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1. Each part of the immune system has a unique function.

“Think of the immune system like the military,” says Dat Tran, MD, an immunologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “There are different branches that each serve a unique function in protecting the body.”

The first line of defense, Dr. Tran says, is the white blood cells, which are the first to recognize pathogens and fight off infection. Lymphocytes, a specific type of white blood cells, work to allow the body to remember the invading microbes to fight them faster in future infections.

Other parts of the immune system include the bone marrow, where white blood cells are produced; lymph nodes, which produce and store infection-fighting cells throughout the body; and the spleen, which helps control the amount of blood in the body and cleans out old or damaged blood cells from the body.

2. Every day, we encounter billions of germs, but they’re not all bad.

Though it may not be pleasant to think about, countless microbes live on and in our bodies, and they are actually necessary to maintain good health. In fact we are almost 1:1 bacteria and human being.

Good bacteria in our body provides us with nutrients we need and also provides a defense against bad bacteria and infection. A balance needs to be maintained because when good bacteria is reduced, bad bacteria can take over, making us feel sick.

3. Stress can affect the way your immune system works. Stress can lead to increased levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone that is important for overall function of our body; but too much of it can lead to a number of health problems, including decreased immunity. The high level of steroids can blunt your immune system.

4. Positive emotions and a healthy lifestyle may boost your immunity. Some research suggests that optimism can actually make our immune system work better. I don’t know if it’s a direct cause, but the happier, or more positive you are, the more likely you are to eat right and be less stressed, which will help your immune system.”

5. Sleep deprivation can impact immunity. Not getting enough sleep can wreak havoc on the body, and the immune system is no exception. Studies show that a lack of sleep may make you more likely to catch a cold and also makes it more difficult to fight off infection.

6. Allergies are the result of your immune system reacting to a false alarm. When you experience an allergic reaction, your immune system is responding to a harmless allergen that it perceives as a threat. Symptoms of an allergic reaction, which can range from a runny nose to breaking out in hives to fainting, are a result of the body’s misguided attack.

7. Your immune system can attack itself. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system destroys its own healthy tissues. In such cases, white blood cells in the body cannot distinguish between pathogens and the body’s normal cells, setting off a reaction that destroys healthy tissues.

While there are over 80 different types of autoimmune disorders, common ones include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Hashimotos thyroid disease and Crohn’s disease.

8. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases affect about 8 percent of the population in the United States, making up the third most common category of disease after cancer and heart disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women make up nearly 80 percent of those living with autoimmune diseases. While the cause of autoimmune diseases is unknown, it is generally believed to have a strong genetic component, and women in their child-bearing years are at the highest risk.

9. Being too clean can inhibit your immune system from functioning properly. Cleaning and disinfecting may seem like the best way to avoid infection, but this is a case where there can be too much of a good thing.

When you make your environment so clean, you minimize so many foreign pathogens that you actually minimize the development of the immune system. This is especially the case with young children, since if they’re not exposed to harmful microbes at all, their bodies won’t be able to develop the proper antibodies to fight them off.

Hygiene is important yes. But live your lives normally. If someone has a cold, definitely wash your hands around them and try to avoid direct contact. Clean normally, but don’t be obsessive about it. While trying to avoid foreign pathogens, you don’t want to unintentionally minimize the good bacteria in your environment.

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