Immune System Basics

By Jasper Wolfe (TDH 2016 Intern Level 2)

The human body (as well as many species of plants and animals) has two ways to fight off sickness. They have an Innate response and a Cell Mediated response (otherwise known as acquired response).


Microbes have to get past our Innate responses first. They must make it past our external barriers, skin and mucous membranes.  Our exterior barriers often prevent microbes from even entering our system. This is called a nonspecific response and defends against all different microbes in the same way.

If a microbe makes it past our external barriers it will trigger internal reactions. Inflammation is one of the most noticeable reactions. I have learned in my time as an intern that most of the symptoms caused by illness are typically from inflammation. Inflammation is key in limiting the spread of the microbes. It is triggered by release of histamines, causing dilation and increased permeability of nearby capillaries. This results in leakage onto nearby tissue and causes localized swelling.tumblr_lshdqduaua1ql99rro1_500

Another response to microbes is fever. A moderate fever can speed up the repair of tissue and help destroy the microbes. A fever that is too high can cause shock and death.

Another interesting thing I have learned this past year is that it is actually much more difficult for adults to experience fevers than it is for children. It is more difficult for an adult’s core body temperature to rise the same way a child’s can. The Dancing Herbalist has taught me ways to help bring on fever. My favorite is the garlic protocol. I am hoping to try this the next time I feel a cold coming on. You cut up cloves of garlic into pill sized pieces and eat them in a spoonful of honey. Eating a clove every hour will raise your internal body temperature and induce fever. The down side is very garlic heavy body odor. I will be doing this for two days but the length can vary. The same effect can be achieved with ginger (but who doesn’t prefer garlic).220px-vaccine

Acquired responses is a defense that is built up over time. They are specific responses and will defend against each microbe specifically. A person who has had in illness once is not as susceptible to it as someone who has never had the illness. Vaccines are a good example to explain acquired immunity. A vaccine traditionally is a small amount of microbes. When the body is injected they create specialized cells to deal with the illness. Since the body has fought off the microbes once before it is familiar with them and able to create the specialized cells much faster the second time.

cicada_exuviae_croatiaVertebrate (such as mammals) have much better Innate responses than invertebrates (ie, birds, fish, reptiles, insects). An insect’s exoskeleton provides exterior barriers similar in function to our own. Invertebrate do not have the white blood cells that make up a vertebrate’s acquired specific immunity, they do however show some characteristics of acquired immunity. They are able to tell their cells from the cells of another of the same species. Immunological memory is also found in some of vertebrate. They are able detect and attack foreign cells the second time much faster than the first time. I find this very interesting that some animals and insects have very similar immune systems, while others are completely foreign compared to ours. I look forward to learning more about other animal’s immune systems and defenses in the near future.

Jasper Wolfe is a TDH Level 2 Intern and has been working with The Dancing Herbalist for more than a year now. His focus is working with animals and exploring how herbs can be used to support them in similar yet different ways to humans. Be sure to follow our blog and newsletter to hear when we will be starting to have herbal products for pets in Spring 2017.

Sharp, Joan Catherine, and Neil A. Campbell. Biology, Seventh Edition. Toronto: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2007. Print.


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