How Our Body Fights Cancer: Natural Killer Cells

Did you know that we develop “cancer” cells every day? Luckily for us cells involved in our immune system work to identify and target these cells, programming them for cell death, otherwise known as Apoptosis. One of these amazing immune cells is known as Natural Killer (NK) cells. NK cells, like all white blood cells, patrol our body in search of foreign substances to destroy. Some of these substances include bacteria, viruses as well as cancer cells. Remember cancer cells our mutated verisons of our normal cells. They are harder for the body to recognize as they often have many of the similar components our normal cells contain. Unlike other white blood cells, NK cells are unique in that they do not require previous exposure to the foreign substance in order to become activated and can set off the immune system’s “CODE RED” just be getting in contact with these intruders. Once the NK cells makes contact with a cancer cell’s surface, the NK cells will bring out it’s big guns and will release chemical weapons/ toxins (perforin and granzymes) that will pentrate the cancer cell’s membrane putting a hole in the cell. Not only have NK cells been identified as being particularlly good at destroying sarcoma, breast, lung, prostate and colon cancer cells, but NK cells have been shown to be as important during cancer recovery. One study investigated seventy seven women with breast cancer  over a twelve year period. Biopsies at the time of diagnosis were perfomed on each of the women’s tumors. The cells from the biopsies were cultivated with the patient’s own NK cells. Some of the patient’s NK cells did not react with the cancer cells, as they were said to belong to women with lower overall immune function (lower general vitality). On the other hand, the cell’s that came from women with highly functioning immune systems, caused a serious destruction of the cancer cells, indicating an active immune system.   Twelve years later, almost half (74%) of the patient’s whose NK cells had not reacted initially, had died.  On the other hand, 95% of patients whose immune systems were considered highly active, as seen by the activity of their NK cells, were still alive. This is just one of the many studies that shows the true importance of a healthy immune system for cancer remission. This is why when recommending natural therapies, I use therapies that have been studied to directly improve immune function, especially those seen to increase NK cell activity.

 

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