People who frequent infertility forums will have come across the concept of elevated Natural Killer Cells.
They are a controversial topic in the medical field – for some they strike fear because of their ability to cause implantation failure or miscarriage, for others they are a mysterious process killing their fertility and can only be treated with immune suppressing drugs, and for others they are a side show that takes up too much attention in fertility circles and shouldn’t be treated because they are irrelevant.
When an embryo shows up in the womb it issues signals to the lining – sort of like “Hey mom, I made it, I’m here, feed me”. On hearing this signal Moms body sends it new blood vessels and the magic of pregnancy begins – but this process requires some inflammation, and NK cells are part of that inflammation.
As an aside – it is believed that all this inflammatory activity that kicks off during implantation is what causes the nausea in early pregnancy. This nausea may be unique in the world – it’s the only time nausea is wished for, welcomed, and celebrated!
The true nature of these NK cells is that they have a protective function, they are part of our defense system, they kill invaders, but – given the right set of conditions – they can also kill an embryo attempting to embed into the womb lining, if they sense it as an invader.
Why would they sense an embryo to be an invader? The simplest answer is – because it is an invader!
The real question is why some mom’s immune systems can’t cope with this normal event such that it ends up causing a failed implantation of even miscarriage! Why does their immune response get too aggressive?
The answer is found in a concept called Tolerance.
The immunological conversation taking place is supposed to invoke ‘immune tolerance’ of the embryo so that it doesn’t get labeled as an invader.
Tolerance is another way of saying ‘balance’.
To cope with overactive (aka intolerant) immune systems, the medical system uses immune-suppressing drugs.
Now I can buy this, even as a natural fertility advocate I can see the point of using immune suppressing drugs to get the job done, so fair enough, it works sometimes and it is an option.
My approach is different – I prefer to take steps to bring about balance earlier on – to remove or reduce the reasons why ones immune system may be ‘overactive’ in the first place.
There are many different angles on this, with infection being only one, but there is always a common underlying factor, and it is connected to a concept in our intestines called ‘oral tolerance’.
Oral tolerance is the apex tolerance system of our body – and if it is lost so follows other areas of immune tolerance.
Oral tolerance is how our body decides which foods to reject as problematic and which to accept.
If the gut’s system of oral tolerance is ‘lost’, then you will begin reacting to foods you should not ordinarily react to. If this continues long enough other systems of tolerance begin to malfunction, including uterine tolerance of the fetus. The immune messengers that govern both are the same.
If I could describe oral tolerance using an analogy – imagine sleeping in a castle knowing the enemy is outside the gates but also knowing that the gates are well protected and have been for years. This allows you to sleep soundly.
Now imagine the guards at the gates go missing – how do you think this would affect your ability to sleep soundly?
It’s the same for the body. A fully intact gut allows for a more secure feeling in the rest of the body – because the gut IS THE GATE, this is where most of the bad stuff can get in.
Knowing this simple piece of the puzzle might help you connect the dots between your daily life habits and your infertility.
If NK cells are indeed a problem for you – don’t treat them away in isolation – everything is connected!