NK Cells and Your Health: What Are Natural Killer Cells?

NK Cells and Your Health: What Are Natural Killer Cells?

A health challenge of any kind can be a wake-up call for all of us to focus on optimizing our immunity. And, given the current state of the world, a great many health conscious folks have doubled down on regimens and protocols to stay resilient and strong.

But how do you know if you and your family are doing the best and most effective health practices?

In addition to closely following the protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization to protect against infection, it’s also important to incorporate as many proven immunity-boosting behaviors as possible into your daily routine. And the sooner the better! 

Your mission: to strengthen your internal systems against malicious invaders, making it harder for them to impact your health. While there are many factors involved in a robust immune response, when it comes to viral protection, human natural killer cells are king

What are natural killer cells?

Scientifically speaking, human natural killer T cells (also known as NK cells) are known as “effector lymphocytes,” cells designed to eliminate antigens (toxin or other foreign substance). This happens one of two ways: 1) Releasing antibodies, or 2) Signaling to other cells of the immune system to mount a response.

Mechanically speaking, natural killer cells are the body’s first line of defense against tumors and viral infections. These cells innately eliminate a variety of abnormal or stressed cells, and have been shown to target and kill cancer cells. [1]

NK cells also interact with other important immune cells to regulate the immune response in the human body. Research suggests that supporting natural killer cell production may improve your body’s ability to fight off infection and prevent the severe inflammation caused by some viral infections. Without NK cells, the strength of your immune system would be greatly reduced.

How do natural killer cells work?

Natural killer cells function exactly as their name implies: they kill, or more accurately, destroy pathogenic cells (i.e. cells that cause disease or infection). 

While on patrol in your body, NK cells rely on signals from receptors located throughout its cell surface. 

NK cells’ activating receptors recognize molecules on the surface of infected cells, and engage the NK cell’s kill mode. By contrast, NK cells’ inhibitory receptors tell the NK cell to stand down. 

Most normal and healthy cells will be recognized as such by the NK cell receptors, engaging the NK cell inhibitory receptors and switching off the activating (kill) response. Infected cells (viruses, tumors, cancer cells) are often easily identified by the NK cell’s activating receptors, and become immediately vulnerable to NK cell killing.  

The discovery of NK cells in the early 1970’s helped researchers learn more about how the body naturally fights illness and infection, and led to the creation of new ways to boost and strengthen the immune system. 

NK Cells and Viruses

Unlike bacteria or fungi, viruses are not alive. They are inert, meaning they’re not made of cells, they do not have a metabolism, and they do not produce energy. Viruses are made up of a set of genes bundled within a protective protein shell. In order to survive and multiply, viruses need to infect and hijack the metabolism of a living cell. 

When a virus does infect a living cell, it starts to use the cell’s metabolism for its own benefit. Not only will it use its energy, but it can use the cell’s antioxidants to protect itself from dying. This is where natural killer cells come in handy.

Human NK cells are intelligent; they can detect abnormalities in cells that have been infected by viruses. Once a viral invader is identified, NK cells seek and destroy by offsetting their target’s osmolarity, and literally causing it to burst. [2

The NK cells’ ability to destroy is most vigorous against stressed or virally infected cells. As you can imagine, the strength of our NK cells plays a critical role in the strength of our immune function.

How to increase natural killer cells

Now that we’ve established the importance of natural killer cells to the immune system, let’s discuss some natural ways to support their production. 

You can enhance natural cell function in a variety of ways. Here are just a few methods proven to support the production and activity of natural killer cells:

  • Gynostemma: This potent herb also goes by the name of “Jiaogulan” and is sometimes referred to as “Miracle Grass” or the “Immortality herb.” Until recently, Gynostemma was primarily utilized by cultures in southern China and northern Vietnam where regular consumption is believed to promote unusual longevity. In the western world, Gynostemma is often used to lower stress hormones, but studies have shown that Gynostemma extract can also boost the activity and strength of natural killer cells. That’s one of the many reasons why we used it to formulate our Alitura Naturals Revitalize Supplement.
  • Vitamin E: An effective way to improve natural killer cell activity is to block the inhibitory pathways and negative regulators of natural killer cell activation. There is one particular pathway, known as SHIP1, which is known to inhibit NK cell responses. Studies show that short-term inhibition of SHIP1 promotes increased responsiveness of natural killer cells. Supplementing with vitamin E can suppress SHIP-1 and exert an anti-tumor and anti-cancer effect by supporting the natural killer cell response. [3]
  • Zinc: Studies show that even a mild deficiency of zinc in males can decrease testosterone levels and shrink muscle mass, but it can diminish natural killer cell activity, and greatly disrupt overall immune function. To boot, stress and infection can all increase your body’s demand for zinc. 10-15 mg per is the suggested amount to maintain normal health, and zinc levels can be boosted via supplementation, or through eating foods high in zinc such as beef, liver, and oysters. [4]

In Conclusion

So, what are natural killer cells? In short, they are your body’s natural defense system against infection and disease. Low natural killer cells can result in an increased risk of illness. Moreover, low NK cell levels can make it harder for your body to fight viral infection and other diseases. 

Thankfully, you have help when it comes to boosting your body’s natural NK cell strength and activity, through smart supplementation with Gynostemma (which can be found in our Alitura Naturals Revitalize Supplement), Vitamin E, and Zinc. 

If you’d like to learn more about strengthening your immune system naturally with Alitura Naturals Revitalize Supplement, contact the experts at Alitura today!

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