Understanding How Your Immune System Works (A Cartoon Story)

Ever wonder how your immune system works and how to improve its functioning? Here is a basic outline told in cartoon superhero style.

The immune centers of your body are located in the tonsils, thymus, spleen, and bone marrow.
Image showing where the bodies
immune centers are located

  • The Tonsils are thought to be the first line of defense against ingested or inhaled diseases, however, their full role in the immune system is yet to be understood.2,3
  • The Thymus is involved with the proper functioning of certain immune cells called T-lymphocytes or (T Cells).
  • The Spleen filters the blood for diseases, foreign materials, also called "antigens".4
  • The Bone Marrow is responsible for producing leukocytes, cells which are responsible for capturing cellular debris, foreign particles, and invading microorganisms.

From these centers your immune cells circulate around your body, looking for the "bad guys", foreign bodies, or antigens which can appear in the form of viruses, bacteria, and even pollen.
Cartoon depiction of various antigens

When a disease is found by your immune cells their response depends both on the disease and on the particular immune cell.
Cartoon of the immune system recognizing a disease

Phagocytes (a type of white blood cell) actually engulf, absorb, or eat pathogens. Phagocytes also consume "dead cells" in our body, and play an important roll in allowing wounds to heal.
Cartoon of a phagocyte absorbing an antigen

Lymphocytes attack antigens by creating antibodies, or toxic granules.
Cartoon of a lymphocyte attacking an antigen

Lymphocytes also destroy cells which have been infected by a virus, and tag antigens to be attacked later.
Cartoon of lymphocytes destroying an infected cell and tagging an
antigen for deletion

After defeating a particular disease lymphocytes will keep a profile and remember the disease throughout your life. Should it appear again, they will quickly eliminate it.
Cartoon of memory database demonstrating how immune cells remember
antigens so they can defeat them quickly if they enter the body again

This memory effect of immune cells led to the idea of a vaccine: weakened antigens which could be injected into your body.
Cartoon of weakened antigens representing a vaccine

Your immune system can then "practice" on this weakened form of a disease.
Cartoon of weakened antigens representing a vaccine

The next time a disease enters your body, your immune system draws upon its memory to quickly defeat it.
Cartoon of weakened antigens representing a vaccine
Common vaccines include the measles, mumps, chicken pox, and, Tetanus.

What foods boost my immune system?

  • Vitamin A plays a key role in production of white blood cells, vital for fighting off infection. Vitamin A Foods include carrots, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes.
  • Vitamin C can help boost the immune system, particularly in endurance atheletes and those undergoing physical stress. Vitamin C Foods include chilies, guavas, bell peppers, broccoli, papayas, and strawberries.
  • Zinc, among other immune functions, is necessary for the creation and activation of lymphocytes. Zinc has also been shown to help alleviate symptoms of the common cold, and may even accelerate the time to recovery. High Zinc Foods include Oysters, wheat germ, sesame seeds, pumpkin and squash seeds, peanuts, and dark chocolate.

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    1. About the Immune System from Body and Mind.gov
    2. Journal of the Wakayama Medical Society - [Study on functions of tonsils in mucosal immune system of the upper respiratory tract using a novel animal model, Suncus murinus.] - VOL.52;NO.4;PAGE.361-367(2001)
    3. Tonsils and adenoids are immune system glands...' [Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide - Page: 1006 ] - 1995
    4. The Immune System at The Body.com