Have you been told your white blood count is low but aren’t sure how to increase white blood cells?
Is there even a natural remedy that could help?
Is there something you could do to right now improve your white blood count?
What causes them to get low anyway?
In this article we’ll discuss what white blood cells are, why they get low, and how you can help them recover.
Keep reading to find out how to increase white blood cells!
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
What Are White Blood Cells?
White Blood Cells, or WBCs, are found alongside red blood cells in the blood.
WBCs are part of your immune defenses and help protect your body.
They fight infections and diseases, identify foreign substances, and clean up damaged cells.
WBCs are made in the bone marrow, but can be found circulating in the blood and lymph.
Their main job is to identify problem areas.
Once they locate a site, they sound the alarm which attracts more WBCs to join the fight.
And as a result, your WBC count can become elevated beyond normal levels.
However, this is an essential way for the body to stay healthy and function at its best.
Types of White Blood Cells
The five types of WBCs include neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils.
They all have different functions in the body.
Some fight infection from harmful bacteria or viruses, or destroy cells.
Others produce antibodies so the body can launch a quick response if a known intruder returns.
The table below describes the different types and functions of WBCs.
|Types of WBCs||Functions|
|Neutrophils||Fights bacteria and fungi*, and engulfs foreign materials|
|Lymphocytes||Protects against viruses and produces antibodies**|
|Monocytes||Cleans up damaged cells|
|Eosinophils||Destroys parasites and cancer cells|
|Basophils||Forms an allergic response, such a runny stuffy nose|
Why Are White Blood Cell counts Important in Cancer?
White blood cell counts are very important in cancer.
Cancer is by definition a condition where cells continue to divide out of control when they should self-destruct.
This can happen because a virus or foreign compound causes damage to the genetic code of a cell.
Either way, if left alone, tumors eventually form and spread.
However, since WBCs fight pathogens and clean up damaged cells, these blood cells protect against cancer.
Furthermore, WBCs are closely monitored during cancer treatment.
Low blood counts can diagnose a reaction to certain chemotherapy treatments.
And thus, determine the effectiveness of said treatment.
Furthermore, chemotherapy is particularly damaging to neutrophils.
As a result, low neutrophils, or neutropenia is a common complication at times throughout chemotherapy.
If neutrophil numbers dwindle, and you develop neutropenia, you’re at risk for serious infections.
As a result, cancer treatments are usually put on hold to allow WBCs to recover faster.
How Are WBCs Measured?
WBCs are measured using blood tests.
The numbers can then be used to diagnose different diseases or conditions.
Typically, a health care provider will order a CBC, or a Complete Blood Count, with or without a differential, or diff.
The CBC measures total WBCs and is sometimes called the WBC count or white count.
A normal white count is typically between 4,000-11,000 cells per microliter.
If the WBC count gets below 500, it’s considered a medical emergency which requires prompt treatment.
The differential, on the other hand, tells you how many of each of the types of WBCs are in your blood.
Of the types of WBCs, neutrophils are normally the most common and basophils the least common.
Types of WBCs in order of most to least common:
What Can Cause WBCs to Drop?
According to the Mayo Clinic, a low WBC count can be caused by many things.
- Severe infections
- Bone marrow damage
- Autoimmune diseases
- Blood cancers
- Chemotherapy and radiation treatment
Symptoms of Low WBCs
A low WBC count can cause you to have flu-like symptoms such as body aches, fever, chills, and headaches.
It will usually prompt a health care provider to order a CBC to assess the levels.
What Foods to Avoid If You Have Low White Blood Cells
If you are neutropenic, you are at much higher risk of infection than normal.
Because of that your health care provider may tell you to avoid some foods and drinks.
- Fresh unwashed fruits, vegetables, and juices
- Raw fresh uncooked or unpasteurized foods and drinks
- Moldy or expired foods and drinks
- Deli foods and foods served at buffets
You also need to vigilant about food safety.
Food Safety Practices for Low WBCs
Food safety is always important, but in the context of a low WBC count, it’s essential.
Thus, the American Cancer Society suggest that you follow these tips:
- Wash your hands before handling food or eating
- Prepare meals in a clean kitchen
- Use hot water and soap or a dishwasher to clean your dishes
- Don’t share food, drinks, utensils, or cups
- Keep refrigerated foods at or below 40°F and frozen foods at or below 0°F
- Do not thaw food at room temperature
- Cook food to the proper temperature
- Wash fruits and vegetables, even the outside of oranges, bananas, and avocados
- Separate raw meats and fresh produce
- Cook tofu before eating
More Tips to Prevent Infections
There are also a number of other things you can do to prevent infections.
- Using a paper towel to open doors in public spaces
- Wiping ATM and credit card keypads with a cleaning wipe before using
- Avoiding large crowds and staying away from sick people
- Getting vaccinated
- Showering daily and brushing your teeth twice daily
- Not sharing towels, razors, or tooth brushes
- Avoiding nail salons, hot tubs, ponds, lakes, and water parks
Can You Get an Increase White Blood Cell Count with Food?
Yes and no.
Foods can’t improve WBCs if it’s caused by an underlying factor
That is, besides cancer itself, treatments such as chemo and radiation, age, and other diseases can affect the WBC count.
In those instances, the WBC count is largely driven by underlying factors.
As such, the how to increase white blood cells becomes trickier and it may not improve much with diet changes.
However, if your diet is deficient in nutrients needed for a healthy immune system, the WBC count could be affected.
So, let’s find out how to increase white blood cells with food.
But before you make any changes to your diet it’s important to seek professional medical advice.
In a nutshell, the body needs a steady supply of certain nutrients for the immune system to function properly.
Those include protein, essential fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.
Specifically, vitamins ADEK, B6, B12, and folic acid, and minerals iron, zinc, copper, and selenium are beneficial.
By and large, these nutrients are found in fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, olive oil, and fish.
In other words, foods rich in these nutrients can be found in the Mediterranean diet.
This diet originates around the Mediterranean Sea and may help improve immunity by reducing inflammation and boosting WBCs.
How Long Does It Take for White Blood Cells to Increase?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s normal to produce close to 100 billion white blood cells daily.
However, white blood cell production and recovery time is individual and depends on many things.
For instance, if you have cancer, it can take much longer.
How to Increase White Blood Cells Quickly
As stated above, it may not be possible to recover your WBC count quickly or at all.
It’s going to vary from person to person.
But rest assured, your medial team follows this closely if you’re receiving cancer treatment.
What Foods Increase White Blood Cells?
Examples of the most powerful immune boosting foods include:
- FRUITS: apples, apricots, bananas, blueberries, cherries, citrus fruits, kiwi, mango, nectarines, papaya, peaches, pears, pomegranate, strawberries
- VEGETABLES: red bell pepper, broccoli, carrots, dark leafy greens, garlic, ginger root, eggplant, microgreens, mushrooms, onions, purple cabbage
- STARCHES: sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grain pasta
- WHOLE GRAINS: barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa
- BEANS: beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas
- NUTS & SEEDS: walnuts, flax, chia seeds, sunflower seeds
- HERBS & SPICES: basil, cardamom, cayenne pepper, chili, cinnamon, ginger, dill, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, saffron, star anise, turmeric, vanilla
- EGGS & YOGURT
- FISH & SEAFOOD: anchovies, arctic char, barramundi, herring, mackerel, oysters, salmon, sardines, seabass, shrimp, trout, tuna
- HEALTHY FATS: avocado, extra virgin olive oil, olives
- OTHER: tea, green tea, dark chocolate
Does Milk Increase White Blood Cells?
Milk isn’t typically included in foods that raise WBCs because it doesn’t contain the same immune-stimulating elements as yogurt.
However, it does provide protein along with vitamins B6 and B12, which help the immune system.
Just remember to be careful with raw and unpasteurized milk if your WBC count is low.
Are There Supplements to Increase White Blood Cells?
No, in a traditional sense there aren’t any supplements that can increase the WBC count.
Furthermore, it’s better to get your nutrients from food than supplements.
Nonetheless, the body needs a non-stop supply of nutrients for the immune system to work at its best.
And if you’re unable to get enough from food taking supplements may be a good idea.
For instance, for extra protein, you can use a high-quality plant-based protein shake such as:
- HIGH CALORIE: Kate Farms or ENU
- LOW CALORIE: OWYN or Vega Protein
The low-calorie options are better choices if you also need to control your blood sugar levels.
For vitamins and minerals, a regular multivitamin is your best option.
Does Zinc Increase White Blood Cells?
Yes, zinc is involved in many reactions and components of the immune system.
For instance, it directly influences the function of lymphocytes, one of the white blood cells.
But zinc isn’t stored in the body, thus, it’s important to get enough via diet or supplemental sources.
However, too much zinc can cause nausea and lower the effectiveness of the immune system, according to the National Institutes of Health.
And taking it for too long can interfere with the copper, iron, and magnesium absorption.
Thus, unless monitored by a health care provider, it’s not recommended to self-medicate with zinc supplements.
Does Vitamin B12 Increase White Blood Cells?
Yes, your body continuously needs vitamin b12 to make white blood cells and mount a proper immune response.
This is because immune cells have a pretty high rate because of metabolic activity and use quite a bit of B12 on a daily basis.
Vitamin B12 is abundant in animal foods but can get low in vegans and vegetarians.
To avoid a deficiency, it’s recommended to monitor your B12 level, choose fortified foods or taking a supplement.
How to Increase White Blood Cells Home Remedy
To recap, the immune system needs enough nutrients from food or supplements to function properly.
And although food is better, supplementation can be a good alternative to keep your immune system strong.
Thus, a prescription for how to increase white blood cells may include the following:
- Mediterranean diet
- Protein shakes daily or weekly such as Kate Farms, ENU, OWYN, or Vega Protein.
- A regular multivitamin daily
- Vitamin B12:
- 250 mcg/day of vitamin B12 for vegans
- 250 mcg twice/week for vegetarians
- Zinc only as prescribed by a health care professional
To try a simple Mediterranean diet recipe, try one of our immune boosting favorites:
Golden Ginger Immune-Boosting Tea
- 1 tbsp cleaned ginger root, finely chopped
- A pinch of turmeric
- 10 black pepper corns
- 2-3 whole star anise
- 10 whole cloves
- 2-3 cinnamon sticks
Add all ingredients to a simmering pot of water (about 64 oz).
Continue to simmer for 15 minutes, then run it through a tea strainer to get rid of larger pieces and let it cool before drinking.
This makes a beautiful golden immune-boosting tea that keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days. Enjoy!
White blood cells are part of your defenses and help protect your body.
The body needs a steady supply of nutrients for a healthy immune system to function.
Those include protein, essential fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.
Vitamins ADEK, B6, B12, and folic acid, iron, zinc, copper and selenium in particular are beneficial.
These nutrients are found in large amounts in the Mediterranean diet.
It has been shown to help lower inflammation, boost WBCs, and improve immunity.
However, if your body doesn’t get enough nutrition via food, you may need a supplement.
Those may include protein shakes or powders, a multivitamin, and additional vitamin B12 for vegans and vegetarians.
These general suggestions are for educational purposes only and does not constitute nutritional or medical advice. Consult your healthcare provider for individual advice. All rights reserved.
How can I raise my white blood cells fast? ›
Zinc is one of the best foods to increase white blood cells you can consume as it can help the body produce more WBCs and makes existing WBCs more aggressive. Foods rich in zinc include turkey meat, beef, crab, and oysters. Plus, you can also find zinc from fortified cereals and beans.Can you increase your white blood cell count? ›
While no specific foods or diet changes are proven to increase production of white blood cells, if you have low WBC (leukopenia), it is very important to practice good hygiene, hand-washing, and food safety practices. Neutrophils are the cells that fight bacterial infection.How do you fix low white blood cell count? ›
- Antibiotics to treat any infections.
- Medicines to push your body to make more white blood cells.
- Treatment for any diseases that may be causing the count to be low.
In a person with normally functioning bone marrow, the numbers of white blood cells can double within hours if needed. An increase in the number of circulating leukocytes is rarely due to an increase in all five types of leukocytes. When this occurs, it is most often due to dehydration and hemoconcentration.What foods to avoid if you have low white blood cells? ›
Avoid raw milk, any yogurt or cheeses made with raw milk, and unpasteurized juice. Be sure to wash all fresh fruits and vegetables well. You may want to switch from fresh fruits and vegetables to cooked, canned, or frozen fruits and vegetables during treatment. Make sure that canned foods are safe.Which fruit increase white blood cells? ›
Guava, strawberries, papaya, kiwi, and several other citrus fruits help in creating pathogen-fighting WBCs and T-cells that protect the body from future infections. Nuts and seeds contain a good amount of vitamin E in them that helps in the development of germ-killing WBCs.Why is my white blood cell count low? ›
Risk Factors of an Abnormal WBC Count
A low WBC count may be triggered by the following factors or conditions: Autoimmune disorders. Bone marrow damage or disorder. Certain medications (i.e., antibiotics)
The main risk of an abnormally low white blood cell count is how vulnerable it may make a person to infection. Without an adequate white blood cell response available to fight infection, the body is at greater risk that any infection (including those usually regarded as minor) may cause serious illness or death.Can you reverse low white blood cells? ›
Treatments include: Discontinuing treatment that causes low white blood cell counts – Can include medications, chemotherapy or radiation. Growth factor therapy – Treatment derived from bone marrow that can stimulate white blood cell production.
There are no supplements or specific foods known to increase white blood cell counts. People often confuse iron supplementation with low white blood cell count. Iron supplementation is only appropriate with low RED blood cells.
How can I increase white blood cells in 2 days? ›
Foods high in protein, such as lean meats and poultry, are high in zinc—a mineral that increases white blood cells and T-cells, which fight infection. Other great sources of zinc are oysters, nuts, fortified cereal, and beans.Does zinc increase white blood cells? ›
Zinc helps your immune system by aiding in the production of immune cells, like T-cells and white blood cells, that help your body fight off diseases.What level of WBC is alarming? ›
A blood test that shows a WBC count of less than 4,000 per microliter (some labs say less than 4,500) could mean your body may not be able to fight infection the way it should.Do bananas help white blood cells? ›
"Bananas are known to reduce swelling, protect against developing Type 2 diabetes, aid in weight loss, strengthen the nervous system and help with production of white blood cells, all due to the high level of vitamin B6 that bananas contain," Flores told Live Science.Do low white blood cells make you tired? ›
Can low white blood cells cause fatigue? Low white bloods cells likely aren't the cause of fatigue. If you have low WBC and are increasingly feeling fatigued, both are likely symptoms of an underlying issue.Is a low white count serious? ›
A low white blood cell count is a consequence of serious diseases, and it can lead to harmful health problems—including infections, slow healing, and cancer. A low white blood cell count doesn't cause symptoms, but the complications of a low white blood cell count can cause many different symptoms.What infections cause low WBC? ›
Several infectious diseases that can cause leukopenia include:
- HIV or AIDS.
- viral hepatitis.
- typhoid fever.
With a low white blood cell count and, in particular, a low level of neutrophils, you're at higher risk of developing an infection. And if you develop an infection when you have a low white blood cell count, your body can't protect itself. Infection can lead to death in severe cases.Can vitamin D deficiency cause low white blood count? ›
Vitamin D deficiency does not have significant effect on RBC count and indices, on WBC total and differential count, nor on BP and HR.What destroys white blood cells? ›
A number of diseases and conditions may affect white blood cell levels: Weak immune system. This is often caused by illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, or by cancer treatment. Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy can destroy white blood cells and leave you at risk for infection.
What disease is lack of white blood cells? ›
If a person's body is producing fewer white blood cells than it should be, doctors call this leukopenia. Conditions that can cause leukopenia include: autoimmune conditions such as lupus and HIV. bone marrow damage, such as from chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or exposure to toxins.What is the most common reason for low white blood cell count? ›
ANSWER: A low white blood cell count almost always is related to a decrease in a type of infection-fighting white blood cell called neutrophils. When you have a low level of neutrophils, the condition is known as neutropenia. There are many causes of neutropenia, and some medications can lead to this problem.What are the signs of low white blood cells? ›
The common symptoms of a low WBC, also known as leukopenia, include body aches, chills, fever and headaches. If you have these symptoms, please schedule an appointment with your doctor and he/she may recommend a WBC count.