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What is the immune system and how does it work?

The answers to these two questions can fill medical textbooks.  A lot of this information is changing and some is not known. In simple terms, our immune systems are very important to our health – they fight off and kill bacteria, viruses, cells that have gone awry and other “invaders.”

The immune system is basically a bunch of cells and organs working in a very quick and coordinated way with the rest of the body to keep us healthy. The immune system is located throughout our bodies and even our gut has specialized immune cells! Some of the organs and tissue structures are the thymus, spleen and the lymphatic system.

There are many cells associated with the immune system each with an individual function to assist with identification, destruction, re-absorption of the ‘invaders.’ These cells are located throughout the body to assist with the function of the immune system. We are not usually aware of our immune system unless it has a problem and we get symptoms (runny nose, fever or rash).

How Does the Immune System Protect Us from Invaders?

Our body’s immune system cells identify the invader (also called an antigen) as foreign, and sends various cells to fight off the invader while sending messages to other cells and organs. Where do these messages go? How does the body know something is an invader versus something helpful to the body? The immune system has a central intelligence called the “thymus” which is a small organ located above your heart under the upper ribs. The thymus is like a library and catalogues all the past invaders, so the immune system can quickly fend off past invaders. This library function actually starts during the first trimester in-utero! The thymus then sends the appropriate cells to the site of the ‘invader attack.’ The body develops ‘antibodies’ to help fight these invaders in the future.

Some of the messages which are produced by the body (at the site of the invasion) also produce blood vessel dilation to bring more ‘immune fighters’ to the scene. Even inflammation is part of the immune system response! When you sprain an ankle and it swells – the immune system is involved.

Sometimes there is an invader that tries to sneak past this ‘regular’ immune system – but the body’s wisdom has another system for that too – Natural Killer cells (NK) which I think of as very intuitive cells. The NK cells check out circulating cells and if they don’t seem right (based on intuition – not past experience) they will destroy those cells. The NK cells can be very effective against viruses, previously unknown invaders and cells of the body that have become defective.

Our immune system is constantly looking for homeostasis or a balance point between the ‘good’ cells and the ‘invaders’ and cells that have become ‘defective’ cells. Sometimes our immune systems can get stuck on overdrive and keep fighting when there are no invaders – such as in allergies and auto-immune diseases. Some of the new research is also pointing to an overactive immune system in such diseases as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson, Alzheimer and some of the Rheumatic Arthritis diseases, to name a few.

We can do much to help our immune systems: diet, stress and our environment, can influence (strengthen or weaken) our immune system. What can you do personally in your own home to assist your immune system? The immune system is very easy to access – just ask! Visualization exercises work very well in helping your immune system to either calm down or rev-up if needed. If you spend some contemplative time just ‘listening’ to your body, you can achieve great understanding about what your body needs. This may be difficult at first and assistance may be beneficial.

In my practice I assist clients to visualize their body’s natural wisdom (and perhaps even their immune systems) through CranioSacral therapy (CST) to help achieve a balance point – whatever that may be – while freeing up restrictions in the soft tissue which may be inhibiting the body’s health. To schedule a CST session call Sue Cotta, MSPT, CST at (508)982-1100 or you may email her at

All rights reserved. This information is copyrighted 2012 by Unlimited Potentials. No part of this information may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including by not limited to electronic, mechanical including photocopying, recording or any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission in writing from Susan Cotta. For information contact