Immune System 101

White blood cells, or leukocytes, are cells of the immune system defending the body against both infectious disease and foreign materials. They are found throughout the body, including the blood and lymphatic system, making up approximately 1% of blood in a healthy adult.

Granulocytes are composed of the following cells:

Neutrophils/polymorphonuclear cells (PMNs): are “the scavenger cells” that make up 50 – 70% of the White Blood Cells. The Neutrophils/PMNs are non-specific, phagocytic in property that digest and eliminate intruding microorganisms, debris, injured/dead host cells. They are usually attracted to sites of tissue injury/inflammatory reaction by chemotactic factors.

Eosinophils: make up approximately 1 – 3% of the White Blood Cells. The Eosinophils are also phagocytic in property and are usually increased in number during parasitic infections. They can contribute to inflammatory, allergic reactions.

Basophils: are rare among white blood cells, which make up less than 1% of the White Blood Cells. Unlike Neutrophils and Eosinophils, Basophils are non-phagocytic, contain histamine and other mediators in their basic granules. They usually facilitate allergic, anaphylaxis reactions.

Monocytes: are mononuclear, non-specific phagocytic cells that make up 5-10% of the circulating White Blood Cells. There are three functions with regards to Monocytes:

1. Non-specific phagocytic in property that digest and eliminate intruding microorganisms, debris, injured/dead host cells.

2. Antigen-Presenting Cell (APC), which digested antigens associate intracellularly with major histocompatibility (MHC) complex molecules, carried to and display on cell surface. In other words, upon finishing digesting intruding foreign cells, monocytes “display” pieces of antigen on the surface of cells and show to other phagocytes to promote Adaptive (antigen-specific) immune responses*

3. Secretory cell: participate in both non-specific/inflammatory and specific response upon phagocytosis. In other words, Monocytes secrete enzymes, release chemical signals (chemokines) to summon neutrophils, and finally , release cytokines which is the communication between cells.

Monocytes are generally known as the tissue Macrophages.

Lymphocytes: makes up 20 – 40% of circulating White Blood Cells, responsible for antigen specific immune response and innate defense in viral and other cell-associated infections. There are three categories of cells in lymphocytes:

1. Natural Killer Cells (NK Cells): (1 – 4% circulating white blood cells, 10-15% of lymphocytes)

The ability of the NK cells is to kill wide range of tumor cells in absence of previous exposure to tumor. They have no antigen specificity and have no “memory” on intruding pathogens. NK cells are equivalent of granulocytes which both serves as the frontline of any foreign infections.

2. B and T Lymphocytes: unlike the NK cells, they are responsible for antigen specific immune responses.

(a) B cells: (10-15% of the lymphocytes), produced in the bone marrow, migrated and matured in the spleen as B Lymphocytes. Their principal function is to circulate in the blood and lymph performing the role of immune surveillance by making antigens against soluble antigens.

(b) T Cells: (75 – 80% of lymphocytes) mature in thymus, flat, bilobed organ above the heart. There are two types of T cells

(b1) T Helper CD4+: are the “middleman” of an adaptive immune system. Once activated, they divide rapidly and secrete small “messages between cells” proteins called cytokines that regulate or “help” the immune response.

(b2) Cytotoxic T killer, CD 8+ cells: destroy virally infected cells and tumor cells.

In addition, the cell surface molecules play critical roles in immune response.

a. Immune system has ability to distinguish self vs non-self depends on MHC (Major Histocompatibility Complex)

b. Immune system has the ability to recognize molecules which are foreign (depending on antigens) Lymphocytes are the only cells with the ability to specifically recognize and respond to antigen; therefore, have cell surface molecules which serve as antigen receptors.




Sleep and your immune health – what’s the link?

It has long since been noted that a lack of sleep can cause many more medical conditions than just a sleepy day at work and poor brain function. However, it has only been recently that those that suffer with poor sleeping patterns have been shown to be more susceptible to many chronic and everyday conditions, in a bid by Scientists to link those with an inability to sleep with poor immune health.

Sleep has been the question of many studies over many years, with its actual function and evolutionary status not becoming clear until studies performed in recent years. When you think back to the days of cavemen; sleeping put them in an incredibly risky position – while they were sleeping, not only were they at a high risk of becoming prey, but also stopped hunting for food to feed themselves and their families, were unable to take care of themselves, unable to reproduce and much more. However, despite the feelings that sleep was an evolutionary anomaly that didn’t really have any answers to back the questions of “why?” every animal sleeps, from humans to tigers, and even the simplest and smallest of creatures.

Sleep was once thought of as a way to conserve energy and to recharge the batteries, so to speak, but studies performed by Scientists have shown that sleep was actually more of a way for us to heighten the strength of the immune system. Studies were performed on people that regularly had trouble sleeping, and from these studies, it was shown that their inability to get a good night’s sleep actually made them more susceptible to infections, such as the common cold and cough, flu, and even more chronic conditions such as coronary heart disease.

Blood tests showed that those that didn’t get the recommended eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night had abnormalities within their immune system. These abnormalities varied from person to person, of course, but it was shown that many problems were present, including a lack of white blood cells – the cells used to fight off infection and exterior bodies that were not normally found in the body naturally, interleukins, (chemicals that helped to reduce inflammation) were in lower numbers, as well as many chemicals just like it, and even certain compounds that actively promoted inflammation were found in increased amounts. It is not yet clearly understood why all of these things put together, (or in some cases and patients, not) cause certain diseases and conditions, or at least make them worse, but one thing rings true – your immune system, and therefore your overall health and well being is reduced, giving you a poorer quality of life.

Other scientific studies have noted that when animals, (humans and otherwise) become sick, they sleep more in a bid to fight off the illness. It has also been shown that those that do not get enough, or at least have good quality sleep, do not respond well to vaccinations when compared with people that do get enough good quality sleep, and on top of this, animals that were studied in laboratories that were sleep deprived died fairly quickly from many conditions, including various bacterial infections. In short, sleep deprivation causes a massive impact on your immune system, and completely alters your daily well being.


Could stress weaken your immune system?

We all know that our immune systems are very important for our overall daily well-being, but for the most part, people are still relatively unsure of how to increase or boost the strength of the immune system, and what really happens when it is decreased in sensitivity. When you add to this that a lot of people don’t understand the problems that our everyday lives could have on it, there is a recipe for disaster that much be quickly amended.

It is already known that a lack of sleep can cause a reduction in the strength of the immune system, to the point where sleep deprived animals often died as a result of bacterial infections. However, are there other factors that could lead to the decline of our health and daily well being? And can these things be stopped?

Stress is a major factor is every one’s life these days – if we are not currently stressed out, we are thinking about how stressed out we could be, or worse, were! Stress is a term very commonly thrown around, and it would seem as if it were taking over our lives. For the most part, a little bit of stress never really hurt anyone, and in fact, it could even be said that it helps us to cope with certain situations in a new and improved way. However, increased stress over larger periods of time could lead to a massive decline in our well being and health, and recent studies have shown that this could be because of the huge impact it has on our immune systems.

It has been shown that the state of mind that you are in has a massive impact on your state of health and those that regularly suffer with stress also have a tendency to fall prey to many other conditions, such as the common cold, flu, cough’s and more. As we have mentioned, a small amount of stress is actually good for the body. When a person becomes stressed, a hormone is released called cortisol. This hormone has anti-inflammatory properties that also helps to encourage the growth and repair of damaged tissue and cells, and on top of this, actually helps to control a problem where the immune system actually produces excessive white blood cells, which can actually be as bad for your daily wellbeing as not producing enough.

Regular stress or stress that goes on for longer periods of time means that the cortisol hormone is in your body for much longer than it should be and in excessive amounts at the same time. This then slows down the production of a few other compounds that are vital for the body, one of which is prostaglandins. These prostaglandins do many good things around the body, which is why the reduction of production is bad – they helps to strengthen the immune system, promote anti-inflammatory activity, help to dilate blood vessels and more.

Another reason why increased cortisol levels are bad for your immune system and daily wellbeing is that the good cells in your blood that help to fight off diseases and infections are reduced, which is why you become more susceptible to chronic and everyday complaints, and when you add that to the fact that sleep patterns are disturbed with excess stress levels, you are a circle that is impossible to break, and could leave you feeling very ill indeed.


Medicinal mushrooms – Old fashioned medicine with a modern twist?

We all know that mushrooms have been used for many years for their medicinal purposes, but still the importance of the mushroom is very often overlooked, in much the same way that their delicious flavors are still not commonly well known. It has been shown in various clinical and scientific studies that mushrooms do have medicinal purposes, and can actively assist in fighting off infections, many killer diseases, and even just give a little helping boost to the immune system when used in the correct manner.

There are plenty of ways that you can encourage mushrooms in your diet without having to throw them in a stir fry or stick them on a kebab stick on the barbecue. There are various infusions that you can buy, as well as teas and even capsules that contain the food source in supplement form. It has been said that all three of these ways are incredibly useful to the body, but the capsules are often seen as the fastest working, with the better benefits.

The basis of medicinal mushrooms is down to the fact that fungi has been shown to have some serious bacteria-fighting power, and at the same time, the capability to fight off tumors at the same time. The latter in fact, has been shown in over one hundred different species of mushroom to help the fight against tumors in so many places, especially the lungs, the esophagus, and even the stomach lining.

One perfect example of the medicinal mushroom is the chaga mushroom that is very well known about scientists and holistic medicine enthusiasts for its anti-cancer properties. Apparently, it contains the highest amount of antioxidants and stimulates the growth of them in the body to the maximum potential. These mushrooms are also said to boost the immune system, help to get rid of worms, reduce any inflammation and infections/disease of the stomach and even treat cancers of the digestive tract alongside breast cancer, and cancer of the uterus as well. One great bonus that the chaga mushroom is said to offer is to those that suffer with HIV/AIDS – it has been reported to lower and reduce the symptoms that often accompanies this life threatening condition.

Another type of mushroom that has been reported to have many medicinal characteristics is the Cordyceps mushroom. Just like the chaga mushroom, Cordyceps can help with many body-based problems such as various cancers, help to boost weakened immune systems, and even treat other conditions such as lymphoma while at the same time helping to boost the endurance of a person. AT the same time however, and somewhat differently from the chaga mushroom, Cordyceps can also help with the mind in the way of concentration, as well as breathing and breathing-related conditions. Usually in a tea form, Cordyceps can also come in a soup based form, as well as being used in various delicious dishes that you would happily serve up to your family.

The case for medicinal mushrooms has been fought for many years, with many holistic enthusiasts and scientists raving about the properties that they contain. With more and more health food stores jumping on the bandwagon, so to speak, it would appear that these mushrooms are now being used in conjunction with more modern forms of medicine, giving us more opportunities to fight off the conditions that once were considered to be life threatening.