Supporting your immune system
Your immune system is a collection of body structures, organs and cells. Between them, they help protect you from infections, and if you do catch one, they work together to help you to fight it off.
3 ways the immune system works against infections
One way to think of your immune system is as a series of defences, with each layer being more specific in its action than the one before. Three of its most important components include:
1. Physical barriers against infection
The first layer of immune defence is the outer surface of the body, including structures like the skin, mucous membranes in your nose, throat and sinuses, and the cilia, which are the very fine hairs that line the nose.
These surfaces all act as physical barriers aimed at helping to prevent infectious organisms from entering the body, so they're often referred to as our first line of defence.
However, despite functioning very well, they're not impenetrable, which is why it's important to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, and to avoid touching your mouth, nose or face.
2. Innate immune system
If an infectious organism gets through those first lines of defence, the non-specific immune system attempts to fight it off.
This aspect of your immune system is comprised of several types of proteins and white blood cells and is also known as the innate immune system (with 'innate' meaning that it's with you from birth).
The non-specific immune system is so named because it responds to a vast array of infectious organisms, regardless of whether you've encountered them before or not.1
3. Acquired immune system
The specific immune system is also known as the acquired immune system (because it develops over time) or adaptive immune system (because it adapts its approach to the specific type of infectious organism it is dealing with).
It works by encoding a 'memory' of infectious microbes when it initially encounters them, enabling it to respond more aggressively and effectively if you experience the same infection again1.
This system is highly advantageous when it comes to minimising our risk of experiencing some types of infections repeatedly1.
When a new or unfamiliar microbe is encountered (for example a new strain of common cold or flu virus), the specific immune system first recognises it and then works hard to fight it off1.
Astragalus: traditionally used to improve the immune defences in Chinese medicine
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), astragalus is traditionally used to enhance immunity, and to help reduce the frequency of common colds and flu. It’s also traditionally taken to increase vitality and help the body to adapt to stress in TCM.
Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, worsen or change unexpectedly, talk to your health professional.
- Betts, J.G. et al. 21.3 The Adaptive Immune Response: T lymphocytes and Their Functional Types. In Anatomy and Physiology, OpenStax, Houston, Texas, 2013. Accessed March 2020 from https://openstax.org/books/anatomy-and-physiology/pages/21-3-the-adaptive-immune-response-t-lymphocytes-and-their-functional-types