What Is the Immune System? Our great defense system helps ward off the most dangerous of invaders.
ILLUSTRATION BY SUPER FREAK
We live in a sea of organisms. Bacteria, viruses, parasites and other life forms great and small pave our surroundings, cover our skin, share our gut. Most of them mean us no harm. The job of the immune system is to keep us healthy in the midst of this challenging, complex environment. It is a common misconception that the immune system goes to war with every foreign organism.
That would lead to scorched earth, nuclear winter. Instead, the job of the immune system is to take stock, monitor, assess and judge potential threats. Ideally, the immune system would find a cooperative existence with the many microbes with which we share our bodies and the planet. But if an invader is deemed a threat, the immune system has a narrow job: destroy the threat while doing as little collateral damage as possible.
This response from the immune system is called “inflammation.” Inflammation can be a violent affair, causing an outpouring of poisonous, deadly cells and molecules aimed at clearing a pathogen out of the body. The point of infection can look like the scene of a multi-car crash. The actors in the immune system rush to assess the problem, attack it, clean the area and rebuild new tissue.
To you, inflammation can feel like a stuffy nose, sore throat, tummy ache, fever, fatigue or headache. Yes, the symptoms of an immune response feel lousy, but you must suffer a little to keep the rest of your body healthy over the long term. And for your health and daily well-being, the key is to keep your immune system from underperforming or getting out of hand.
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