Innate and Adaptive Immunity

As we look to launch our SFM Empower Immune Prepper Course in the coming weeks, I can’t control the urge to share a few bits and pieces of it now.  With the onslaught of COVID 19 and the fear surrounding it, this wisdom will be critical to navigate the new world before us.  The nuggets of wisdom I plan to share are chosen because they will address multiple issues, not just COVID, but many day to day threats to patient’s health.  Incorporating them into your knowledge base and daily lifestyle will offer multiple benefits for years to come.

Today, I want to introduce you to two immune forces which quietly serve us each day.  They are the innate arm and the adaptive immune arms of our immune system.  While the immune prepper course spends a whole session on these forces, we will stick to the basics of why they are important and how they work.  Then we consider their importance in the present situation of COVID 19.

When we face an enemy microbe such as a bacteria or a virus, we are faced with several challenges.  First, we must determine if it is friend or foe.  Both our cells and these enemies are comprised of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and genetic materials.  Were our immune system to attack everything, we would suffer autoimmune disease constantly. Were our system to do nothing, we would succumb to any infection that came along.  Second, we must act quickly to destroy or remove if from our body before it multiplies and overwhelms the immune system.   These two challenges are interdependent.

If we have never seen this invader before, the first arm of our immune system to respond is our innate system.  This recognition process includes both cells of the immune cells and local tissue cells where the microbial invader attacks.  Certain patterns of proteins and carbohydrate molecules tell these innate immune cells that a stranger is present.  If, in interacting with the invaders, our cells determine there is danger, alarms bells are triggered and the battle begins.

With alarm bells ringing, the adaptive arm of the immune system comes into play.  Equipped with antibodies which are even more effective in targeting the enemy, they come out shooting.  The downside for newly encountered invaders, is that the adaptive system requires days to weeks to fully ramp up activity.  This may be too late for a rapidly multiplying invader.  Without the innate system to start the attack and sound the alarm, the adaptive system doesn’t have time to win any medals on the battlefield.

The upside to the adaptive system is its memory.  Once it has met on the battlefield with an enemy, it is much faster at recognizing the same enemy in future attacks. With later attacks by the same microbe, its speed increases and fights alongside the innate system.

Let’s consider these systems in action with COVID 19.  This virus, called a coronavirus after its shape, like all viruses must enter our cells to hijack their machinery for multiplying.  When we first encounter the virus, our innate system recognizes it as a stranger.  Our Natural Killer cells in the innate arm look for cells with the virus and start destroying the hijacked virus factory.  If they act quickly and effectively, COVID 19 appears to be a much milder disease.  The adaptive arm slowly ramps up and finishes off the leftover viruses with antibodies.  If the innate arm is too slow, the virus multiplies to the point that the adaptive arm either is ineffective in killing the remaining virus or has to so overreact that the extra inflammation causes harm to our body.  This is called cytokine storm and can kill COVID 19 patients.

This knowledge and insight don’t qualify you as a PhD in Immunology but helps you understand a little more about how your immune system functions.  The immune prepper course will add to that by empowering you with tools to augment the innate and the adaptive arms.  With those extra defense weapons, you can prepare your body for either COVID or any other microbial threat.  These steps towards a healthier more abundant life will include freedom from fear as you know how to defend yourself.


Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.

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