DEFENSE DOWN: The Fall of Immune System

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Have you ever gotten worried about getting sick after you’ve had interacted with someone who has flu? A colleague, a friend, or maybe just random person you have happened to share a space with in public, and yet you ended just as fine. Well thanks to your immune system– the one responsible to protect you from infections. But what could possibly happen to your body when your immune system cannot protect you anymore?

The immune system is one of the most vital systems in the body, as it keeps the body from acquiring infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. It acts as soldiers that fight off pathogens– defending the body from diseases that could have detrimental effects on the health of an individual. Before we could get an understanding about the consequences of a compromised immune system, it is important that we talk about how a healthy and functional immune system operate in our bodies.

The immune system has three lines of defense that guard the body from entry of foreign materials or pathogens: the first line consists of physical and chemical barriers such as the skin, mucous membranes, tears, sweat, and saliva; second line resists infection by inflammatory response; and the third line aims to eliminate pathogens, that may have entered inside the body, through antibodies. The first and second lines of defense are nonspecific– meant to destroy all antigens that are recognized by the cells as non-self, while the third line of defense exhibits specificity by identifying and creating antibodies against a particular antigen offering longer term of protection.

Immunodeficiency is a state where the immune system is not functioning well as it should. It is caused by various factors that are classified as primary or secondary. Primary immunodeficiency is a result of abnormal development and/or functions in the components of the immune system caused by the inheritance of defective genes that regulate it. The most common type of primary immunodeficiency is in the abnormality of the B-cell that results to a low production or even no production of antibodies– important to fight off infections. Secondary immunodeficiency, on the other hand, is an acquired type caused by infections, diseases, medical treatments, or environmental factors such as HIV, diabetes mellitus, chemotherapy, and malnutrition.

There are a lot of negative consequences when the immune system is compromised, and one of the most significant ones is suffering from frequent and recurrent infections– may it be a simple flu or a serious bacterial or viral infections that could have debilitating effects and can even be fatal when not managed immediately; This is due to the inability of the body’s protective gear to perform its function, increasing the vulnerability to pathogens. Other consequences of a compromised immune system include: autoimmune disorders, increased risk of cancer, and digestive problems.

While primary immunodeficiency is hard to cure because of its genetic origin, and the only way to correct it is through medical treatment and deliberate prevention from exposure to infectious agents; secondary immunodeficiency can be mitigated through boosting the immune system in several ways:

  • Practicing good hygiene
  • Being physically active
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating healthy and balanced diet
  • Avoid smoking
  • Managing stress

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Our immune system plays a vital role in our lives, yet we often overlook its importance by practicing unhealthy lifestyle– deliberately ignoring the consequences we might suffer once our immune system fails to respond to threats that can harm our body and affect our daily activities. We must remember that our body’s army can only do so much if we do not take care of it.

References:

McCusker, C., Upton, J. & Warrington, R. (2018) Primary immunodeficiency. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s13223-018-0290-5 

Chinen, J., Shearer, W. (2009, December 29) Secondary immunodeficiencies, including HIV infection. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6151868/

Harvard Health Publishing (2021, February 15) How to boost your immune system. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system

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