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Natural Immunity Definition

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Natural immunity is the body’s built-in protection against disease, and it relies on a complex range of barriers and cells to provide protection against infection.

Discover how natural immunity works and what it means for your health.

What is Natural Immunity?

Natural immunity is a subtype of active immunity that occurs when your body produces antibodies against a germ after being infected with it.

Antibodies are proteins that neutralize or destroy toxins or disease-causing organisms.

Natural immunity can protect you from getting sick again by the same germ, but this protection varies depending on the person and the germ.

What are some examples of natural immunity?

For example, people who have had measles are unlikely to get it again, but this is not true for every disease.

Getting antibodies from your mother during pregnancy or breastfeeding is another one.

Natural immunity can also weaken over time, depending on the disease.

For example, if you get natural immunity from a COVID-19 infection, your protection may fade after a few months.

This means you could still get reinfected or infect others.

Therefore, it is important to follow public health guidelines such as wearing masks and social distancing even if you have recovered from COVID-19.

Is natural immunity better than artificial immunity?

Artificial immunity is another type of active immunity that involves introducing a killed or weakened form of a germ into your body through vaccination.

This triggers your immune system to produce antibodies without making you sick.

Artificial immunity can provide long-lasting protection against many diseases that natural immunity cannot.

For example, vaccines can prevent polio, tetanus, and hepatitis B infections that could cause serious complications or death.

Artificial immunity can also help achieve herd immunity, which is when enough people in a population are immune to a disease that it becomes harder for the germ to spread.

Herd immunity can protect those who cannot get vaccinated due to medical reasons or age.

However, herd immunity requires high vaccination rates and may not be possible for some diseases such as COVID-19.

Both natural and artificial immunity are important aspects of your immune system’s ability to fight off infections.

However, artificial immunity has many advantages over natural immunity in terms of safety, effectiveness, and duration.

Vaccines are one of the best ways to prevent diseases and save lives.

Natural immunity vs Artificial immunity

Natural ImmunityArtificial Immunity
Occurs when your body produces antibodies against a germ after being infected with itOccurs when your body produces antibodies against a germ after being vaccinated with a killed or weakened form of it
Varies depending on the person and the germProvides consistent protection against many diseases that natural immunity cannot
Can weaken over time, depending on the diseaseCan provide long-lasting protection, sometimes for life
May not prevent reinfection or transmission of some diseases such as COVID-19Can help achieve herd immunity and protect those who cannot get vaccinated

How Natural Immunity Works

Your immune system is your body’s defense against harmful germs that can cause diseases.

It consists of different types of white blood cells that work together to recognize and fight germs using antibodies.

Antibodies are proteins that bind to specific germs and mark them for destruction by other immune cells.

Some of these immune cells are called B cells and T cells.

B cells produce antibodies that can neutralize germs or prevent them from entering your cells.

T cells help activate other immune cells, kill infected cells, or regulate the immune response.

When you get infected with a new germ, your immune system takes time to produce enough antibodies to clear it.

During this time, you may experience symptoms of illness such as fever, cough, or fatigue.

This is where natural immunity comes in.

Natural Immune System

After you recover from an infection, some of your B cells and T cells become memory cells that remember how to fight that germ in case you encounter it again.

Memory cells can quickly produce large amounts of antibodies or activate other immune cells when they detect the same germ again.

This can prevent you from getting sick again or reduce the severity and duration of your illness.

This is how natural immunity develops.

It is a form of passive immunity, meaning that it does not require any external intervention such as vaccination.

How long does natural acquired immunity last?

However, natural immunity is not perfect. Memory cells do not last forever.

They may decline over time or become less effective against new variants of a germ. This is why natural immunity can fade or be incomplete.

For example, natural immunity to COVID-19 may not protect you from getting reinfected by new variants of the virus.

It may also not prevent you from transmitting the virus to others. Therefore, relying on natural immunity alone may not be enough for disease control .

You may still need other measures such as vaccination, masking, social distancing, and testing to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 and other diseases.

Natural immunity is a powerful way your body fights germs.

But it has its limitations. By understanding how it works , you can make informed decisions about your health and well-being.

Factors That Affect Natural Immunity

a sick child holds the mother's hand

Natural immunity is your body’s ability to fight off infections without any external help.

It is based on your immune system’s memory of previous encounters with germs (also called pathogens) that cause diseases.

When your immune system recognizes a pathogen that it has seen before, it can quickly activate specific immune cells and antibodies to eliminate it.

This way, you can prevent or reduce the severity of the disease.

But how strong or long-lasting is your natural immunity?

The answer depends on several factors, such as:

The type of pathogen you are exposed to: Some pathogens trigger lifelong immunity while others require repeated exposure or vaccination.

For example, if you get measles once, you will be protected from it for the rest of your life.

But if you get influenza (the flu), you may need a new vaccine every year because the virus changes frequently and escapes your immune memory.

The severity of your infection: A mild case of an illness may not result in enough memory cells or antibodies for lasting protection.

This means that you may still be susceptible to the same pathogen in the future.

On the other hand, a severe infection may stimulate a stronger and more durable immune response.

Your age: Older people tend to have weaker immune responses than younger people.

This is because their immune system becomes less efficient and responsive over time.

They also have fewer naive immune cells that can recognize new pathogens and generate new memory cells.

Your health status: Certain conditions (such as HIV/AIDS) or treatments (such as chemotherapy) can impair your immune system’s ability to produce or maintain memory cells or antibodies.

This makes you more vulnerable to infections and reduces your natural immunity.

As you can see, natural immunity is not a fixed or guaranteed thing.

It varies from person to person and from pathogen to pathogen.

That’s why it is important to support your immune system with healthy habits (such as eating well, exercising regularly, sleeping enough, and managing stress) and follow public health recommendations (such as getting vaccinated, wearing masks, washing hands, and avoiding crowds).

By doing so, you can not only protect yourself but also contribute to community immunity (also called herd immunity), which is when a large proportion of people in a population are immune to a certain disease and prevent its spread.

Community immunity protects those who cannot get vaccinated or have weak immune systems from getting sick.

It also helps reduce the chances of new variants emerging that could evade natural or vaccine-induced immunity.

So remember: natural immunity is not enough on its own.

You need to take care of yourself and others by boosting your immune system and following preventive measures.

We are offering 30 minutes for free to talk to one of SeeBeyond's Functional Medicine Practitioners to create a personalized regimen.

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