10 Little-Known Facts About Your Immune System

I honestly thought that with Type 1 diabetes, my immune system was shot to hell. But my husband and oldest daughter always get sick faster and longer than I do. Somehow I seem to fight off “bugs” better than they do. How can this be?

Immunesystem_2 Curious as ever, I spent a little time looking into the human immune system and found some pretty intriguing trivia, compiled here for your reading pleasure:

1) Type 1 diabetes doesn’t hamper the day-to-day activity of your immune system if you have good blood glucose control.

“The autoimmune part of type 1 is very particular, as only the beta cells in the islets are targeted; not the other cells in the islet, and not the other cells in the pancreas. In all of the usual ways, the immune system is just fine,” my co-author Dr. Jackson tells me.

“There are a few other autoimmune endocrine disorders that are slightly more likely if you have type 1 diabetes. Autoimmune thyroid disease is the most common, resulting in either an overactive or underactive thyroid.”

2) Autoimmune (AI) disease is primarily a women’s issue.

This according to Rosalind Joffe in her new book, “Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease” (due out in May ’08). The ratios of AI diseases vary from 2:1 to 50:1 in favor of women, she says.

3) Allergies are also an “immune system mistake.”

“For some reason, in people with allergies, the immune system strongly reacts to an allergen that should be ignored. The allergen might be a certain food, or a certain type of pollen, or a certain type of animal fur. For example, a person allergic to a certain pollen will get a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, etc.”

See How Stuff Works. Gotta love that site!

4) Your immune system is a three-layer deal.

Backing up for a moment, did you know that the immune system is composed of these three “layers” or mechanisms? (info from Bio-Medicine)

i) the first layer is the skin and mucous membranes, which acts as a physical barrier.

ii) The second layer is the “innate immune system,” a broad-acting, short-term, non-specific immune response to pathogens such as bacteria or viruses. Microbes that evade the innate system encounter a third layer of protection;

iii) A powerful mechanism called the adaptive immune response. Here populations of white blood cells known as lymphocytes – B cells and T cells – mount a powerful, highly specific attack on specific pathogens. “The adaptive immune responses to virus and bacterial infections, for example, are quite different.”

Cleverly designed, that human body, ay?


5) A weakened immune system is NOT a cause of the common cold.

Read all about it. By one theory even, people with active immune systems may be more prone to developing cold symptoms than people with less active immune systems. Wow! That might explain my hubby’s recurrent sniffles…

6) The No. 1 way to boost your immune system is reducing stress, according to WebMD.

“There is overwhelming evidence that stress — and the substances secreted by the body during stress — negatively impacts your ability to remain healthy,” says neurophysiologist Carl J. Charnetski.

Apparently there are dozens, if not hundreds, of studies attesting to how stress affects the body’s ability to respond to infection.”

7) Vitamin C helps, too, if you don’t pee it out.

According to Ask Dr. Sears: “You don’t have to take in massive amounts of vitamin C to boost your immune system. Around 200 milligrams a day seems to be a generally agreed-upon amount and one that can be automatically obtained by eating at least six servings of fruits and vegetables a day. See Top Seven Vitamin C-Containing Fruits. If you take vitamin C supplements, it’s best to space them throughout the day rather than take one large dose, most of which may end up being excreted in the urine.”

8) The immune system might be trainable!

Science Daily reports on cancer research at the Mayo Clinic.

9) Your immune system genes are core to the “chemistry” that makes you sexy.

I am not making this up. See Scientific Match, for one.

10) Some people find the whole immune response scary violent.

To some folks (with their tongues in their cheeks, we hope), the “billions of innocent microbes slaughtered by human immune systems” every day are a cause to rally behind. No kidding. Get the T-shirt!

Actually, I’d like a T-shirt that says: “Other than my islets, everything works great!


16 Responses

  1. Mark
    Mark February 19, 2008 at 7:24 am | | Reply

    Very informative. Where did you get the picture of my immune system?

  2. Sarah
    Sarah February 19, 2008 at 7:33 am | | Reply

    The immune system can also keep a woman from getting pregnant. Mine doesn’t like the embryos my husband and I create and destroys them. I’m the one with T1. Who knew? I almost never get sick either and it’s never as severe as my husband’s colds.

  3. Big_Dave_T
    Big_Dave_T February 19, 2008 at 7:59 am | | Reply

    Thanks so much for posting this. I have wondered why I have gone nearly two years without so much as a stuffy nose while those around me, including my wife, have been ravaged by colds, flu, respiratory infections, etc. And here I thought as a Type 2 diabetic, my compromised immune system made me a walking target for every germ on the block. Now I’m enlightened.

  4. Dan Fahey
    Dan Fahey February 19, 2008 at 8:06 am | | Reply

    Like you, Amy, I almost NEVER get sick, while those around me do. And I meet with the public constantly.
    40 years ago was the last time I got the flu [the year after I was diagnosed with Type 1]. I had a flu shot that year, because “diabetics are more susceptible.” That’s the last time I had the flu shot, and no flu since. I may get a cold every couple of years. Except for a couple of surgeries, I haven’t missed a day of work in years.
    Is this BECAUSE I’m a diabetic? Who knows, but I tease friends that an upside of diabetes is not getting sick!

  5. Kathy
    Kathy February 19, 2008 at 8:53 am | | Reply

    Hmmm, interesting. Although for a couple of viruses I’ve had, the doctor made a point of telling me it was due to my “compromised” immune response. They were outside of the “usual” domain Dr. Jackson specifies, though.

    I think many PWDs are healthier than the average bear anyway, because we’re more accustomed to taking care of ourselves. I don’t get colds/flu as bad as others, but then I normally manage the onset much more aggressively (call in sick, rest, etc.) than most because of how it affects my control. Food for thought…


  6. Rachel
    Rachel February 19, 2008 at 9:22 am | | Reply

    Since my diagnosis, my immune system has been really strong. Right now there are so many cold and flu viruses going around, and I haven’t been sick with one yet! And, I work at a university (talk about germs!).

  7. MarkH
    MarkH February 19, 2008 at 10:20 am | | Reply


    Very interesting but how do we reduce stress?

    We humans aren’t designed to operate under the constant stress that we experience daily.

  8. M
    M February 19, 2008 at 1:01 pm | | Reply

    This topic has been calling my name lately too – I’ve become quite interested in the way the immune system works, thanks for sharing your info :)

    Since a year or two before I was diagnosed with D I haven’t had a single cold or flu – other than my stuffed up pancreas I seem to be the healthiest person I know!

  9. Adam Becker Sr
    Adam Becker Sr February 19, 2008 at 10:35 pm | | Reply

    So Amy, do we really need the fruit?

    Is the watchword “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”? Or is it “my doctor says I’ll need 40 units of Lantus to cover that apple”?

    I know the ADA wants all us diabetics to eat more bananas, but are you on board with that?

  10. Sarah
    Sarah February 20, 2008 at 12:28 am | | Reply

    Amy, this post was right up my alley. LOVED it! I also liked to see the “Scientific Match” website. I firmly believe that a major cause of infertility and miscarriages (after poor health) is an incompatibility with your partner. I don’t care if this is P.C. or not, it’s the truth.

    IVF is used to override nature’s natural protection against creating unhealthy children, and it is going against natural selection. A smarter bet would be to at least try and mate with someone else. I personally would rather have a healthy attractive child on my own than a sick unhealthy deformed one with my partner. I love my husband, but that’s no reason for a kid or the gene pool to suffer.

    Hmmm…I wonder how many of us Type 1′s have “genetically incompatible” parents? Ask your parents today if they married for reasons other than sexual chemistry…Wouldn’t it be interesring to see how many did NOT marry for “chemistry”? I know my parents did not.

    Luckily, I LOOK healthy and fit, but my immune system is crap (allergies, anaphylaxis, asthma, T1DM, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Celiac Disease…)

  11. Sunil S Chiplunkar
    Sunil S Chiplunkar February 20, 2008 at 4:26 am | | Reply


    Check out the link given above, it gives a very interesting take on INSULIN. Read and enjoy it.

  12. Bernard Farrell
    Bernard Farrell February 20, 2008 at 10:00 am | | Reply


    Nice post. I’m sick of doctors saying “Well you got this flu/bronchitis/other crap because of your compromised immune system”. I think that if my control is good, then my immune system is working just fine.

    By the way bad versions of those T cell lymphocytes are the things that Dr. Faustman believes are responsible for type 1 diabetes.

  13. Adam
    Adam February 20, 2008 at 7:08 pm | | Reply

    Sure, your immune system is potent. That’s why it killed all your beta cells! HA! Too bad it’s not perfect. Oh, well, it’s better than coming down with a killer virus that sends you to an early grave, I guess.

  14. InsureBlog
    InsureBlog February 26, 2008 at 12:03 pm | | Reply

    Grand Rounds is up…

    At Diabetes Mine, Amy Tenderich has some helpful, albeit little known, info on our immune system.

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  16. Nyella Bellham
    Nyella Bellham February 24, 2014 at 4:29 pm | | Reply

    This really helped me so much! I pray I get an A+ on my project and if I do, I owe it all to you. Thanks so much! This is so fascinating

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