The immune system is essential for maintaining health and offering the possibility of creating a new life. It protects the body from invaders or rogue cells that can cause disease and is also crucial for growth and development. The immune system needs to be relatively balanced between seeking unhealthy cells (aggression) and protecting healthy cells (suppression). If the immune balance is too suppressed, unhealthy cells will avoid detection, but if it’s too aggressive, healthy tissue will be removed.
The immune system is constantly in action, and on average, between 50 to 70 billion cells are removed and recycled each day in adults in a process called “apoptosis”. Recycling unhealthy or old cells is essential for our health and enables the body to repair and change structures when needed. Doing this is crucial, especially in puberty and pregnancy when the body restructures on a large scale. There are two frameworks for the immune system:
(1) The innate immune system
The immune we’re born with is “natural” or “innate”, and it’s the body’s first line of defence. At its most simple, this includes the protection our skin gives us, and tears, saliva, and mucus that line the digestive tract and lungs trap potential threats and help to protect us.
If bacteria or viruses enter the body, white blood cells called “leukocytes”, “macrophages”, and “neutrophils” destroy them. These white blood cells aren’t specific to diseases but recognise “self” or “non-self” markers on cell walls and remove all cells that don’t have “self” markers.
(2) The acquired immune system
The acquired immune system has to be “learnt” from experience, and the body becomes able to recognise and react to threats because the person’s either been exposed to (or immunised against) the illness before. There is an exception to this general rule in a baby can inherit an acquired immune response from its mother. The acquired immune response requires specialist cell types:
- B cells from the bone marrow
- T cells from the thymus gland next to the heart
The big advantage of acquired immune system responses is their rapid and specific reactions to recognised threats, and this relies on the acquired immune system’s antibodies which recognise antigens.
Antibodies and Antigens
- “Antibodies” are types of proteins (also known as ‘immunoglobins’ (Ig) produced by the B cells, and they identify antigens
- “Antigens” are also proteins, usually on bacteria and viruses (but can also be hormones), and they’re called “antigens” because they stimulate antibody generation
- An exact match exists between the structure of an antibody and its antigen, which enables the antibody to physically bind to the foreign body, like a lock and key
- The antibody attaches and “tags” its antigen, and white blood cells recognise and respond to the antigen, which often means destroying the tagged object
- Antibodies have “codes” for their antigen receptors (called “clusters of differentiation” or “CD“), of which there are hundreds, and a single antibody can have several CDs
When an infectious foreign substance (with antigens on it) enters the body, B cells are “primed” to make antibodies that will tag it. Once the antibody that perfectly matches the antigens is found, it’s produced in large numbers so the immune response can focus on this threat.
A successful antibody can remain in the body for a long time, which enables the body to rapidly produce many antibodies if there’s a re-infection. The”stored” antibodies of the acquired immunity protect against further attacks by this threat. The body often makes different types of antibodies to an antigen, which relate to “layers” of the immune system:
- IgM are antibodies in the blood
- IgG are antibodies in the lymphatic system and lymph nodes
- IgA are antibodies in the mucous membranes
The immune system in balance
There are two sides to the immune system that both respond to threats:
The aggressive autoimmune response (the Th1 response)
The restraining suppressive response (the Th2 response)
Good health requires a relative balance between the Th1 and Th2 immune responses, especially in pregnancy:
- An immune system that’s too aggressive (Th1 excess or Th2 deficient) can lead to immune cells attacking healthy cells
- An immune system that’s too suppressive (Th2 excess or Th1 deficient) can result in the immune system not recognising and removing sick cells, including cancers
Either imbalance increases the chances of ill-health, and many factors contribute to immune system health, including genetics, diet, lifestyle, the environment and stress. morefertile® promotes natural ways to raise health and fertility, and seven immune conditions that affect fertility are explained:
- Anti-nuclear antibodies (ANA)
- Anti-phospholipid antibodies (APA)
- Anti-sperm antibodies (ASAb)
- HLA-DQ alpha compatibility (HLA)
- Anti-ovarian antibodies (OA)
- Leukocyte antibodies (LA)
- Elevated natural killer cells (NK)
- Elevated cytokine activity
We suggest anyone with concerns about their immune health follow their personal fertility profile (PFP) advice and consider immune-modulating products.
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash