Natural Killer Cells: Crucial White Blood Cells that Protect Your Immunity
The term “natural killer cell” isn’t just a pretty name, or potential title for for the next Bond film, it’s also a hint. These cells, NK cells for short, are born with a specific, rather singular skill: they kill the bad guys.
What exactly are NK cells?
NK 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, NK cells are special in that they don’t require prior exposure to an antigen in order to function. Most other white blood cells depend on a stored memory from a prior encounter to trigger a response. This autonomy allows NK cells to patrol the body looking for potentially harmful cells (ie. infected or mutated cells). It also makes them capable of reacting to a potential threat without having come into contact with it before, which means they can react quickly to stop the bad cells before they have a chance to replicate.
What do NK cells do?
They identify and eliminate harmful or infected cells from the body. NK cells are equipped with lethal membrane-toxic proteins. When a threat is found, the NK cell marks the target, releases the proteins, and wipes the targeted cell from existence in a matter of minutes. Essentially, you have hundreds of microscopic little hitmen – wearing expensive suits and carrying silencers, no doubt – somersaulting dramatically across the hallways of your interior space.
Importance of optimizing NK Cell activity
We all know that aging is a privilege, but it doesn’t come cheap. Bone loss. Flu shots. Blogs reminding you that you’re aging. Wrinkles(!). But what you might not know is that most of these injustices can be traced back to the immune system, which has been growing steadily weaker ever since you hit puberty. The good news is, we also know that adopting a healthy lifestyle is one of the most effective ways to give your immune system the support it needs. That in turn optimizes your body’s NK cells, and keeps your immune system ready and able to fight.
What else can you do to support your immune system?
You can make good choices. In case you’ve forgotten everything your parents ever taught you, here are a few basics to get you started. Wash your hands frequently. Get adequate rest and exercise. Avoid smoking and overindulging in alcohol. Eat a balanced, nutritious diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. 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 (as opposed to waiting for the problem will disappear on its own). Get regular medical checkups. And remember call your parents, often.
Keeping your immune system healthy will help produce NK cells quickly and efficiently to eliminate danger before it can really begin.