What are Natural Killer Cells?
Even though they sound like destructive microorganisms or biological agents, natural killer cells are far from inimical to the body. They are not killers that destroy the body. Instead, they are killers that protect and defend the body from infections. Natural killer cells play a crucial role in the body’s natural ability to address infections, of the immune system in general. Those who are deficient in these cells are known to be highly susceptible to the viral infections.
Also known as NK cells or simply killer cells1, natural killer cells are a type of lymphocytes or white blood cells. They are a component of the innate immune system but are notably cytotoxic (which means they are toxic to cells). Their cytoplasm contains small granules which store special proteins such as perforin and granzymes. These proteins are used in destroying targeted cells. Peforin degranulates and binds to the plasma membrane of the target cell eventually creating lesions or pores on the membranes. It is through these pores that granzymes and other proteins enter the cell and induce apoptosis or programmed cell death.
How Natural Killer Cells Work.
Natural killer cells get activated in response to interferons or cytokines derived from macrophages. They are important in containing viral infections as part of the innate immune system response and in consonance with the adaptive immune system. They contain the infection while the adaptive immune system generates antigen-specific cytotoxic T cells used in clearing the infection. Their role in inducing cell death is a necessary defense mechanism not just against viral infections but other serious immune challenges.
Unfortunately, natural killer cell activity degenerates with age which is why older people inevitably have declining NK cell functions. That’s why it becomes necessary to do something to boost them.
The Best way to Activate your Natural Killer Cells.
The activity of natural killer cells can be enhanced through moderate exercise, massage therapy, and the intake of food or supplements containing the following: curcumin, zinc, selenium, garlic extracts, melatonin, astragalus, spirulina, eleuthero, gallic acid, echinacea, cichoric acid, and thymus peptides. Recent research has also found that the extract of the mushroom Agaricus blazei Murill may also be consumed as a supplement to help boost natural killer cell activity2. According to an Agaricus blazei research report by a UCLA researcher3, Agaricus blazei extract helped increase the number of NK cells in a mouse by 310% after continuous intake for 26 days. Older people who are already becoming more prone to infections should consider engaging their moderate physical activity and consuming foods and dietary supplements to help bring back the activity of beneficial killer cells in their bodies.
- Ghoneum, M. “Immunological System – prevention and immunosuppressors factors”, Cancer and Immunology conference, 1995.