Basic Concepts of Immunity

Many people keep talking about immunity these days and the ways to boost it. In fact, most of the mothers in our practice also keep asking us about how to boost the immunity of their children. What I am going to talk about is the basic concepts of immunity.

What is Immunity?

Immunity is defined as the ability to be able to resist a particular disease by killing the micro-organism or counteracting the effects of its products.

How do we develop immunity?

Immunity develops by exposure to a particular disease or by giving vaccination for that disease. Once we are exposed to any virus or bacteria, the body generates an antibody response against that micro-organism. These antibodies are produced by the white blood cells present in our blood. Vaccines contain parts of the bacteria or viruses which when injected in our body help to generate an antibody response. Now unless and until we get exposed to any particular disease (either naturally or through vaccination) we cannot develop immunity against that particular disease. It’s not that for every exposure we will get symptoms, many times we develop immunity but do not develop symptoms for that disease. This is very common for viral illnesses.

Can certain foods boost immunity?

It’s our white blood cells which help to produce antibodies which are nothing but protein molecules. Taking a balanced diet with an adequate amount of proteins, vitamins, and minerals helps us to remain fit and indirectly helps to fight against any disease. But this cannot be taken as criteria that particular foods help to increase immunity. Now Vitamin C helps in mucosal healing, so it’s considered helpful in upper respiratory infections. Similarly, Zinc helps in intestinal healing so is prescribed in diarrhoea. But this does not mean that taking Vitamin C or Zinc will help prevent Upper respiratory infections or diarrhoea.

Doctor my child gets sick very frequently. How to build his immunity?

Children by birth are not exposed to infections so have no immunity at all. They are given vaccinations which help them to build immunity against those particular infections. Besides this, as they grow and get exposed to different infections, they develop immunity against those particular infections. So getting frequent fevers is an immunity building process and should not be a cause of worry if the child is recovering within 3-5 days by just giving symptomatic treatment. Any fever with worsening signs & symptoms or going beyond limits needs investigations & treatment accordingly.

Doctor my child is allergic to many things. How can I increase his immunity?

Immunity is for infections and not allergies. The basic difference is that with repeated exposure to infections we tend to build immunity but with repeated exposure to allergens, we tend to worsen allergies. However, the concept of immunotherapy is now being used in allergies also where the body is exposed to minute quantities of allergens so as to reduce the severity of symptoms.

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