A number of health conditions can cause the white blood cell count to plummet. Infections, leukemia, cancer treatments, anemia, medications, autoimmune disorders, and even allergies can all take aim at the immune system, weakening it and leaving the body more vulnerable to infections.
Fortunately, there are natural ways to pump up your supply of white blood cells, even if you’ve been through cancer treatments.
What is White Blood Cell Count?
White blood cells are produced in the bone marrow, and typically work as part of the immune system to fight off bacterial and viral infections. What’s considered a “normal” white blood cell count is usually between 4,500 to 10,000 white blood cells (WBCs) per microliter of blood. Those who have 3,500 or less may be considered to have a low WBC (also called “neutropenia”), but not always—it depends on the patient, the doctor, and the situation. A WBC of less than 1,000 is generally always considered too low and an indication of a serious infection risk.
In addition to a blood test showing low levels, other symptoms of a low WBC may include fatigue, recurrent infections that are hard to treat, shortness of breath, and weakness. More serious symptoms indicating a need for immediate medical attention include fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, and skin lesions. A low WBC can exist without outside symptoms, however.
Natural Ways to Boost WBC
Though there are medications available to increase WBC that may be necessary in severe cases, there are also a number of natural methods you can use. They include the following.
- Take zinc. You probably already know that zinc is helpful when you first feel the symptoms of a cold coming on. A known immune booster, zinc is linked with the production of white blood cells. Studies have shown that even a mild zinc deficiency can increase risk of infection. The American Cancer Society also notes that some studies have shown zinc levels in blood and/or inside white blood cells were often lower in patients with head and neck cancer or childhood leukemia. Consume more oysters, beef, lamb, wheat germ, and spinach.
- Take folic acid. The body needs folic acid to make white blood cells. In fact, one of the side effects of excess intake of folic acid is an increase in WBCs. A deficiency of folic acid can also lead to anemia, which is a low level of red blood cells. So if you’re low on either, increasing intake of folic acid may help. Eat more spinach, beans, and citrus fruits.
- Take selenium. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that selenium can help build up white blood cells. Some studies also indicate that selenium may help prevent some infections. Another study indicated that when the elderly take both zinc and selenium supplements, their immune systems responded better to the flu vaccine than those who took placebo.
- Eat more yogurt. Some studies have shown that people taking probiotics had stronger immune systems than those who didn’t take them. The probiotics also seemed to boost the WBC. A study conducted by German researchers and published in the Clinical Nutrition recruited nearly 500 healthy adults aged 18 to 67. All were given supplements, but only half received probiotic supplements. Over three months, those given the probiotics suffered fewer colds. In addition, a subgroup of over 100 participants who had their blood count measured showed higher white blood cell counts, indicating a stronger immune system.
- Add in the garlic. A 2002 animal study found that rats fed garlic showed a significant increase in total white blood cell count. It also seems to promote the ability of white blood cells to fight off infections, and also stimulates other immune cells.
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“Review: White blood cell count increased in Folic acid,” eHealthMe, http://www.ehealthme.com/ds/folic+acid/white+blood+cell+count+increased.
Sherry Brescia, “Study: Probiotics stop colds—increase white blood cell counts,” Great Taste No Pain, September 22, 2009, http://www.greattastenopain.com/nl/09/07_09/092209.asp.