Well-Women Guide to The Immune-System

This will be another extensive page and my aim is to try to simplify (not easy!) the working of the immune system, autoimmunity and how we can boost it for optimum results.

The immune system is our body's defence mechanism. It is very complex and protects us from invading bacteria, viruses, toxins and parasites.

It is constantly working and we can actually see this when we get a cut that becomes infected with pus. This is a sign of the immune system in action. We are constantly exposed to germs and toxins so bearing this in mind, it does a pretty good job.

Those of us that have an autoimmune disease, have an overactive immune system.

What organs are involved?

The Thymus

Produces mature T cells and located in the chest, please see The Endocrine page for more information, the thymus is less important in adults than babies and adults can live without a thymus as other parts of the immune system would take over, whereas babies can not. However, the thymus is important in other ways.

The Spleen

The spleen filters the blood, searching for invaders and checks the blood for old red blood cells which need replacing. These red blood cells are destroyed in the spleen. Someone who has had their spleen removed, would becme unwell more often than those with a spleen.

Bone Marrow

All cells of the immune system start off in the bone matrow and are produced from stem cells. Stem cells are capable of becoming various types of cells. The spleen produces both red and white blood cells and the red cells mature there and then enter the blood stream.

The white cells, although fewer in number than red, are the most important part of the immune system and are made up of lots of different types of cell such as B-cells, helper T-cells, T-cells, killer T-cells, suppressor T-cells, natural killer cells, leukocytes, lymphocytes, plasma cells, monocytes, granulocytes, neutrophils, macrophages, eosinophils, phagocytes, basophils although white blood cells are generally referred to as leukocytes which are sub divided into 3 catagories: Granulocytes, Lymphocytes and Monocytes.

When you have a raised white cell count, it means that infection is present due to the amount of circulating white cells. This is how the medical profession decide how your immune system is performing by counting the amount of different types of white cells in your blood sample.

A normal white blood cell count would be around 4,000 to 11,000 cells per microliter of blood. 1.8 to 2.0 helper T-cells per suppressor T-cell is normal and a normal absolute neutrophil count (ANC) is in the range of 1,500 to 8,000 cells per microliter.

When doctors are worried about infection, they count neutrophils which would be raised in this case if infection is present.

These are further sub divided into catagories. Granulocytes are divided into neutrophils, eosinophils and basophils, Lymphocytes into B cells so named because they are produced in the Bone marrow and T cells so named because they are produced in the Thymus.

Antibodies are produced by white blood cells and are known as immunoglobulins and gammaglobulins. They react to bacteria viruses and toxins which are also known as antigens and each antibody has a special area within it that reacts to a certain antigen and then binds to it. This binding then disables any chemical action of the antigen using enzymes. Antibodies can also signal to other parts of the system to let them know that a foreign body needs to be destroyed. Antibodies need the help of T-cells as they alone can not kill an invader. T-cells have the job of destroying invaders.

There are 5 types of antibody: Immunoglobulin A (IgA) Immunoglobulin D (IgD) Immunoglobulin E (IgE) Immunoglobulin G (IgG) Immunoglobulin M (IgM)

The complement system is a series of proteins manufactured by the liver which work with the antibodies to remove invaders. They also signal to phagocytes (a type of white cell) that the invader requires to be removed.

Hormones are also produced by the immune system known as lymphokines and other hormones such as corticosteroids and steroids suppress it. Steroids and corticosteroids are components of the hormone adrenaline produced by the Adrenal Glands which are part of The Endocrine system

The hormone Tymosin is responsible for encouraging the production of lymphocyte (a type of white blood cell) and the hormone Interleukins is also produced by white blood cells and Interleukin-1 has the effect of raising temperature and producing a fever when it reaches the hypothalamus and strangely enough, it is the effects of this fever that shows that the immune system is working. So don't underestimate the power of those flu symptoms.

It is facinating to think of the amount of work and how the immune system is such a hive of industry without us knowing it. However of course when things go wrong, we certainly become aware.

There are other hormones produced too that are capable of killing tumours and regenerating but the hormone Interferons are proteins of the cytokine family responsible for cells signalling to one another and enhance the immune systems ability to recognise foreign invaders. Cells can detect the presence of interferon and thus stop the replication of viruses.

All the various types of white blood cells perform a different role and I will try to describe as briefly as possible and in a simple way as to their purposes. (not easy)

Macrophages Largest of the white blood cells they evolve from Monocytes produced by the bone marrow. Many organs and tissues have their own Macrophages responsible for maintenance within that organ. Macrophages also clean up pus and infection.

Neutrophils are the most abundent produced by the bone marrow daily, but they live no more than a day. They are attracted to foreign substances and infection by a chemical. Upon discovery of bacteria they engult it and release enzymes and chemicals to kill it. Pus is made up of dead neutrophils.

Lymphocytes deal with the destruction of bacterial and viral infections. They start in the bone marrow and those that are B-cells are released into the bloodstream whereas those that are to become T-cells travel in the bloodstream to the thymus where they then mature. B-cells mature into plasma cells and recognise certain germs and when these are present they release millions of antibodies to destroy it.

Killer T-cells are activated by Interleukin-1 which is produced by macrophages then producing Interleukin-2, then interferon and other chemicals. They can actually detect cells in your body with a virus then seeks it out and destroys it. Helper T-cells and Suppressor T-cells help assist the killer T-cells, making them more aware of bacteria and viruses and then control the immune response.

The complexities of the immune system are too numerous to explain, (as if this is not complex enough) so we will be as simple as possible on this. It is important to know what happens to a certain extent. When we know this kind of information, we can dicuss medical matters with doctors to a higher level of knowledge and not feel so totally ignorant when they are waffling on about T-cells etc. However we don't need to have a medical degree to be savvy about medical matters. Just knowing how things work certainly helps when we have a condition.

Basically though, we just want to be well. We do need to understand some of what they are saying though.

How does a White blood Cell know when it should destroy something foreign?

There is a regocnition system encoded into all cells of our body called The Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) (also known as the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) which deems all cells as being part of that person (you) Anything that does not have this marking is deemed "the enemy" and will be destroyed.

This immune mechanism can malfunction and T cells react against self peptides. An autoimmune disease then is brought about. (Autoimmunity)

Examples of this are Diabetes Mellitus, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, Graves Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus (SLE)

Also Allergies. This is where the immune system overreacts to an antigen which it should in fact ignore such as pollen, food etc. In response to this, the cells release histamine which causes inflammation. Examples are hayfever, asthma and eczema, food allergies such as nut allergies and bee sting allergies.

The Lymph system is also a crucial part of the immune system. Lymph is blood plasma which is a clear liquid without red or white blood cells.

Cells get nutrients such as food, water and oxygen from lymph. Lymph also carries away waste from cells. Lymph is also responsible for checking the fluids for bacteria to prevent them entering cells. The fluids go to the lymph nodes where they are filtered. Lymph nodes swell when they are fighting bacteria which is why a doctor may check for swollen lymph nodes when examining you.

Once lymph has been checked it returns to the blood stream.

What is innate immunity?

This is natural immunity that we are all born with. Many things won't affect us at all such as infections and diseases that affect other species like cats ang dogs etc. Likewise illnesses and infection that affect us, won't affect them.

The skin is our first point of innate immunity. It stops viruses and bacteria entering the body by healing a cut or wound quickly.

Other organs are part of our immune system and first line of defence such as the mucous membranes of adenoids, tonsils and gastrointestinal tract.

What is adaptive immunity?

This is our bodies own meccanism that builds throughout our lives and involves lymphocytes. It is our systems resilience to disease through antibodies produced by lymphocytes throughout our lives. This means that once the B lymphocytes have produced antibodies against an illness, they will remain in our system to be used again where necessary. When the antibodies recognise an antigen, they will do their job. Once we have had an illness, we seldom become sick from the same illness again. (e.g measles and Chicken pox) It is where we have built up resilience to illnesses through resistance or vaccination. Vaccination introduces our body to the illness, so that we can produce B-cells which will instatly recognise the illness should we develope it. A Vaccine is a very weak form of the disease.


This is where the immune system is not working properly. There are extremes of this such as the boy, from Texas, USA who actually had to live in a bubble that was completely germ free. This is called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID). This is a very serious condition and there is a lack of or abscence of B and T lymphocytes. Of curse in that case, it would be almost impossible to have any ability to fight germs and bacteria.

DiGeorge syndrome is a primary T-lymphocyte disease where a baby is born without a thymus gland. As I stated earlier, the thymus gland is very important in babies and young children. T-lymphocytes are matured in the thymus gland.

Another example of immunodeficiency is HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) This disease destroys the immune system slowly. Caused by the HIV virus, this virus destroys T-helper cells which protect the body from harmless bacteria. Of course without T-helper cells, harmless bacteria become harmful and life threatening.

Immunodeficiencies can also be caused by medication.

An example of this is chemotherapy which not only kills cancer cells, but also other healthy cells in the immune system. This also happens with radiotherapy.

Those of us with autoimmune disease's such as rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus sometimes require medications such as steroids which also suppress the immune system. This is called secondary immunodeficiency.

It is also possible to develope cancer of the immune system and an example of this is Lymphoma (a common childhood cancer) and Leukemia where leukocytes grow at an abnormal rate.

What is the difference between a viral or bacterial infection?

These are collectively known as germs and reproduce when in the body causing symptoms. They are the most common cause of illnesses such as colds, coughs, measles, chicken pox etc. Streptococcus, the strep throat bacteria, will cause symptoms to your throat through the release of toxins. The toxins released by the Polio virus cause damage to nerve cells.

Bacteria are simple single celled organisms capable of rapid multiplication. They are independant and can feed and swim within the system and can multiply into millions within a couple of hours.

A virus is a DNA fragment which has a protective coat. When it comes into contact with one of our cell walls, it attaches itself and injects its DNA and enzymes, effectively "hijacking" the cell. It can then use the cell to reproduce new virus particles. When the cell dies, the virus particles are released.

What else can introduce bacteria and infection into our body?

A surgical wound or wound from a drip.

A catheter inserted into you bladder can introduce bacteria since they can make their way up the catheter into the bladder causing a bladder infection.

If you are already ill of course your immune system will be low making it easier for infection to set in.

Antacids neutralise stomach acid. Stomach acid is needed to kill bacteria.

How can I boost my immune system

One of the biggest problems that lowering our immune response is stress

This is widely recognised and many cancer websites discuss the use of complementary therapies for reducing stress.

Reducing stress needs to be your first port of call. Otherwise all the immune system supplements in the world won't work.

Please see the stress relief page for more information and suggestions on how to do this effectively.

It's a bit of a vicious circle. A strong immune system helps combat the effects of stress, yet stress reduces our body's fighting mecchanism.

Being a long term sufferer from stress, worry, depression and panic attacks I realise that I suffered needlessly. A lot of things I worried about, were really not worth the trauma I put myself through. In doing so, I constantly felt unwell, suffered mouth ulcers, poor healing, strange skin outbreaks, tooth abcesses, infection etc. My immune system was very low and a doctor once totld me I was burnt out, so no doubt my adrenals were suffering too.

I had a high powered job, but was it really worth making myself ill for? (especially as I ended up having to retire from ill health)

It took me well over a year to recover from each of my pregnancies, including the miscarriage in 1997. If only I had known then what I know now, or even cared enough about myself to be bothered.

What else affects the immune system?

Chronic Candida. Before hoping to gain maximum benefit from boosting your immune system, chronic candida needs to be eliminated. The following products are effective at beating candida. (not all will be required). Zell Oxygen, Wormwood, Olive Leaf, Primebiotic and Colloidal Silver. Not all will be required and Regenerative Nutrition recommend Zell Oxygen and one other such as Wormwood and possibly Colloidal Silver additionally. Those of us with autoimmune disorders usually suffer chronically with Candida. It can make us very unwell and no amount of supplements will help if our system is over-run with it, so it needs addressing first, along with stress.

Lack of sleep. You can't burn the candle at both ends and if you are tired, your body won't be able to cope. If you suffer from Insomnia, please click here for solutions

Lack of exercise. Even just walking is beneficial. You don't need to go to a gym. Your body needs exercise to increase circulation and boost the lymphatic system. Also try Cayennne capsules to increase circulation, but exercise is needed additionally.

Constipation. Toxins build up creating disease. Zell Oxygen and Barley Grass Juice Powder can help with this as can Green Clay (see below).

Poor diet. Lacking in valuable vitamins and minerals.

Smoking and alcohol. Being full of toxins.

Dehydration. Drink plenty of water (6-8 glasses a day)

Feeling depressed, sad and low. How we feel affects our immune system. Laughter really is the best medicine and our body's defences really do respond to how we feel. Even making yourself smile is beneficial.

What supplements will help me?

Echinacea, Goldenseal, Astragalus, Acerola cherry extract and wild rosehip, Alka Vita Elemental Silicon, Oxy-boost, Barley Grass Juice Powder, Essiac, Zell Oxygen, Organic Germanium, Organic Silicon, Alpha-Lipoic Acid & Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Anti-Oxidant Vital-Protect, Black seed oil, Capra Mineral Whey with boron, Chamae Rose, Chamae Rose with Black Walnut, Chlorella Pyrenoidosa, Colloidal Minerals & Trace Elements with Boron & Vit D, Live cell oxygen Immunocomplex, Plant Sterols and Sterolins such as Natur-Leaf, Olive Leaf extract, Pollen, Propolis, Food state Selenium, Sodium Ascorbate, Food State Zinc, MSM powder Most of these supplements can be purchased from Regenerative Nutrition, which is my own favourite online Natural Health Product shop. Choose 2 or 3 remedies as you would certainly not need them all!!

The first three can be purchased from Organic Nutrition who also have a great selection of products including immune system boosting packs.

Bear in mind that eating raw food will also boost your immune system when plenty of organic fresh salads, fruit and vegetables are included. And get this: When we eat cooked food, our immune system goes into attack and our white cell count goes up! Also certain herbal teas can help and are also detoxifying.

There are also superfoods that can boost the immune system as they are so packed with vitamins, amino acids and minerals.

Green Clay will help calm an over active immune system such as that sufferered by autoimmune disease patients.

Wormwood can help boost a tired immune system and helps eliminate candida.

Black Seed Oil (not to be taken during pregnancy) is said to be a miracle cure for many ailments. One thing is sure though and that is it's ability to strengthen the immune system through assisting the body in it's own natural healing process. It actually targets the immune system and is used as a treatment and a preventative.

It has the following abilities:

Analgesic effect on pain, anti-inflammatory, destroys intestinal parasites and expels them, destroys harmful micro-organisms, destroys bacteria, anti-oxidant so erradicates free radicals, reduces fever, eases muscle spasms and cramps, prevents the formation of malignant tumours, stimulates digestion by aiding in the production of bile and expels excess gas from the stomach and intestines, detoxifies, diuretic, stimulates mentruation, stimulates breast milk production in new mothers, lowers blood pressure, immune system strengthening, laxative.

How can it assist me?

Whilst nutritional therapy, supplements and superfoods can help wellness over a period of time, some functions are still lacking in optimum function. Black seed oil can assist in correcting many body functions where diet can not such as digestive dysfunction disorders like IBS, diarrhoea, bloating and constipation, Liver congestion, kidneys problems such as cystitis and infection, menstrual problems, intestinal parasites, bronchial inflammation, congestion, sore throats, coughs and chest infections, Immune system stimulates bone marrow production, strengthens immune response and resistence to infection, immune system stability: assists autoimmune disease sufferers, helps reduce high blood pressure.

Propolis helps over or underactivity of the immune system such as that involved in autoimmune disease. Builds resistence to infection, helps mouth ulcers, goitre, chronic fatigue syndrome (M.E) and many other conditions. .

As you will see, there are many products to help your immune system. But you need to help yourself too by eating healthily and reducing chemicals in your life too. Only then can you truly benefit from all the good work you are doing.

To read books about the immune system click here

To go to the Candida page click here

To go to the Autoimmune Disease Page click here

To read about immune system do's and don't click here

To go to the Well-Women Home Page click here