The Adaptive Immune System:
What It Is and How It Works
The immune system. It’s an abstract concept that, at best, is confusing.
It’s common knowledge that the immune system protects against disease-causing pathogens. For instance, a cut may become contaminated with foreign material such as dirt or debris that contains bacteria.
The immune system then detects a threat, kicks in, and sends an army of different cells to mop up the damage and kill off the invading germs.
This type of immune response is the perfect answer when there is an immediate threat; the body does what it must to take care of the pressing possibility of infection.
In a perfect universe, a basic immune response would eliminate any threat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
So, what about when the body is exposed to specific pathogens time and time again? This is where the adaptive immune system gets its chance to take the wheel, or in some cases, work alongside the innate immune system.
A Closer Look at Adaptive Immunity
Every creature on the planet must carry some sort of immunity that allows it to fight off disease that can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi. From insects to elephants, they must have a strong immune system in order to thrive.
Babies of all species are born with a small amount of immunity (innate immunity) and receive a major boost from the colostrum they get from their mothers in the first days of life.
This immunity allows them to contend with minor infections and helps them to resist common, everyday pathogens. What they are lacking is the more specific responses of adaptive immunity. This is where time, exposure and vaccinations come in.
Each time the body is exposed to a new pathogen, the adaptive immune system “remembers” it and develops specific antibodies to destroy that disease. For instance, childhood chickenpox is only contracted once (in most cases).
Once the body has recovered from a disease, it then recognizes and ideally develops specific antibodies to prevent infection by that disease from ever occurring again. The next time exposure occurs, the adaptive immune system will recognize the virus and be lying in wait to kill it off before it can cause infection again.
Vaccinations work from this principle. A weakened, modified or killed version of a disease is introduced into the body. It elicits a response from the immune system to take care of the invading pathogen.
Because it is not a full-blown version, it does not cause clinical illness. It does, however, pack enough of a punch to make the body recognize it and build antibodies to protect against future infection from the pathogen.
Unfortunately, the body doesn’t just come by strong adaptive immunity. There are a few factors that help determine whether an individual’s immune system will be able to properly develop antibodies. The most important of these factors is digestive integrity.
While it may sound odd, most of the immune system develops in and is dependent on a strong digestive system.
Leaky gut syndrome and acidosis can wear down the body’s ability to create effective defenses. This, in turn, leads to an inability to develop strong, disease-specific antibodies, opening the animal up to the possibility of serious disease.
What Does This Have To Do With Cattle?
In the case of cattle, a focused protocol that encourages the growth and support of beneficial gut flora is key. Maintaining a thriving colony of beneficial microbes relies heavily on a balanced pH.
Although any species can experience acidosis, cattle are arguably one of the most impacted by this condition.
By keeping acidosis from developing, a cow has a much greater chance of being healthy and maintaining a strong adaptive immune system.
Want to learn more about how you can help your cattle thrive? Check out what CattlActive can do for you!