The human body is a symbiotic system that requires all its components to function at a certain level. When everything runs smoothly, the body is in optimal health. However, if one organ or system is hindered, it can mess up the delicate ecosystem and lead to health problems. One vital piece of the health puzzle is immunity and how it affects the body.
People with robust immune systems can ward off disease and illness without issue. However, when the immune system struggles to do its job, it leaves people susceptible to frequent infection and the development of chronic health disorders, conditions, syndromes, and diseases.
New medical breakthroughs continue to shed light on the immune system and its role in overall health, as well as different methods that can be used to strengthen the immune system. One such term that has been making rounds lately is trained immunity. But what is trained immunity, exactly? And how can it work for you?
How does immunity work?
To understand trained immunity, we must first understand the different aspects of the immune system. There are two parts to immunity: innate and acquired. Innate immunity, the type that everyone is born with, has typically been nonspecific. It doesn’t seek out specific pathogens – it simply alerts the rest of the immune system to a threat so that action can be taken.
Acquired immunity, on the other hand, is comprised of various cells and proteins that “remember” specific pathogens. Their ability to memorize the makeup of a virus, bacteria, or other infection-causing organism gives them the upper hand. The acquired immune system creates proteins known as antibodies, designed to fight off specific pathogens.
For example, if you contract COVID-19, the acquired part of the immune system will create specific cells and proteins designed only to fight off that virus. Their special memory allows them to go to war for your body, prepared and ready for action.
What is the concept of trained immunity?
Trained immunity, or immune training, is a new health concept that aims to help the innate immune system (the non-specific kind) form a memory for new pathogens to protect the body’s health in the long term. Its primary goal is to help the innate system adapt and change in a way that benefits the body as a whole.
It works by modifying transcriptional pathways while reprogramming innate immune cells. Instead of waiting for the acquired immune system to take hold and fight off pathogens, trained immunity aims to give your innate immune system the same opportunity for a heightened immune response. In turn, you will be better equipped to fight off pathogens and infections on a cellular level.
Two specific immune cells are involved in trained immunity: monocytes and hematopoietic stem cells.
Is it possible to train your immune system?
Scientific studies have found that triggering the immune system in a specific way using vaccinations can change how it defends the body against pathogens. Because of this, trained immunity is possible.
Specific stimuli can induce changes in the immune system, leading to trained immunity. They are:
- Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG)
These two substances can cause the innate immune system to switch on to provide protection and gain a new memory for fighting off pathogens.
This works because of the changes in the body when a pathogen enters the system. These changes involve how the body breaks down sugars, processed fats, and other related activities. From these changes, certain substances (like fumarate and acetyl-CoA) are made, which affect how certain enzymes work in changing how specific genes related to the body’s defense system function.
Studies have discovered that both BCG and beta-glycan cause changes in how certain parts of proteins (called histones) are modified, specifically in a way called trimethylation at H3K4. These changes are triggered by specific pathways in the body, like NOD2 and dectin-1. As a result, white blood cells called monocytes and macrophages become active, make substances that help the body’s response, and change how they get energy.
The body’s defenses, such as antibodies, can help prevent illness, disease, and infection through different therapies using the trained immunity triggers mentioned above.
What are the benefits of trained immunity?
Immune system training can be used in a few beneficial ways. Encouraging the development of enhanced immune response is seen as a possible way to treat different health issues linked to problems with the immune system, like cancer.
Additionally, causing this improved immune response through vaccines that contain live microorganisms, such as BCG, measles, and oral polio vaccines, could work well in helping patients with serious infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
Promoting this improved immune response might be a helpful method to lower the likelihood of sickness and death in babies born with low weight.
Trained immunity may be a relatively new concept, but it’s making waves as a viable way to increase the body’s ability to fight diseases that cannot be treated using medications or other medical interventions. With further development, the concept could eventually save lives.
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