Do you seem to catch cold after cold, while your friends sail through winter
unscathed? Maybe you need to think about strengthening your immune system.
You may pay more attention to the health of your immune system during the
winter, when colds and flu surround you. But the truth is, your immune system
has to work hard all through the year, whether it’s offering protection from a
flu virus or an infection that could happen any time.
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“We are endowed with a great immune system that has been designed
evolutionarily to keep us healthy,” says Bruce Polsky, MD, interim chairman
department of medicine and chief division of infectious disease at St.
Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City.
How the Immune System Works
The immune system is your body’s natural defense system. It’s an intricate
network of cells, tissues, and organs that band together to defend your body
against invaders. Those invaders can include bacteria, viruses, parasites, even
a fungus, all with the potential to make us sick. They are everywhere – in our
homes, offices, and backyards. A healthy immune system protects us by first
creating a barrier that stops those invaders, or antigens, from entering the
body. And if one slips by the barrier, the immune system produces white blood
cells, and other chemicals and proteins that attack and destroy these foreign
substances. They try to find the antigen and get rid of it before it can
reproduce. Failing that, the immune system revs up even more to destroy the
invaders as they multiply.
The immune system can recognize millions of different antigens. And it can
produce what it needs to eradicate nearly all of them. When it’s working
properly, this elaborate defense system can keep health problems ranging from
cancer to the common cold at bay.
When the Immune System Breaks Down
Sometimes the immune system makes a mistake and identifies a substance as
being harmful when it’s not – think pollen or pet dander. When the immune
system revs up to fight these “invaders,” you have an allergic reaction.