Natural Killer (NK) Cells: The Mystery Behind these Crucial White Blood Cells that Protect Your Immunity
It’s no secret that our immune systems share a direct correlation to our health, wellness and longevity. Experts agree that a healthy, active immune system is our body’s best chance at fighting both immediate and long-term health threats. But how does this actually work?
If you’re looking to understand how your immune system works to protect your health, NK cells are the best place to start.
What are NK Cells?
Natural Killer cells are a type of white blood cell created in the bone marrow of your lymphatic system. You have virtually thousands of white blood cells in your body, but what separates NK cells from the others is the fact that they can respond to incoming pathogens immediately.
Many of your white blood cells act on memory––meaning when a harmful cell enters your body, the white blood cells need to access the protocols that have been stored from previous exposure. NK cells, on the other hand, are non-specific. This means they can react faster, and attack without hesitation. This is why they’re referred to as “first responders.”
What do NK Cells Do?
The short answer? They kill bad cells.
NK cells are equipped with lethal membrane-toxic proteins. When a threat is found, the NK cell releases these proteins, which destroy the enemy cell in a matter of minutes. They can also work to contain viral infections, while the memory cells of the immune system coordinate a more complex response. Though the study of NK cells is ongoing, the prevailing belief is that low NK cell activity is connected to a higher risk of infection, illness, and disease.
Importance of Optimizing NK Cell Activity
As we age, our NK cell production decreases automatically. Research shows our NK cells peak at puberty, and decline slowly with each passing year.
The good news is that’s not all we know. In the past 20 years there have been some exciting innovations in NK cell-mediated immunotherapy, and these studies highlight the importance of taking steps to optimize your NK Cell activity. A balanced diet, moderate daily exercise, restful sleep, and low stress are all important contributors to healthy immune system function.
What Can You Do to Support Your Immune System?
When it comes to immune system health, there's no shortage of tools available to you. Here are just a few basic tips to get you started. Eat a balanced, nutritious diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Get adequate rest and exercise. Avoid smoking and overindulging in alcohol. Stay within healthy weight guidelines and follow your physician’s advice on how best to keep your blood pressure at the right levels. Seek a doctor's advice when you are ill or have an injury, rather than just hoping the problem will disappear on its own. And get regular medical checkups.
Doing your part to keep your body functioning at peak performance helps ensure that, when the necessity arises, your body will be able to activate NK cells quickly and efficiently to stop the danger before it begins.