The immune system is vital for our body and more so in the infant stage. When I refer to the immune system, I am talking about the body's defense system and I cannot help but imagine millions of cells in our body, as well as many organs, carrying shields and swords to defend us from the microorganisms that want to attack us and that can produce many diseases if that defense system is weak or does not work. So that this does not happen, I will tell you what the immune system consists of, why it may be low and how to improve the immune system in children.
The immune system, also known as the immune system, immune system or defense system, begins to develop as soon as the embryo is approximately five weeks old inside the mother's belly. It should be noted that in each organism, the immune system is different, in some stronger and in others weaker, it is something innate of each person!
When the baby is born, it has an immature immune system, since some organs, such as the spleen and lymph nodes, which are part of this defense system, are still underdeveloped at birth. The immune system depends on each organism. In some it is stronger, but in others it can be very weak, but it will always respond to the attack with three types of response: natural or innate, active or adaptive, and passive.
The natural or innate response is what you are born with and that allows you to defend yourself against certain microorganisms that attack you. The active or adaptive response is the one that develops as you grow and age from repeated contact with these germs. Vaccines also help to form an active response, since when placed in the body, it responds by producing its own antibodies.
And the passive response is given by breast milk, which from birth provides the antibodies that come from the mother. This response is temporary, since it disappears around 6 to 8 months of life.
In the immune system we are going to find very important cells that are willing to defend us. They are white blood cells, also called leukocytes, and they are found in many parts of the body, including the bone marrow of the bones and the spleen, at the level of the abdomen.
Within leukocytes, we can find two cells important for defense, which are lymphocytes, which are memory cells, and phagocytes, which attack and eat invading microorganisms. Lymphocytes can be of three types and each has a different function:
- T lymphocyte. It develops in the thymus and actively participates in the immune response.
- B lymphocytes. It develops in the bone marrow and travels to the lymphatic tissues to participate in the defense of the body.
- NK cells (natural killer). They are the cells that destroy the cells that contain the foreign bodies that must be eliminated.
When the level of lymphocytes in the blood is low, it is called lymphopenia or lymphocytopenia and the values would be below 1,500 units per microliter of blood.
There are many causes of a decrease in white blood cells (neutrophils, basophils, lymphocytes, eosinophils) in the body, known as leukopenia. Among them we have:
- Viral infections. It is the most common cause of lymphopenia in children and adults, so the immune system must increase its production of defense cells to replace all those losses and be able to fight these viruses. Unfortunately, when the HIV virus (AIDS) attacks the body, it does not allow the immune system to recover and defend it, since it destroys all the cells of the defense system, so prevention is vital in these patients of diseases.
- Genetic diseases, which lead to a failure of defense cell production in the bone marrow.
- Medicines. Such as steroids or chemotherapy (cancer treatment), which decrease lymphocytes while they are being ingested, so opportunistic germs must be prevented.
- Autoimmune diseases, where the same defense cells fight each other and there are not enough left to fight other diseases.
And what are the consequences of a low immunity in the little ones? In children, the decrease in defense cells often does not show clear symptoms to differentiate them from other diseases. The most frequent symptoms are fatigue, loss of appetite, tiredness, weakness, exhaustion, dizziness, fever and inflammatory processes. And something important is that we will see how the child gets sick very often and finds it difficult to improve quickly with medical treatment.
Recommendations to strengthen and improve the immune system of children begin from the first moment of conception and continue over time.
- The mother, during pregnancy, should eat an adequate, balanced diet and vitamins. Avoid drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and follow your prenatal care.
- The child must receive exclusive breastfeeding up to six months and then up to 12 months along with complementary feeding.
- Provide you with probiotics and vitamins as manganese, copper or vitamin D3 to have an excellent function of the bacterial flora and to strengthen the immune system.
- Administer vaccines. Respecting and complying with the vaccination schedules, according to age and the most frequent diseases in your country.
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