How Your Body Helps Your Immune System Fight Infections

As we wave goodbye to summer and the crisp cool air of fall arrives, something almost inevitably starts to occur. More people around us start getting illnesses. Maybe it’s a virus that has struck your child’s daycare, or a “bug” going around the college campus where your daughter is studying Math. Perhaps your office mates are sneezing and coughing more frequently these days and before long, you find yourself feeling down and out. Let’s take a quick look at what happens behind the scenes when illness strikes.

Most people mistake symptoms for the disease.
You’re not sick because you’re tired, weak and in pain. You’re not sick because you cough, sneeze and throw up.

You do all those things because you’re sick.

The disease is the harmful, infectious organism in your body. Most of the symptoms you call “illness” is your body FIGHTING the pathogen inside you.

During a major infection, cytokines are messengers carrying the war alert to your entire body. Cytokines send out signals from cells in your immune system warning your body that it needs to respond to an illness. This is all done through tiny biochemicals in your body called eicosanoids.

They recruit more phagocytes, which are the white blood cells which come to battle in your body against viruses and bacteria, and or anytime cells in your body are injured. Phagocytes “eat” the dead or injured cells and/or viruses and bacteria and are composed of three main types of cells: granulocytes, macrophages, and denditric cells.  Also recruited are more  B and T cells, known as lymphocytes,  to join the fight.

A series of invents then occurs in your immune system and it’s complex messaging system:

Your  bone marrow  is signaled to step up the manufacturing of white blood cells.

To flush viruses out of your nose, they instruct your nasal membranes to secrete more mucus, so you have the sniffles and sneeze a lot.

To get viruses out of your lungs, they instruct your chest to cough.

So that phagocytes can more easily reach the area of infection, they instruct your blood vessels to expand and relax their containment of your blood.

This allows some blood and plasma to leak into surrounding tissue, making their tissue red and swollen. This swelling of your tissues pressures your nerve, making them send pain signals to your brain, to make sure you know you have a problem.

They instruct your brain to raise your body’s temperature. Your fever helps kills the germs inside you.

Some of the important cytokines are:

Interferon alpha and beta — IFN-a and IFN-b

Interferon gamma — IFN-g

Interleukin 1 — IL-1

Interleukin 2 — IL-2

Transforming growth factor beta — TGF-b

Tumor necrosis factor — TNF

These cytokines perform vital functions which help you fight off infections. Unfortunately, they also create the unpleasant symptoms which we associate with being ill.

immunesystemsickness And that’s why some people believe that people should not take symptom-reducing medication when they’re sick. Your nose is dripping to get viruses out of your body. If you take a decongestant to “dry up” your runny nose, you may actually be prolonging your illness, by taking away one of your body’s weapons against the infection.

When you feel bad, it’s best just to go to bed. That’s why you feel weak. Your body wants you to conserve your strength to fight the war within you.

However, it’s also true that in some cases, the body can go overboard. Too many cytokines can make your body overreact, so that the symptoms become more dangerous than the infection.

This can be the case for a fever when gets around the 104 degree F range.

It was also true during the 1918 influenza epidemic and in many observed cases of bird flu. People died from their body’s strenuous efforts to destroy the viral infection.

This is also true of hepatitis. Your liver is more damaged by your body’s effort to kill those viruses than by the viruses themselves.

Therefore, it is good to have professional medical care, so that your immune system can be modulated, so that it destroys the infection without destroying your body in the process.