Home » Immunity » The Immune System, part 1

The Immune System, part 1


There is a lot of focus on the issue of immunity to virus disease because of the current crisis. The immune system is a marvelous mechanism, but often what you hear is not accurate in terms of how it functions. In this writing I would like to help you have a better understanding of this. You will then be in a position of making intelligent decisions yourself.

You likely have noticed that when immunity is discussed it almost always is focused on the production of antibodies. We will get, later, more thoroughly into what antibodies are and what they do, but at this point here is an explanation of the place of antibodies in the whole schema.


The first thing to understand is that antibodies are a minor player in this story. This is not saying they are not important, rather they are less important than other aspects of what we call the immune system when we talk about resistance to disease.

This function of producing antibodies is called the adaptive immune system, meaning it can adapt to new situations. This is what gives it the wonderful ability to learn and respond. This function if not present in all creatures, having developed about 200 million years ago in vertebrate animals, those with a spinal cord — basically fish, animals and humans. What is significant in this is to realize that most of living creatures on the planet don’t have this function or use this, and actually don’t need it. That they are still on the planet and doing OK tells us that.

Animals developed this to their advantage and it is wonderful gift and it was added on to the immune system that had already developed over the evolution of life on earth. We will, as we go on, get into the primary immune function, but first let me give you an analogy that may help you understand how the antibody part of this fits in.


Let us say you have nice home and you have made considerable effort to make it secure. You built a wall, perhaps a water moat around it, have secure doors and windows. You have made it very hard for anyone to break in. However, there are some clever thieves out there and they figure out a way to get past all these barriers, silence the alarm bell, quiet your dogs, and get inside and begin to ransack your place. 

At some point you hear what is going on and seeing the commotion and realizing that all your defenses have been breached you reach for your phone and call 911. “I am being robbed! The house is full of robbers. I need help.” They respond by sending out the police, and if they respond quickly enough they will catch the robbers and take them away. 

This is how antibodies come into the situation. They are the police that are called on when all other defenses have failed. This is important and can be what saves one from excessively long illness or even dying. However, they are not the primary defense. They are the last resort.


I am emphasizing this because it is too narrow a view to consider only the antibody function when talking of immunity. To have a balanced view we must consider the whole immune function because it is the whole immune function that must be in top order for us to have optimal and maximal resistance to all diseases. 

In the next part we can begin to look at the primary defenses.