Natural Killer (NK) Cells

Natural Killer cells play a key role in your immune system as the first line of defense against dangerous, abnormal cells.

Overview

Natural killer (NK) cells are a type of white blood cell that is part of your innate immune system. These cells play an important role in your immune response since they are the first line of defense against dangerous infected or abnormal cells. NK cells are the “first responders” constantly moving through your body looking for abnormal (target) cells to destroy. When a target cell appears, the NK cells immediately recognize it and begin their attack. NK cells are quick and effective at finding and destroying target cells.

NK cells attack the target cell in two different ways:

  1. NK cells attach directly to the target cell causing a cytotoxic chain reaction that destroys the cell. The NK cells release small cytoplasmic granules of proteins (perforin) and proteases (granzymes) that cause the target cell to die by apoptosis (programmed cell death).
  2. NK cells also use another approach where they solicit help from other types of immune cells by releasing proteins in the blood (cytokines). These cytokines send signals out to the B-cells and T-cells triggering a more widespread immune response towards the target cells. The NK cells along with the other immune cells collectively attack and destroy the target cells.
NKCells function

NK Cell Function

Natural Killer cells are one of your body’s most important defense mechanisms against infections and cancer. Without the presence of strong functioning NK cells, pathogens and disease would continue to spread throughout the body and cancer cells would continue to grow. Highly active and functioning NK cells are always circulating through the body looking for abnormal or infected cells to destroy. The sooner these cells are found and eliminated the better equipped you are to battle pathogenic threats to your body.

It is very important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to ensure a strong immune system and NK cell function. NK cell function has been shown to be decreased in people who are stressed, overweight, inactive, or not sleeping or eating well. NK function is also affected by illness, inflammation, cancer and other conditions. It is essential to do all that you can to support your NK cell function through lifestyle changes or immune boosting therapy. Optimizing your NK cell function can put you on the right track towards healthy living.

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