Natural Killer cells or also called NK cells are the part of the body’s immune system which is responsible to fight off the diseases and ailments. It serves as the body’s line of defense for illnesses such as cough and flu to serious ones like cancer. Research has been ongoing to find ways to enhance NK cells since 1980 and scientists have only recently been able to find the association with more work still ongoing.
NK cells are basically the types of body’s defense cells, the White cells and compose of less than 1% of the white cells. With such a minute quantity they still are very powerful and potent to fight off the deadliest cancer cells even. They are active usually in the body and fight off harmful organisms by destroying them in a process called phagocytosis. The strength of the immune system usually declines as the organism gets older. A study found that at the age of 40, the strength of the immune system will decrease by 50% and when the person is reaching the age of 70, only 10% of the system’s capability will remain. For that reason, it is very important to prepare ourselves and prevent the loss of immunity as it will lead to negative consequences on the person’s wellness.
Factors associated with NK-cell activity
Stress: Stress, either caused by internal mentality or external factors, usually affects the balance of the body significantly. It is very important to relieve the stress as it may cause a slowdown in the ability of NK-cell activity, a dysfunction in the organism and the immune system as well as the tendency to become afflicted easily. Furthermore, those who have bipolar disorder or who are extremely reserved would have lower NK-cell activity than those who are emotionally stable.
Lifestyle patterns that affect NK-cell activity include:
1. Eating habits: It is found that those who consume leafy green vegetables daily have higher NK- cell activity than those who consume it only once a week. The result would be more visible in females than males. It is also found that daily consumption of meat, dairy products, and soybeans can increase NK-cell activity as well. According to the graph, persons with a high risk of cancer have lower NK-cell activity than normal people, which also means a higher chance for cancer. The graph shows the correlation between the formation of cancer and the level of natural cytotoxicity.
2. Irregular meal timing is also associated with a decrease in NK-cell activity. According to the study, those who consume three meals a day and do not eat between meals have significantly higher NK-cell activity than those who opt for irregular meal timings. Proper consumption of nutritious food to maintain a healthy weight is another factor that supports NK-cell activity. Overweight persons will have lower NK-cell activity compared to those who have a healthy weight.
3. Adequate rest also helps increase NK-cell activity. The study found that those who sleep for more than 7 hours will have significantly higher NK-cell activity than those who sleep less than 7 hours. However, sleeping hours vary for everyone, depending on, for example, a person’s quality of sleep.
4. Excessive smoking would weaken NK-cell activity. The study found that smoking more than 500 cigarettes a year will decrease NK-cell activity. In addition, although slight alcohol consumption (<1000ml/year) will help boost NK-cell activity, the combination of alcohol consumption and cigarettes will drastically decrease NK-cell activity.
How to increase Natural Killer cells levels:
- Natural Killer cells can be enhanced by using many healthy techniques. Some of them are as under:
- Diet: Eating healthy food has many benefits including the increase in NK cells. Some of the following foods are quite helpful in having the immune boost
- Green leafy vegetables i.e spinach, broccoli
- Probiotics such as yogurt
- Citric acid fruits i.e oranges, Kiwi
- Omega 3 fatty acids rich meat i.e fish
- Nuts including almonds and walnuts etc
- Exercise: Research shows that an exercise of 30 minutes daily, five times a week helps boost the immune system by increasing NK cells as well as fighting off unhealthy chemicals of the body
- Sleep: The growth hormone is released mainly during sleep. The growth hormone not only aids growth but also helps boost the body’s defense system by increasing NK cells.
- Avoidance of smoking: Cigarette smoking is a very unhealthy habit and many researches have proved it time in and time out. For the NK cells, smoking serves as a death sentence as the chemicals and compounds present in cigarettes cause destruction of the body’s defense cells including NK cells leaving you more prone to many infections and diseases.
- Alcohol: Alcohol intake is also something that can be harmful to the NK cells if binge drinking is done. Alcohol consumption of fewer than 14 units a week can not only keep you out of many health issues but will also help NK cells to thrive.
- Stress: Like physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing also is essential to boost the immune system and in turn the NK cells. Research has shown NK cells to be less in people who are suffering from any mental conditions leaving them prone to many infections and diseases. Meditation and daily exercise help to address most of the mental health issues and in turn, give a boost to the NK cell levels.
- NK cells therapy: Recent advancement in clinical research has paved different ways to achieve therapy via these natural killer cells, Studies suggest that by collecting 60 ml of blood, processing it in standard lab for 2 weeks to increase NK cells amount and then injecting it back into the client improves the NK cells numbers in the human being and in turn helps in recovery. A study done recently in July 2019 showed that NK cells worked well in achieving adoptive immunotherapy among patients with lung cancer.
Checkup and screening process:
Peripheral NK cell testing is a blood test that shows the percentage and quantity of NK cells in the blood. A qualitative test for NK cells called NK cell activity test is another accurate and functional evaluation. According to the study, NK-cells are used to calculate the risk of cancer. Those who have low NK-cell activity will have a higher risk of cancer than those who have high NK-cell activity. The average level of NK-cell activity for males is 43-58% while it is 35-51% for females. However, having a high amount of NK cells in the body doesn’t necessarily mean that the person has high NK-cell activity since it is not guaranteed that the NK cells will be able to function perfectly. NK cell levels can also be checked in various organs of the body in specific situations, such as uterine NK cell levels in infertility. A few things to bear in mind before having these tests is that make sure you haven’t started exercising recently, had recently been unwell, in the middle of the menstrual cycle or give blood samples early in the mornings as they may show false-positive results.
In short, the NK cells work in conjunction with other cells to keep a person healthy. Although they serve as an integral component when dealing with diseases such as autoimmune diseases and cancers, their presence in the healthy human being cannot be denied. With the above-mentioned methods to boost the NK cells, you can definitely fight off many diseases and keep yourself healthy.
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