What is Natural Immunity?

Daniel Liden

Natural immunity describes the state of being able to resist illnesses; such a condition originates in a healthy immune system. This form of immunity is resistance that one inherits from one's parents, in contrast to acquired immunity, which one develops over the course of one's life. Acquired immunity is built up when one suffers from and beats a given illness; memory cells in the immune system essentially learn the illness and remember how to beat it in the future. If an individual was not born with some form of inherited immunity, it is unlikely that he would survive his infancy, as there are many common illnesses that would be deadly to those without any immunity.

A healthy immune system enables the body to resist illnesses.
A healthy immune system enables the body to resist illnesses.

One of the major properties of a healthy and effective immune system is the ability to differentiate between self and non-self. Natural immunity confers that ability on an infant to some degree, allowing his immune system to identify and fight threats. If one's immune system were unable to make the distinction between self and non-self, it would likely attack various necessary aspects of the body rather than harmful and antagonistic elements. Natural immunity ensures this is not a problem in healthy infants; their immune systems are already capable of distinguishing self from non-self, of identifying threats, and of fighting a number of common ailments.

The presence of microbes and antigens inside of the body usually triggers the body's immune response.
The presence of microbes and antigens inside of the body usually triggers the body's immune response.

The workings of natural and of acquired immunity are closely related to molecules called antigens. Antigens are substances that provoke some form of immune response. Once the immune system confronts a given antigen, it tends to remember it and is able to mount a much more effective defense the next time the antigen that provoked the response appears. Inherited immunity does not require such memory; the immune system is immediately able to effectively respond to certain antigens based, to some degree, on the acquired immune system of an individual's parents.

Immune response can be specific or nonspecific, based on the particular nature of the threat to an individual's health. Specific immune responses are targeted at specific threats, while nonspecific immune responses are effective against a wide variety of issues. Most of the capabilities of natural immunity are focused around nonspecific immune responses that can handle many types of threats. After birth, as an individual is exposed to a variety of illnesses and antigens through sickness or through vaccines, he begins to build up a library of specific, targeted immune responses that allow him to effectively deal with a variety of specific threats.

Leukocytes are an important component of blood and a key player in the body's immune system.
Leukocytes are an important component of blood and a key player in the body's immune system.

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Discussion Comments


As good as natural immunity is, it's important to make sure that your kids (and yourself) get the proper nutrition to supplement it's function.

Fortunately, there are a lot of natural immunity boosters, so it's not hard to get the nutrition you need to keep your immune system functioning properly.

Vitamin C is one of the easiest ones to add into your diet, as is vitamin E and calcium. A wide variety of fruits and veggies is also great for boosting immunity.

Finally, one that you might not think about is water. Keeping hydrated is key to health, and is great for boosting your immune system.

So next time you're at the grocery store, make sure to stock up on some good, nutritious foods -- and you might just be able to skip that cold that you get every year!


@charlie89 -- There are several reasons for what you are describing. Although children are supposed to develop what is called a passive immunity from their parents, specifically from drinking breast milk, sometimes it doesn't work like that.

One example of a cause for a child being born with a compromised immune system is DiGeorge syndrome. DiGeorge is caused by a genetic problem for which there is no cure. Although some parents with this genetic issue may have healthy children, many produce a child with DiGeorge syndrome, which can cause severe immunodeficiency.

Another possible cause of a compromised immune system in children is DIRA, another genetic condition that causes a child to have an extremely vulnerable immune system, among other issues.

Finally, some people claim that vaccinations in mothers can cause children to be born with a poorly functioning immune system. However, the evidence for such claims is spotty, and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Hope that helps!


So are some people just born with a faulty natural immune system? If the whole natural immunity thing comes from your parents, then why do some children have severe allergies or predispositions to diseases?

Or, even worse, why are some children simply not immune at all, like those kids that have to live in clean rooms?

Could you clear this up for me?


You did well, and i got what i was interested in. thanks!

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