By Korey DiRoma, ND
I see many patients post chemotherapy and/or radiation often wondering what to do next. Scans are clear, and there are no “visible” signs of cancer. This of course is great news! The cancer was responsive to therapy and now it’s about staying healthy. So what can you do to limit the possibility of recurrence?
Natural Killer Cells: Our Best Immune Defense
The single best defense we have against cancer is our immune system. Our immune system has the ability to find cancer cells, or foreign cells, and destroy them. In fact newer therapies stimulate the immune system to create antibodies that attack specific proteins on cancer cells.
We know that an unhealthy diet, lack of sleep, and stress can deplete the immune system making us more susceptible to infections and even cancer. But what else can we do to increase our body’s cancer fighting mechanisms? The most important cancer fighting immune cell is the Natural Killer cell or NK cell. These cells circulate and destroy virus and cancer cells and can activate other parts of the immune system to do the same.
Stimulators of NK Cells: Mushrooms and Vitamin D
One of the best and most researched stimulators of NK cells are mushrooms such Maitake, Shitake, and Coriolus- also knows as TurkeyTail. These mushrooms contain a sugar molecule called Beta-glucan within their cell walls, and once extracted, can be used to stimulate NK cell production. And more recently, Vitamin D has been shown to play a role in activating NK cells and other immune cells. Interestingly, mushrooms are also one of the only plant sources of Vitamin D.
So to keep your immune system working optimally after cancer treatment, I would suggest adding the use of medicinal mushrooms and making sure your Vitamin D levels are in an optimal range. Your integrative health care provider can assist you with choosing the correct mushrooms and dosage, and testing for NK cells and Vitamin D levels.