Our immune system is very complex. In simple terms, the immune system is innate and acquired (adaptive). Initially, at birth, our body has some basic settings to fight against numerous infections of the surrounding world. It is this part of the immune system (innate immunity) that allows the child to survive at birth. In the future, as the body grows and increases its contact with various bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents, we train our immune system to fight more precisely, that is, we develop and form an acquired, or adaptive, immunity. It is important to note that it is thanks to this ability of the immune system that vaccines work: they train and prepare our body for a future infection. That is why in most cases, in vaccinated people, the infectious disease occurs in a mild form or does not develop at all.
Both innate and acquired immunity have two bases: humoral and cellular links. Humoral immunity is represented by protein structures-immunoglobulins and the complement system, which circulate in the bloodstream, penetrate into infected tissues and thus allow you to fight a variety of infections. Immunoglobulins that are tuned against a specific target (antigen) are called antibodies. Usually, this target is the particles of the virus shell or bacteria, various toxins and other foreign elements. However, in autoimmune diseases, the immune system fails to recognize “friend-foe” and there is aggression towards one’s own body. As a result, autoantibodies appear, that is, immunoglobulins that are directed against elements of their own tissues and organs, as a result, the immune system mistakenly attacks its own body.
Cellular immunity is represented by the different types of white blood cells themselves. White blood cells are white blood cells that float in our blood and are the “soldiers” of our immune system. The main players of the team of acquired cellular immunity are T-lymphocytes (there are many types and subtypes) and B-lymphocytes, while the other types of white blood cells (neutrophils, monocytes and macrophages, eosinophils, etc.) are the “troops” of mainly innate immunity. In the development of autoimmune diseases, a special role is assigned to B-lymphocytes, since it is in them that immunoglobulins (antibodies) are produced, which, when the immune system is aggressive, are directed against its own body. Just the determination of various autoantibodies in the blood plays an important role in establishing the diagnosis of a particular disease. In most cases, each disease has its own set of autoantibodies, but sometimes they are characteristic of several diseases. The destruction of the” factory ” of autoantibodies, that is, B-lymphocytes, is one of the ways to treat certain diseases (ANCA-vasculitis, rheumatoid arthritis).
Proinflammatory cytokines are very important for the development of inflammation in autoimmune or immuno – mediated diseases-these are protein structures that are released by a variety of cells in our body (and not only by white blood cells!) and contribute to the development of damage to organs and tissues. The most important among them are: tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-5 (IL-5), interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-17 (IL-17), interleukin-23 (IL-23). You need to know this, because in recent years, genetically engineered biological drugs (GIBPS) have been developed that can block cytokines and stop inflammation. We will discuss such drugs in the section “Treatment of autoimmune diseases”.
One of the most frequently asked questions I have at the reception: how to raise the immune system? This desire in most patients who are interested in this issue is caused by frequent SARS, relapses of herpes labialis or other infection. Unfortunately, there is no available and effective medicine in the world that can make our immune system stronger. If you read somewhere about a magic drug that increases immunity, it is almost always a trick or, as they say now, a marketing ploy.
The only drug that really additionally protects our body from infection is intravenous human immunoglobulin, which is most often used for congenital or acquired deficiency of its own immunoglobulins.
However, this is a serious and very expensive medicine, and the indications for its use should be weighty. Conventional immunomodulators or immunostimulants do not have a serious impact on the immune system, and for patients with autoimmune diseases, they can be dangerous at all with their ability to provoke disease. We discuss this in more detail in the section “Our attitude to immunostimulants or immunomodulators”. Therefore, recommendations on how to” raise ” the immune system are usually limited to the following: exercise (without fanaticism), eat a balanced diet (so that there are protein-containing foods and vitamins), give up bad habits (smoking, alcohol abuse, taking drugs).