Natural Killer cells are a type of lymphocyte (a white blood cell) and a component of innate immune system. NK cells play a major role in the host rejection of both tumors and virally infected cells. NK cells are cytotoxic; small granules in their cytoplasm contain special proteins such as perforin and proteases known as granzymes. Upon release in close proximity to a cell slated for killing, perforin forms pores in the cell membrane of the target cell through which the granzymes and associated molecules can enter, inducing apoptosis. The distinction between apoptosis and cell lysis is important in immunology – lysing a virus infected cell would only release the virions, whereas apoptosis leads to the destruction of the virus inside. This is really important in the current pandemic as it is our NK cells who are the real defenders against the virus in our bodies.
So how do we boost our NK cell activity?
Firstly we need to follow a healthy lifestyle. I have written about this in other articles, namely a well-balanced plant based diet with low intake of refined carbohydrates, processed and junk foods and saturated fats. Regular moderate exercise, stress reduction and good sleep habits. Having an ideal body weight is important. The current pandemic has shown that people with lower immunity are more prone to severe disease and death, and this include the elderly, cancer patients and people with chronic metabolic diseases.
Research has shown that our NK cells decrease as we get older and those with chronic diseases and poor lifestyle habits have even lower levels. My own testing with NK cells has shown that most people have only between 10 to 15 percent of their NK cells left and even lesser in the elderly and those with chronic diseases. Hence the ability to fight cancer cells and viral infections is reduced.
One of the breakthrough technology that may be of help in patients with low NK cell levels is autologous NK cell transfusion. Here 50 ml of blood is taken from a person and send to the laboratory and in two weeks cultured to 1.5 billion NK cells and injected back into the person. Been your own cells there is no risk of rejection. This therapy is mostly been investigated for cancer prevention and treatment. However in the current pandemic, whether it will help against viral infections is another research that can be looked into. It will be interesting to see if asymptomatic carriers and those with mild disease have higher NK cells compared to those with severe disease.
Whatever future therapies that will be available, please remember that our own defense mechanism against the Corona virus, that is our NK cells need to be maintained by a healthy lifestyle.
LIVE LONG LIVE WELL