In this week’s excerpt from Lessons from the Miracle Doctors, Jon Barron details all of the individual cells that make up your immune system.
“In the following paragraphs, I’m going to summarize the function of the immune system. While a full discussion would take several volumes, I would like to provide a brief overview, a sense of how this marvelous system works.
All blood cells, both red and white, begin as stem cells in your bone marrow. These undifferentiated cells begin to assume individual characteristics and become either red cells (the oxygen carriers) or white cells (the cells of the immune system). Further differentiation divides the white cells (also called leukocytes) into four main types of cells: lymphocytes, phagocytes, granulocytes, and dendritic cells.”
“Lymphocytes are white blood cells that serve as the key operatives of the immune system. In a healthy body, not under attack, they number about one trillion. There are three main classes of lymphocytes.
- B-Cells—Each B-cell is programmed to make one specific antibody to defend against a specific invader. An antibody is a soluble protein produced by B-cells that’s capable of binding to and destroying or neutralizing a foreign substance (antigen) in the body. Antibodies belong to a particular family of nine proteins called the immunoglobulins. So, one B cell produces an antibody to defend against a particular strain of flu, whereas an entirely different B-cell produces the antibody for the strep bacteria, and so on. B-cells work primarily in the fluids of the body, defending against “foreign” invaders and toxic molecules. They are not capable of defending against the body’s own cells that have “gone bad.” Once a B-cell encounters the particular invader that it is built to defend against, it produces many large plasma cells, “factories” that produce millions of specific antibodies and release them into the bloodstream. Once the invader has been eliminated, the B-cells stop production of the plasma cells.
- T-Cells—Although B-cells are capable of recognizing invaders on their own, primarily that function falls to the T-cells. T-cells are smarter than B-cells; they’ve been to school, as it were. After being produced in the bone marrow, T-cells make their way to the thymus gland, where they are educated in how to distinguish between the cells of the body and invading cells, and how to distinguish between normal healthy cells and mutated rogue cells. T-cells that cannot make this distinction are eliminated so that they do not make their way into the body and begin attacking it. Every T-cell carries a marker (T-3), a distinctive molecule on its surface that affects how it behaves.In addition, some T-cells carry a T-4 marker. These are known as the helper T-cells, which serve the purpose of identifying foreign invaders, then activating B-cells, other T-cells, natural killer (NK) cells, and macrophages to attack the invader. And some T-cells carry a T-8 marker. These are cytotoxic T-cells (also called “suppressor cells”), which identify rogue mutated cells in the body or cells that have been invaded by viruses and compromised. Once they’ve identified the enemy, cytotoxic T-cells attack the cells that have been infected or are malignant and destroy them. This process is often referred to as the cell-mediated immune response.
- Natural Killer (NK) Cells—Unlike cytotoxic T-cells, NK cells do not need to recognize a specific invader to act. They attack a whole range of microbes in addition to tumor cells. Also, they kill enemy cells on contact by delivering lethal bursts of potent granular chemicals that “burn” holes in target cells, causing them to leak and burst.
Phagocytes are the large white cells that eat and digest invading pathogens, primarily through protease enzyme activity. There are several kinds of phagocytes: monocytes, neutrophils, and macrophages. Macrophages have a number of functions in the immune system. Not only do they attack foreign invaders, they also play a key role as scavengers by ‘eating up’ worn out cells and other waste in the body. Once macrophages have ‘digested’ an invader, they then present the key identifying molecules, or antigens, to the T-cells to initiate the immune response. Macrophages play a key role in fasting. When you are not eating and creating new metabolic waste in the body, macrophages get a chance to get ahead in terms of cleaning up debris. Fasting time becomes ‘spring cleaning’ time for macrophages.
Granulocytes include eosiniphils, basophils, neutrophils (neutrophils are classed as both phagocytes and granulocytes), and mast cells. Granulocytes destroy invaders by releasing granules filled with potent chemicals. Dendritic cells have long threadlike tentacles that are used to wrap up antigens and expended lymphocytes and carry them to the lymph nodes for removal from the body.”