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Natural Therapies to Enhance Natural Killer (NK) Cell Production in Chronic Infections and Autoimmune Disease

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on February 27, 2023

Natural killer (NK) cells are a critical part of the innate immune system, which acts as the body's first line of defense against pathogens. NK cells play an essential role in identifying and eliminating infected cells and cancer cells, and they are also involved in regulating the adaptive immune response. (1)

However, individuals with chronic infections, such as chronic Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and Long Haul Covid, as well as autoimmune diseases, such as Hashimoto's disease and lupus, often have lower levels of NK cells. (2, 3, 4, 5) This is because chronic infections and autoimmune diseases are often related to an operative Th-2 response and an inoperative Th-1 response. (6) Th-1 is suppressed by Th-2, and vice versa, leading to a disruption in the balance between these two types of immune responses.

Natural Killer (NK) Cells

A natural killer (NK) cell is a type of cytotoxic lymphocyte that plays a crucial role in the innate immune response. Unlike T and B lymphocytes, which are part of the adaptive immune response, NK cells are a part of the innate immune system and do not require prior exposure to a specific pathogen to mount a response. (7)

NK cells are known for their ability to recognize and kill infected or cancerous cells in the body. They do this by detecting changes in the expression of cell surface molecules, such as MHC class I molecules, on target cells. If a cell is infected or cancerous, it may downregulate its MHC class I expression to evade recognition by T cells, but this also makes it more susceptible to NK cell attack. (8) NK cells can also release cytokines and chemokines, which can further recruit and activate other immune cells to the site of infection or tumor. (9)

NK cells play a critical role in controlling viral infections, particularly those caused by herpesviruses and other chronic viruses. (10) They are also important in preventing the development of cancer and controlling the growth and spread of cancer cells. (11) Additionally, NK cells have been implicated in the development of autoimmune diseases, as they can target and kill healthy cells if their surface markers are altered or if they are recognized as foreign by the immune system. (12)

Overall, the function of NK cells is to detect and eliminate cells that pose a threat to the body's health, making them a critical component of the innate immune system.

CD-57 Positive Natural Killer (NK) Cells

CD-57 is a marker protein found on the surface of a subset of natural killer (NK) cells, which are a type of cytotoxic lymphocyte that plays an important role in the innate immune response. CD-57 positive NK cells have been of particular interest in recent research, as they are believed to play a unique role in immune function and have been implicated in a number of health conditions. (13)

CD-57 positive NK cells are thought to represent a population of highly differentiated, long-lived cells that are more efficient at killing their targets compared to other NK cell subsets. Some studies have shown that CD-57 positive NK cells are more prevalent in individuals with certain chronic infections and autoimmune diseases, such as Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and multiple sclerosis. They have also been associated with a better prognosis in certain types of cancer. (14)

Research into the role of CD-57 positive NK cells is still ongoing, and the exact mechanisms by which they contribute to immune function and disease pathogenesis are not fully understood. However, some studies have suggested that enhancing the production or activity of CD-57 positive NK cells may have therapeutic benefits for certain conditions, such as chronic viral infections and cancer.

Overall, CD-57 positive NK cells are a specialized subset of NK cells that may play an important role in immune function and disease pathogenesis. Further research is needed to fully understand their function and potential therapeutic applications.

Natural Remedies and Therapies that Enhance the Production of NK Cells

Fortunately, several natural remedies and alternative medicine therapies can enhance the production of NK cells, thereby helping to support the innate immune system and combat chronic infections and autoimmune diseases.

  1. Vitamin D3: Vitamin D3 is a potent immune regulator that plays a vital role in the production and function of NK cells. Studies have shown that individuals with low levels of vitamin D3 are more susceptible to infections, and supplementation with vitamin D3 can increase NK cell activity. (15)
  2. Beta Glucans: Beta glucans are a type of polysaccharide found in the cell walls of fungi and other organisms. They have been shown to enhance the activity of NK cells and other immune cells. Beta glucans are available in supplement form and are often derived from mushrooms. (16)
  3. Selenium: Selenium is a mineral that is essential for the production of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from oxidative stress. Selenium has been shown to enhance NK cell activity and may be particularly beneficial for individuals with chronic viral infections. (17)
  4. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that supports the immune system and can enhance NK cell activity. It is available in supplement form or can be obtained through diet by consuming foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, and leafy greens. (18)
  5. Echinacea: Echinacea is an herbal remedy that has been shown to enhance NK cell activity and support the immune system. It is available in supplement form and is commonly used to prevent and treat colds and flu. (19)
  6. Skullcapflavones: Skullcapflavones are a type of flavonoid found in the Chinese herb Scutellaria baicalensis. They have been shown to enhance NK cell activity and may be beneficial for individuals with chronic viral infections. (20)

In addition to these natural remedies, alternative medicine therapies such as ozone therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) can also enhance NK cell production. (21, 22)

Ozone therapy involves the administration of ozone gas, which can stimulate the immune system and enhance NK cell activity.

HBOT involves the inhalation of pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber, which can enhance oxygen delivery to tissues and stimulate the production of NK cells.

CD-57 Positive NK Cells and Long Haul Covid

CD57 is a marker that is expressed on natural killer (NK) cells and other immune cells, and is often used as an indicator of immune system function and chronic viral infections. CD57-positive NK cells are a subset of NK cells that are believed to have enhanced cytotoxic activity and greater longevity than CD57-negative NK cells.

Recent studies have shown that patients with acute Covid-19 have lower levels of CD57-positive NK cells compared to healthy individuals. (23) This suggests that impaired NK cell function may play a role in the persistent symptoms and immune dysfunction seen in Long Covid.

Natural remedies and alternative therapies that are known to enhance NK cell production and activity, such as Vitamin D3, beta glucans, selenium, Vitamin C, echinacea, skullcapflavones, and ozone and HBOT therapy, may be useful for individuals with Long Covid and other chronic viral infections who have impaired NK cell function. (24, 25) However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment or supplement regimen.


In conclusion, NK cells are an essential component of the innate immune system, and their production can be enhanced through a variety of natural remedies and alternative medicine therapies.

By supporting the innate immune system and enhancing NK cell production, individuals with chronic infections and autoimmune diseases may be able to better fight off pathogens and improve their overall health.

It is also crucial to recognize the relationship between Th-1 and Th-2 responses and how an imbalance in these immune responses can lead to chronic infections and autoimmune diseases.


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  2. Chijioke, O., Landtwing, V., & Münz, C. (2016). NK Cell Influence on the Outcome of Primary Epstein-Barr Virus InfectionFrontiers in immunology7, 323.
  3. Bi J. NK cell dysfunction in patients with COVID-19. Cell Mol Immunol. 2022;19(2):127-129.
  4. Kucuksezer UC, Aktas Cetin E, Esen F, et al. The Role of Natural Killer Cells in Autoimmune DiseasesFront Immunol. 2021;12:622306. Published 2021 Feb 25.
  5. Schleinitz, N., Vély, F., Harlé, J. R., & Vivier, E. (2010). Natural killer cells in human autoimmune diseasesImmunology131(4), 451–458.
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  8. Paul S, Lal G. The Molecular Mechanism of Natural Killer Cells Function and Its Importance in Cancer ImmunotherapyFront Immunol. 2017;8:1124. Published 2017 Sep 13.
  9. Gismondi, A., Bernardini, G., & Santoni, A. (2010). NK cells and chemokinesNatural Killer Cells, 203–213.
  10. Dai HS, Caligiuri MA. Molecular Basis for the Recognition of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 Infection by Human Natural Killer CellsFront Immunol. 2018;9:183. Published 2018 Feb 12.
  11. Wu SY, Fu T, Jiang YZ, Shao ZM. Natural killer cells in cancer biology and therapyMol Cancer. 2020;19(1):120. Published 2020 Aug 6.
  12. Liu M, Liang S, Zhang C. NK Cells in Autoimmune Diseases: Protective or Pathogenic?Front Immunol. 2021;12:624687. Published 2021 Mar 12.
  13. Kared H, Martelli S, Ng TP, Pender SL, Larbi A. CD57 in human natural killer cells and T-lymphocytesCancer Immunol Immunother. 2016;65(4):441-452.
  14. Nielsen, C. M., White, M. J., Goodier, M. R., & Riley, E. M. (2013). Functional Significance of CD57 Expression on Human NK Cells and Relevance to DiseaseFrontiers in immunology4, 422.
  15. Ota K, Dambaeva S, Kim MW, et al. 1,25-Dihydroxy-vitamin D3 regulates NK-cell cytotoxicity, cytokine secretion, and degranulation in women with recurrent pregnancy lossesEur J Immunol. 2015;45(11):3188-3199.
  16. Akramiene D, Kondrotas A, Didziapetriene J, Kevelaitis E. Effects of beta-glucans on the immune systemMedicina (Kaunas). 2007;43(8):597-606.
  17. Kiremidjian-Schumacher L, Roy M, Wishe HI, Cohen MW, Stotzky G. Supplementation with selenium and human immune cell functions. II. Effect on cytotoxic lymphocytes and natural killer cells [published correction appears in Biol Trace Elem Res 1994 Oct-Nov;46(1-2):183]. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1994;41(1-2):115-127.
  18. Kouakanou L, Peters C, Brown CE, Kabelitz D, Wang LD. Vitamin C, From Supplement to Treatment: A Re-Emerging Adjunct for Cancer Immunotherapy?Front Immunol. 2021;12:765906. Published 2021 Nov 12.
  19. Brousseau M, Miller SC. Enhancement of natural killer cells and increased survival of aging mice fed daily Echinacea root extract from youthBiogerontology. 2005;6(3):157-163.
  20. Kaplya OA, Sherstoboev EY, Zueva EP, Razina TG, Amosova EN, Krylova SG. Effect of baikal skullcap extract administered alone or in combination with cyclophosphamide on natural cytotoxicity system in mice with Lewis lung carcinomaBull Exp Biol Med. 2004;137(5):471-474.
  21. Kucuksezer UC, Zekiroglu E, Kasapoglu P, Adin-Cinar S, Aktas-Cetin E, Deniz G. A stimulatory role of ozone exposure on human natural killer cellsImmunol Invest. 2014;43(1):1-12.
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