When our body encounters harmful substances, no matter how large or small, it reacts in a process that is complex and amazing. Think about what happens when you get a sliver. That tiny shard of wood penetrates several layers of skin and triggers a natural reaction involving different types of specialized cells that attack that foreign body in order to surround it, break it down and remove it (if they can) as quickly as possible.
Of course, when you help out with some tweezers, the process speeds up tremendously. When the immune system is operating in peak condition, life is good, and we don’t think much about it. But when we are under attack, and our immune defenses and resources are stretched thin, it can be a bad day.
INTRODUCING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM’S KEY PLAYERS
Your skin serves as a barrier that protects your internal organs, tissues and cells from damage. It also protects against temperature extremes. It is, on average, 1.3 millimeters thick and provides decent protection against invaders as long as we keep it fairly clean. Invaders can penetrate the body through the eyes, nose and mouth. And when they do, internal immune system defenses jump into action. The tonsils, located on both sides of the back of the throat, can trap foreign bodies ingested or inhaled and begin to break them down. These small lumps of lymph tissue produce white blood cells to help in these “border breaches.” During times of illness, the tonsils may swell. If they get too large, they can obstruct breathing or trigger new rounds of illness.
White blood cells (lymphocytes) are made in the bone marrow and have the ability to move throughout the body. They are divided into two categories: T-cells and B-cells. Simply put, T-cells can help coordinate defensive maneuvers in the body or attack invaders they don’t recognize. B-cells can attack invaders and neutralize toxins. The thymus gland is located on top of your sternum or breastbone. It produces specialized cells, including T-cells and B-cells that help defend the body against attackers. It also stores lymphocytes for future use.
The lymph system sends defenders throughout the body when the immune system may be compromised. Lymph nodes are small knots or lumps of lymphatic tissue. Lymph vessels carry fluid into and out of the nodes where any foreign items can be filtered out. Lymph nodes are concentrated in the armpit, groin and neck. When invaders are present, nodes often swell and can be felt more easily through the skin. Exercise supports immunity because it helps keep the lymph fluid flowing properly. Massage stimulates the lymph system and can help boost immune function.
A 2009 study found that a full-body massage boosted immune function and lowered heart rate and blood pressure in women with breast cancer undergoing radiation treatment. The spleen is located above the stomach and underneath the rib cage. Normally about 4 inches long, it is responsible for cleaning the blood and removing old blood cells. Like the tonsils and the thymus, the spleen stores white blood cells to help keep the body protected in case of attack.
Take care of your immune system:
• eat a healthful diet
• get plenty of sleep
• exercise regularly
• wash your hands and body often
• avoid stress where you can
• drink plenty of water