Other dysregulation of the immune system includes autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. "Finally, some less common disease related to deficient immune system conditions are antibody deficiencies and cell mediated conditions that may show up congenitally," Lau told Live Science.
Immunodeficiency occurs when the immune system is not as strong as normal, resulting in recurring and life-threatening infections, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. In humans, immunodeficiency can either be the result of a genetic disease such as severe combined immunodeficiency, acquired conditions such as HIV/AIDS, or through the use of immunosuppressive medication.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, autoimmunity results from a hyperactive immune system attacking normal tissues as if they were foreign bodies, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. Common autoimmune diseases include Hashimoto's thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus type 1 and systemic lupus erythematosus. Another disease considered to be an autoimmune disorder is myasthenia gravis (pronounced my-us-THEE-nee-uh GRAY-vis).
In overactive or autoimmune conditions, medications that reduce the immune response, such as corticosteroids or other immune suppressive agents, can be very helpful. "In some immune deficiency conditions, the treatment may be replacement of missing or deficiency elements," Lau said. "This may be infusions of antibodies to fight infections."
Treatment may also include monoclonal antibodies, Lau said. A monoclonal antibody is a type of protein made in a lab that can bind to substances in the body. They can be used to regulate parts of the immune response that are causing inflammation, Lau said. According to the National Cancer Institute, monoclonal antibodies are being used to treat cancer. They can carry drugs, toxins or radioactive substances directly to cancer cells.
An allergist/immunologist is a physician specially trained to diagnose, treat and manage allergies, asthma and immunologic disorders, including primary immunodeficiency disorders, according to the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (ACAAI). These conditions range from common to extremely rare, spanning all ages and encompassing various organ systems.
To become an allergist/immunologist, physicians must undergo three years of training in internal medicine or pediatrics after completing medical school and graduating with a medical degree, according to the ACAAI. They must also pass the exam of either the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) or the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP).
1718: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the wife of the British ambassador to Constantinople, observed the positive effects of variolation — the deliberate infection with the smallpox disease — on the native population and had the technique performed on her own children.
1880-1881: The theory that bacterial virulence could be used as vaccines was developed. Pasteur put this theory into practice by experimenting with chicken cholera and anthrax vaccines. On May 5, 1881, Pasteur vaccinated 24 sheep, one goat, and six cows with five drops of live attenuated anthrax bacillus.
1949: John Enders, Thomas Weller and Frederick Robbins experimented with the growth of polio virus in tissue culture, neutralization with immune sera, and demonstration of attenuation of neurovirulence with repetitive passage.
On the whole, your immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes it fails: A germ invades successfully and makes you sick. Is it possible to intervene in this process and boost your immune system? What if you improve your diet? Take certain vitamins or herbal preparations? Make other lifestyle changes in the hope of producing a near-perfect immune response?
The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons. The immune system is precisely that — a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony. There is still much that researchers don't know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. For now, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function.
But that doesn't mean the effects of lifestyle on the immune system aren't intriguing and shouldn't be studied. Researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans. In the meantime, general healthy-living strategies are a good way to start giving your immune system the upper hand.
Immunity in action. A healthy immune system can defeat invading pathogens as shown above, where two bacteria that cause gonorrhea are no match for the large phagocyte, called a neutrophil, that engulfs and kills them (see arrows).
Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these:
Many products on store shelves claim to boost or support immunity. But the concept of boosting immunity actually makes little sense scientifically. In fact, boosting the number of cells in your body — immune cells or others — is not necessarily a good thing. For example, athletes who engage in "blood doping" — pumping blood into their systems to boost their number of blood cells and enhance their performance — run the risk of strokes.
Attempting to boost the cells of your immune system is especially complicated because there are so many different kinds of cells in the immune system that respond to so many different microbes in so many ways. Which cells should you boost, and to what number? So far, scientists do not know the answer. What is known is that the body is continually generating immune cells. Certainly it produces many more lymphocytes than it can possibly use. The extra cells remove themselves through a natural process of cell death called apoptosis — some before they see any action, some after the battle is won. No one knows how many cells or what the best mix of cells the immune system needs to function at its optimum level.
What can improve your mood, boost your ability to fend off infection, and lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and colon cancer? The answer is regular exercise. It may seem too good to be true, but it's not. Hundreds of studies demonstrate that exercise helps you feel better and live longer. This report answers many important questions about physical activity. It will also help guide you through starting and maintaining an exercise program that suits your abilities and lifestyle.