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  5. Innate Immunity & Adaptive Immunity: Types, Mechanisms & Differences

Your immunity is your biggest strength. What would you do without a functioning immune system? You would probably have frequent colds or feel tired all the time.

Thanks to your immune system that gobbles up all those disease-causing agents and keeps you healthy. To understand how your immune system functions in different ways, you need to understand the two main types - innate and adaptive immune system. [1]

Scroll down to know how differently do the innate and adaptive immune systems work to shield your body against diseases.

What Is Innate Immunity?

As the name indicates, innate immunity or natural immunity includes the first and second lines of defense which you are born with. Innate immunity is genetic and offers you lifelong protection against pathogens in the form of physical and chemical barriers, and cellular level defenses. Preventing the spread of foreign pathogens throughout your body with immediate and quick response is the main purpose of your innate immunity.

Your innate immunity is non-specific which means it does not differentiate specific bacteria or viruses and does not respond differently to them. It is fast-acting and responds the same way for any kind of pathogen in your body.

“Ayurveda defines innate immunity as ‘Sahaja Balam’[2], which is acquired from birth and maintained by the equilibrium of tridoshas in your body: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha,” says Dr. Zeel, Chief Ayurvedic Doctor at Vedix.

Types Of Innate Immunity

1. External Innate Immunity

It is the first line of defense that works to protect your body from exposure to pathogens.

Examples: Skin, tears, hair, stomach acid, etc.

2. Internal Innate Immunity

It is the second line of defense that works to address the pathogen after it has entered your body.

Examples: Inflammation, fever, etc.

Mechanisms Of Innate Immunity

1. Anatomical/Physical Barriers

It is the defense mechanism naturally present as the structure of your body. The two major physical barriers are skin and mucous membranes. While the skin defends your body by covering the external surface of your organs, the mucous membrane [3] covers the internal surfaces of your organs such as the alimentary cavity, intestines, respiratory system, etc.

The sweat glands, sebaceous glands, and hair play a major role in maintaining the unfavorable condition for the growth of microbes on your skin. The mucus secreted by the mucous membrane is antimicrobial in nature which traps the infected pathogens and eliminates them from the body.

2. Physiological Mechanisms

These strategies involve the responses from your innate immunity in the form of rise in body temperature (fever), inflammation, pH levels of body fluids, and activity of enzymes.

A. Usually, fever is the innate immune response to signal your body to activate adaptive immunity. Also, the raised temperature inhibits microbial growth and stimulates phagocytosis. [4]

B. Various body fluids such as sebum, urine, gastric juices have acidic pH which prevents the growth of microbes.

C. The complement proteins [5] present in your blood are activated when the antigens are identified. These proteins complement the other immune responses in your body.

D. The infected cells produce chemicals called interferons [6] which communicate with surrounding cells to trigger their antiviral activities.

E. Anti-bacterial enzymes such as lactoferrin and lactoperoxidase are secreted from the mammary, mucosal, and salivary glands.

F. Similarly, various other anti-microbial enzymes such as lysozymes, beta-lysine, leukins, amylase, digestive enzymes, etc. are part of your innate immune system to fight against the infection-causing microbes.

3. Phagocytosis

It is the primary strategy of your body to get rid of free microbes from your blood and tissue fluids. In this mechanism, the microbial cells or antigens are ingested by specialized immune cells called phagocytes.

Neutrophils, macrophages [7], monocytes, eosinophils, B-lymphocytes, dendritic cells, etc. are some of the major phagocytes of your innate immune system.

“Besides blood and fluids, these phagocytes are present in various vital organs such as lungs, brain, liver, kidneys, bones, GT tract, etc. to engulf and eliminate any kind of pathogen detected in the organ environment,” says Dr. Zeel.

Phagocytosis vector illustration

Vedix Tip: Ayurveda recommends including cloves, curd, turmeric, ginger, garlic, etc. in your everyday meals for nourishing and enhancing your innate immunity naturally.

What Is Adaptive Immunity?

When your body acquires immunity to a specific antigen, it is referred to as adaptive immunity. It is developed by your body over time after the infection. Your adaptive immunity comes into play when the innate immunity fails to eliminate the pathogens.

B and T cells are the main lymphocytes that are involved in adaptive immunity. When a pathogen attacks your body, the B cells create memory cells for that particular antigen. This helps your immune system defend your body faster and stronger in the subsequent attack from the same pathogen.

“The lifetime of adaptive immunity depends upon the lifetime of memory cells formed in a specific disease. It can be short term (for months), long-term (more than a decade) or for lifelong in some diseases,” says Dr. Zeel.

Types Of Adaptive Immunity

Adaptive immunity can be classified into active immunity and passive immunity.

1. Active Immunity

When specific antibodies are developed within your body after the event of infection, it is called active immunity. It can also be developed artificially when you get vaccinated for a particular disease.

Examples:

A. When the chickenpox virus attacks your body once, it forms antibodies and memory cells against the virus naturally. This active immunity prevents reinfection for a lifetime.

B. When you are given a polio vaccine, your body develops antibodies for the virus before contracting the actual infection. Thus, the artificially developed active immunity prevents the infection of such destructive viruses.

2. Passive Immunity

When specific antibodies are not developed within your body but you receive it from another person, then it is called passive immunity.

Examples:

A. A newborn baby receiving antibodies from the mother through breast milk and placenta is an example of naturally acquired passive immunity.

B. The antibodies developed by a person for coronavirus are transfused into the body of another person who has failed to develop the antibodies through plasma therapy. It is called ‘artificial passive immunity’.

Mechanisms Of Adaptive Immunity

The following are the two main mechanisms of your adaptive immunity:

1. Humoral Immunity Mechanism

In this mechanism, your immunity deals with the antigens produced by pathogens that are outside the target organ cells or freely circulating [8]. The B cells produce specific antibodies against these antigens with the assistance of helper T cells. These antibodies neutralize the antigens by binding to them.

2. Cellular Immunity Mechanism

In this mechanism, your immunity deals with the antigens present inside the host cells. When the host cells of your body are identified, the helper T cells release cytokines which help the activated T cells to differentiate the infected cells from other organ cells. Then, the T cells eliminate the infected host cells along with the antigens inside them.

B-cells and T-cells of immune system

The natural killer T cells and gamma-delta T cells are part of both adaptive as well as innate immune systems of your body.

Differences Between Innate And Adaptive Immunity

Parameters

Innate Immunity

Adaptive Immunity(Vikriti)

 

Other Names

Natural immunity or genetic immunity

Acquired immunity

 

Line Of Defense

First and second

Third

 

Response Time

Immediate response (0-96 hours, usually)

It may take more than 96 hours to respond

 

Types

 

  • Internal defenses
  • External defenses

 

 

  • Active immunity
  • Passive immunity

 

 

Types Of Cells

 

  • Natural killer cells
  • Macrophages
  • Mast cells
  • Neutrophils
  • Basophils
  • Dendritic cells
  • Eosinophils, etc.

 

 

  • B lymphocytes
  • T lymphocytes

 

 

Dependency On Antigen Type

Independent or non-specific to antigens

Dependent or specific to antigens

 

Examples

 

  • Skin
  • Hair
  • Mucous membranes
  • Cough
  • Granulocytes
  • Phagocytes

 

 

  • Pus
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling

 

 

Length Of Efficacy

Lifelong

Short-term, long-term, or lifelong

The Last Word

With numerous connections between your innate and adaptive immune systems, they both work together to protect your body against pathogen invasions. The stimulation and course of your adaptive immunity depends upon your innate immunity responses. On the other hand, the responses of your adaptive immune system work to enhance the protective mechanisms of your innate immune system.

At Vedix, we analyze your tridoshas and customize Ayurvedic immunity-boosting capsules which your body needs the most to bring your elevated doshas to balance.

Know Your Dosha Now