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Dr. Vietrez D. Abella
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Boost your immunity II

The normal human body is built to resist invasion from germs and other harmful substances. It is when these defenses break down that disease sets in. To have a clearer understanding of how to keep our immunity strong, we must have a basic knowledge of what makes this up. Let us then review a little from our Biology classes. Our body has two lines of defense. The first is made up of barriers that, when intact, keep off foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and cancer-causing substances.

This is made up of the following components:
Skin. This is made up of very strong protein called keratin. Aside from this, hair, sweat and oil, acidic chemicals, good bacteria (the presence of which keep the bad bacteria in check), and immune cells all work together to protect the body. Thus, infection sets in when the skin is cut or burned.
Mucous membranes. These line the natural openings in the body, namely the eyes, nose, mouth and reproductive and urinary tract.
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Stomach acids and pancreatic enzymes. Bacteria and other organisms that may contaminate the food we eat are immediately neutralized. Unfortunately, some organisms do damage when killed and toxins are released. Salmonella typhi, the bacteria that causes typhoid fever, is one example.

Reflexes. These are the body's responses to irritation, such as scratching, coughing, sneezing, vomiting and tearing. We do these without thinking about it to keep harmful microbes and substances out. Our second line of defense comes into play when the physical barriers are breached. This is what is now called our immune system. The following are now being used widely so it will help to undertand them.

Antigens. These are markers in cells that signal if it is part of the body or not. This is like the ID cards that schools and offices use to identify who their students and employees are.

Antibodies. B cells (which is a type of lymphocyte, a kind of white blood cell) produce these to tag foreign cells so that other immune cells can kill or remove them. What is remarkable about these cells is their ability to "remember" if they have encountered a germ before. In this case, they can launch a quicker, more intense and effective attack. This is the reason why we get certain diseases like chicken pox and measles only once.

We also take advantage of this when we give vaccines, by giving small amounts of viruses like polio and hepatitis B. This is how we have eradicated small pox.

Immunoglobulins or Ig are proteins in the body that guard against infection. One type, called IgA, is present in the first breast milk, the yellow-colored colustrum. This is why bottle-fed babies are more prone to get infections.
T cells are the other type of lymphocytes that direct other immune system cells to respond to invaders or kill cells infected with viruses. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV targets these, that is why a person with AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) can be easily infected.

Phagocytes are germ eaters. There are two types: neutrophils, which circulate in the blood and increase whenever there is an infection, and macrophages, which are in the body tissues.
Natural killer cells kill viruses and cancer cells on contact. T cells and macrophages also produce chemicals such as interleukins and interferons which act against viruses and cancer cells.


Next week: How do we know if our immunity system is down?