual parts, which include: 

  • White blood cells: As front line troopers in your immune system, these cells travel the body and search for things that don’t belong, like bacteria and viruses. If they find something out of place, they attack.
  • Antibodies: These are what your body creates when it encounters a substance your white blood cells have to fight off. These stay in your body, which is why vaccines work. 
  • Lymphatic system: This system is a network of tubes that spans your entire body, helping you react to bacteria and even deal with cancer cells. 
  • Spleen: While it might not seem like a vital organ, the spleen works by removing old, damaged cells and microbes from the bloodstream. 
  • Bone marrow: As the tissue found inside your bones, bone marrow creates the cells that make up your blood. These include the white blood cells that are part of the immune system. 
  • Thymus: This little filter produces T-lymphocytes — a specialized kind of white blood cell — while also monitoring your blood content.

This system and these elements might seem complicated to someone outside the medical community. But for most people, all of these individual components work together to protect you from bacteria, viruses, fungi and other invaders that aren’t supposed to be in your body. When they encounter one of these foreign bodies, they trigger what is known as an immune response. 

What an Immune Response Looks Like

What does an immune response look like if your immune system encounters a foreign body? An immune response starts when one of the system components encounters an unknown antigen — a protein on a cell’s surface. If it’s something the immune system doesn’t recognize, your body goes on the offensive and starts attacking it.

While your immune system is at work, your body responds as it tries to help. This response could come in the form of inflammation or swelling around a wound. It could also appear as a fever as your body increases its internal temperature to burn the invader out of your system. 

In extreme cases, an immune response can also trigger an allergic reaction — or even anaphylaxis, which can be dangerous. 

Your Immune System and Vaccines

Scientists are currently working on creating a vaccine for the coronavirus. When it’s complete, it will help us stay healthy even if we face exposure to the virus. But how do vaccines work?

They function by teaching the immune system how to recognize a dangerous virus so it can respond as soon as one of these substances enters the body. Everything goes back to those antigens. Vaccines contain antigens from a specific bacteria or virus, allowing the immune system to recognize them. 

Vaccines aren’t meant to make you sick, though. Most of them use dead or mostly dead samples of the targeted bacteria or virus. This amount is just enough to train the immune system without creating an actual infection.  Many biopharmaceutical professionals study the immune system, using their knowledge to create new and better vaccines.

Bolstering Your Immune System

In most cases, strengthening your immune system isn’t something you have to do actively. Every virus or bacterium you encounter in the world will do that for you. You can do various things to keep yourself healthy, though. Some examples include getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, since they’re full of the vitamins and minerals you need. 

You don’t need to buy into products or supplements to boost your immune system. Most of the products on store shelves that claim to do so have little to no factual basis. Just focus on keeping your entire body healthy, and your immune system will be as robust as ever. 

It’s All in the Cells

While we live under the shadow of the coronavirus, we’re all thinking about our immune systems. Don’t waste your money on supplements that might do more harm than good. Instead, focus on keeping yourself healthy — mind and body — and your natural immunity will do the rest.