The Little Known Secret to Healthy Aging
How NK cells could be impacting your longevity
Getting older comes with its caveats, some good, and some, well, not-so-good. Aging can mean a loss in muscle mass, fewer taste buds, a decline in hearing, and––gasp––smaller brain size. (Fret not, wise ones; size is not, nor has it ever been, an adequate measure of wisdom). If it’s any consolation, aging can also mean sweating less, getting fewer migraines, having less sensitive teeth and––in what is perhaps the true silver lining to the golden years––feeling happier.
What are NK cells?
Natural Killer (NK) cells are a type of white blood cell in the innate immune system, best known for killing virally infected cells, and detecting and controlling early signs of cancer. Essentially, they function as your body’s first line of defense against antigens, pathogens and other malignant cells.
What causes NK cell activity to decrease?
Some factors, such as underlying medical conditions or stress levels play a role, but one of the most significant contributors to NK cell decline is age itself. It’s something scientists call immunosenescence, meaning age-related changes to the immune system. And study after study has shown that these changes share a direct correlation to a decline in the activity of the NK cells.
So what does this decreased activity mean? Studies have linked lower NK cell activity to higher incidence of cancer induction, higher incidence of infections, neoplasia and autoimmune diseases, and increased mortality risk. Recently, it’s even been suggested that immunosenescence might play a role in the decreased effectiveness of vaccines among the aging population.
Can NK cell activity be increased?
Clinical efforts to help prevent, delay or reverse NK cell immunosenescence are being explored, but many of these potential therapies are still in preclinical stages. But, getting back to our longevity roadmap, there are certainly a few habits and routines we can adopt right here and now that scientists say can help promote healthy NK cell activity. As always, it’s important to check with your health care provider before starting any new regimens or health-related routines.
But these symptoms share similarities with the common cold, which means it’s not always easy to determine the source.
A study on the impact of dietary components on NK cell function maintains that “components in commonly consumed foods including vitamins A, D, and E, water-soluble constituents of mushrooms, polyphenolics in fruits and vegetables, and n-3 fatty acids in fish oil can modulate NK cell activities.”
The therapeutic benefits of probiotics have been hailed for years. But a recent study found that when trial patients were given a probiotic called bacillus coagulans, they experienced a significant increase in natural killer cell activity.