10 Myths about immunity

  • 2010-06-10

Immunity is one of the basic concepts in medicine, physiology and biology in general. We understand the word “immunity” as unreceptiveness, low level of receptiveness and resistance to infection and invasion of foreign microorganisms (including pathogens) as well as a relative resistance to harmful substances. In a broader sense, it is the ability of the body to resist the changes in its normal functioning under the influence of external factors.

The word “immunity” is now extremely popular and has even come into areas that have no connection with medicine whatsoever. When it comes to diseases, we are talking very seriously about problems with the immune system. But how true are many of our judgments? Let’s try to figure out what is the truth and what is not even close to it.

Myth 1. In early childhood the immune system is not formed yet, so you should keep the baby in maximal sterile conditions.

By doing so, the parents deprive their child’s immune system of the necessary training. The baby needs not only breast milk, but also contact with different microorganisms. So you should not get overcautious, being afraid to kiss or to go for a walk with your baby. You should not overly sterilize the baby’s stuff and tableware or refuse to breast-feed. There might be a certain amount of bacteria in the breast milk, but it is not an indication to not use or to sterilize it. Of course, it is necessary to keep to basic measures of hygiene, i.e. to wash your hands before contacting with the child, and wipe the breast with a damp napkin before feeding. An excessively sterile environment prevents the normal development of immunological memory of the child. “Sterility is a good thing” is a completely incorrect statement. Nature does not tolerate emptiness. Even an absolutely sterile environment sooner or later will become filled with bacteria, viruses or fungi. The question is – with what kind of bacteria? The cavities of the human body that are in contact with the external environment are normally filled with bacteria, which are in symbiotic relationships with the body. And they are one of the links of immunity.

Myth 2. A healthy body will cope with any infection by itself.

Indeed, the body handles the contact with viruses and bacteria by itself in most cases, because we confront them every day no matter what we do. But even a well-functioning immune system cannot withstand a large number of pathogenic agents. The body cannot cope with a variety of infections on its own, and then the disease can become chronic. Such diseases include sexually transmitted diseases, chlamydia, helio-bacillosis, worm infestation, etc. They always require treatment because they are often accompanied by distorted or deficient immune reactions. In addition, there are a number of diseases (e.g., cholera, plague, typhoid, dysentery, smallpox, measles, etc.), to which humans are completely vulnerable. This means that when infected, any human always falls ill. Therefore, if a malicious microbe overcomes the barriers and the disease has already started, one should consult a doctor. Treatment can be complementary, i.e. when one uses such bracing means as vitamins, adaptogenic herbs (ginseng, eleutherococcus), interferons, and carries out some activities to help the immunity to cope with unwelcome guests by itself. If this does not give any effect, antibacterial drugs should be taken (bacteriophages - special viruses that destroy harmful bacteria, antibiotics).

Myth 3. All diseases are caused by reduced immunity.

The immune system is one of the major systems of the human body, but the belief that all diseases are caused by problems with immunity is just as wrong as the belief that “all diseases are caused by nerves.” Any disease affects many organs and systems, because everything in the human body is interrelated. But dysfunctions of immunity may just be the last straw for the beginning of a pathological process. For example, peptic ulcer disease occurs under the influence of several factors: the disorder of gastric acidity, motility, psychogenic factors and weakening of local immunity. Diabetes mellitus develops without any participation of the immune system, but, as a consequence, leads to its weakening. The situation is similar with gallstone disease and many others.

Myth 4. All immune drugs increase immunity.

This myth is widespread due to the fact that the majority of people in need of correction of immunity are namely in need of strengthening it. Frequent ARD (more than three times a year), loss of tone, recurrent purulent diseases, dyspeptic disorders due to dysbiosis - all of these are reason enough to consult an immunologist for the prescription of immunostimulants. After all, bracing means alone may not be enough.
However, not all immunomodulators increase immunity. There is a special group of drugs called immunosuppressants, which suppress its manifestations. This is absolutely necessary in transplantology when the immune system, perceiving a transplanted organ as a foreign element, begins to reject it. Then immunosuppressants can help the body to get accustomed to the transplanted organ. Sadly, patients with transplanted tissues have to take such drugs all their life.

Myth 5. An allergy occurs because of reduced immunity.

An allergy can rather be called excessive, unnatural reaction of the immune system to natural substances that enter the body. For example, two men visited the zoo. One of them had a good time, and the other began to sneeze and reached into his pocket for a handkerchief. The immune system of the second produced a large number of unnecessary antibodies, which normally should be produced in a collision with an aggressive material. As a result of this unnecessary war the body is harmed.

Myth 6. Reduced immunity manifests as a variety of ailments, alternating pain in the heart, head, and abdomen, and as all sorts of unusual sensations and discomfort.

This is a misconception. All of the symptoms mentioned above are often signs of diseases, not related to the immune system. Weakened immunity manifests in a different way: frequent colds (more than 4 times per year for adults and for children above the age of 5, more than 6 times for younger children), prolonged colds (more than 2 weeks for one disease), chronic or recurrent infectious diseases (such as furunculosis or recurrent sore throat, pneumonia, otitus, sinusitis, intestinal infections); constant high (from 37 to 38 degrees) temperature. In addition to tests of the general functions of the immune system, your doctor may recommend to check the immune response to specific pathogens.

Myth 7. The immune system is affected only by immune drugs.

This statement is fundamentally wrong. Virtually any chemical substance has an effect on immunity, both suppressive and stimulative in various degrees. The leaders here are antibiotics and hormonal preparations. Both of which in small quantities and short courses are able to induce immunity, but chronic usage begins to suppress it. Antihelminthic drugs, antifungal drugs and vitamins, on the contrary, in the long-term contribute to strengthening the immune response. Almost any medication, even bifidobacterias, used for a long time can cause weakening of the protective mechanisms of the organism.

Myth 8. Immunity does not form for diseases that can reoccur.

It is common knowledge that chicken pox, measles or rubella, can only occur once in a lifetime, and after that, one has a complete immunity to them. This is all thanks to the immune system, which stores the information about the causative agent and forms a solid immunity. Many believe that there is no such thing as immunity to a recurrent disease. This is not true, because any micro-organisms (including the causative agents of the most common diseases, such as influenza, acute respiratory diseases, and intestinal infections) leave a memory: the antibodies worked out for them remain in the body for a long time, sometimes for life. The disease may develop repeatedly, but the immune system already knows how to fight it, so the disease occurs in a lighter form. People usually do not notice such details. However, if the immune system would not protect the human in this way, he would be constantly ill.

Myth 9. Vaccination is harmful to health, accompanied by a large number of undesirable side effects and can cause the disease against which it is designed.

Attitudes towards vaccination have always been ambiguous. But only vaccinations make it possible to create immunity to a specific disease on request. In most cases, vaccines do not cause any problems, and at the same time they can save your health or even life in the future. Of course, there are times when it is better to postpone vaccination for one to two weeks, for example, after a previous infection or an immune correction. With some diseases vaccination is contraindicated. Taking into account these circumstances, the risk from vaccination can be reduced to the minimum. Falling ill because of vaccination can only happen when a live vaccine (e.g., polio drops, against mumps or measles) is used. But such cases are extremely rare. Nowadays the tendency is to avoid the use of live vaccines, because there are a lot safer analogues of drugs.

Myth 10. There can never be too much immunity, the more - the better.

Of course, a healthy lifestyle, training and doing sports has not hurt anyone. But it is not the point. Many believe that immunity should definitely be stimulated in order not to get sick. Western doctors conducted an experiment on two groups of people. The first group was given immunostimulants, the other - a placebo. In the first group the cases of allergies substantially increased, while the frequency of ARD was the same.

Conclusion: Everything is good within reasonable limits. This applies to the struggle for immunity, as well as the immunity itself.