White blood cells are types of immune cells that help fight against infections and other diseases. Read more below to learn why high white blood cell counts are bad and ways to increase or decrease your white blood cell count.

What are White Blood Cells?

White blood cells, or leukocytes, help the body fight against infections. The different types of white blood cells are basophils, neutrophils, eosinophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes [R].

There are associations between white blood cell (WBC) count and the proteins in red blood cells, heart rate, weight, cholesterol, uric acid, creatinine, sex, ethnic origin, blood pressure, height, and blood sugar in both men and women [R].

Having a high level of white blood cells is bad, but for some people having too low of a level means that they won’t be able to effectively fight infections. Some people may want to increase their number, while others want to decrease it.

Why Are Low White Blood Cells Bad?

Having too low white blood cells can be a sign of an immune system that is not capable of handling infections.

Also, low white blood cells tend to be an indicator of other issues in the body. For example, in some autoimmune conditions, white blood cells can be lower.

A low white blood cell count can be caused by the following (not an exhaustive list):

  1. Infections, including viral infections (especially HIV/AIDS)
  2. Chronic inflammation, which can use up white blood cells faster than they are produced
  3. Certain disorders present at birth that involve diminished bone marrow function
  4. Cancer or other diseases that damage bone marrow, such as leukemia; also, chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  5. Drugs, such as antibiotics, which destroy white blood cells
  6. Autoimmune disorders such as sarcoidosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis
  7. Nutrient deficiencies

Why Are High White Blood Cells Bad?

While low white blood cells are not good, high WBCs can be even worse.

White blood cells are immune cells capable of causing oxidative stress.

White blood cells get stuck in the arteries and harden, which causes plaque to build up and can lead to heart attacks.

Leukocytes participate in the inflammation process, are recruited at the site of endothelial injury, and form foam cells in the plaque [R].

Interleukins and tumor necrosis factor-α are released from activated leukocytes and cause endothelial dysfunction [R].

Besides a hardening of the arteries, a higher number of white blood cells cause problems with circulation, thicker blood, and the increase of proinflammatory cytokines.

See further down for more in-depth reasons why high white blood cells are bad.

Optimal Reference Range for White Blood Cells

Participants with baseline WBCs <3,500 and WBCs >6,000 had higher mortality than those with 3,500 to 6,000 (WBC/mm^3) [R, R].

In an independent study that covered 7 countries, results concluded each point increase in WBCs was associated with a 21% higher 5-year heart disease mortality (after adjustment for risk factors)[R].

Having a WBC count between 3.5 and 6.0 is ideal in terms of optimal health.

WBC counts of 9,000 to 10,000 had a 3.2-fold elevated risk for cardiovascular disease death compared to those with WBC counts of 4,000 to 4,900 [R].

WBCs can vary from person to person based on a multitude of factors.

How to Increase White Blood Cells

If you have low white blood cell levels, you first want to try to fix the underlying cause of it. If there is no underlying cause, then you can experiment with some healthy behaviors that may increase white blood cell count.

Lifestyle to Increase White Blood Cells

1) Sauna Therapy

Sauna bathing increased the number of different types of white blood cells (lymphocyte, neutrophil, and basophil) in athletes. The total white blood cell count increases after dehydration caused by passive overheating [R].

The heat exposure from the sauna has a similar effect on the WBC profile compared to physical exercise. Athletes have a faster mobilization of immune system cells compared to untrained subjects [R].

2) Cold Exposure

Exercising in the cold leads to an increase in the total number of white blood cells as well as the number of neutrophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes [R].

However, the increase in the numbers of total WBCs during recovery after exercise is a mild and temporary deviation from regular immune system function. The increase in total WBCs was mostly due to an increase in neutrophils [R].

3) Heavy Resistance Exercise

During and after exercise in male weight trainers, WBC count increased. This shows that leukocyte counts can significantly increase in response to heavy-resistance exercise [R].

During the recovery phase after submaximal exercise, there was an increase in the numbers of total leukocytes, neutrophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes [R].

Nutritional Factors That Increase WBCs

4) Vitamin B12

In rats who consumed a low-protein diet, vitamin B12 helps increase WBCs. However, this effect was only seen in rats with protein deficiency; rats who ate a normal level of protein had an unchanged WBC count [R].

5) Fish Oil

Birds fed with 5.5% fish oil had higher total white blood cell count. A balance of moderate level of fish oil and methionine level might enhance the immune response in broiler chickens [R].

6) Folic Acid

Folic acid supplementation can also increase WBCs [R].

7) Selenium and Vitamin E Injection

Adult male rats were injected with vitamin E, selenium, or a combination of vitamin E and selenium. The number of WBCs in the blood was significantly higher in the vitamin E, selenium, and combined group than in the controls [R].

On the other hand, men who had a diet very low in selenium (15mcg) had increased WBCs [R].

So, it could be that having an increased or decreased level of selenium can increase WBCs.

8) Garlic

Garlic treatment significantly increases the total white blood cell count in rats. Garlic-fed rats had significantly higher amounts of neutrophil, lymphocytes, and monocytes than in the control.

9) Noni Fruit

Tahitian Noni Juice increased WBCs, as well as other blood and platelet counts, in male rats [R].

10) Shark Liver Oil

Shark liver oil has a lot of alkylglycerols, which are fats that stimulate the production of white blood cells. Shark liver oil supplementation can increase WBCs in humans.

Hormones/Pathways That Increase WBCs

1) Cortisol/Glucocorticoids

Glucocorticoids/cortisol can increase the number of white blood cells in the body [R].

Glucocorticoids (includes cortisol) increase leukocytes/WBCs in blood but decrease the number of lymphocytes, eosinophils, monocytes, and basophils [R].

A single dose of cortisol results in a 70% decrease in lymphocytes and a 90% decrease in monocytes, occurring 4 to 6 hours after treatment and persisting for about 24 hours. Cell numbers then rise 24 to 72 hours after treatment [R].

2) Leptin

WBCs are correlated to the amount of body fat in humans.

Leptin stimulates myeloid production, which is a precursor of white blood cells [R].

Leptin, a protein found in fat cells, circulates in humans in direct proportion to the amount and percentage of body fat. Leptin and the leptin receptor are part of a pathway that stimulates blood cell production [R].

In Pima Indians, the WBC count is positively correlated with the percentage of body fat. The more fat the subjects had, the more WBCs they had in their body [R].

Weight loss can reduce the white blood cell count [R].

After controlling for age and gender, percent body fat accounted for 23% of the variance in the WBC count [R].

3) Adrenaline and Noradrenaline

Adrenaline and noradrenaline were infused into 5 healthy subjects. Total WBC counts increased in response to adrenaline and noradrenaline. Both alpha and beta-receptors are involved in the mobilization of lymphocytes [R].

4) MSH

MSH is capable of increasing WBCs in diabetic rats, who had lower levels [R].

5) Thyroid Hormones

Thyroid hormones may slightly increase white blood cells. People who are hypothyroid have slightly lower white blood cell counts and it increases when they normalize their levels [R].

6) IGF-1

IGF-I stimulates the rapid increase of immune cells, including white blood cells, and helps increase the effectiveness of the immune system [R].

IGF-1 has an antiapoptotic effect on WBC count and may increase its number [R].

7) Growth Hormone

Growth hormone stimulates the rapid increase of immune cells, including white blood cells, and helps increase the effectiveness of the immune system [R].

Growth hormone injection alone increased the WBC count due to an increase in the number of lymphocytes and monocytes [R].

8) Prolactin

Prolactin has a variety of immune stimulatory effects [R].

Injection of prolactin in mice increases WBCs [R].

Prolactin goes up after people have a seizure – and so do white blood cells (but the authors didn’t connect the two) [R].

9) Insulin

The white blood cell (WBC) count is related to blood insulin concentrations and insulin resistance in healthy individuals of Pima Indian descent. Higher insulin concentrations meant higher WBC count [R].

However, this could simply be because white blood cells increase insulin resistance, and insulin levels are higher in insulin-resistant states [R].

Using liver and fat cells from mice and humans as well as live mouse models, scientists discovered that an enzyme secreted by neutrophils called neutrophil elastase (NE) impaired insulin signaling and boosted resistance. Conversely, deletion of NE in obese mice fed a high-fat diet improved insulin sensitivity [R].

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More on Why High White Blood Cells are Bad

1) High WBCs Increase the Risk of Dying

Repeatedly, studies show that WBC is a clinical marker of inflammation and a strong predictor of the risk of dying (mortality) from all causes [RRR].

The total WBC count is an independent predictor of mortality in older adults, but the monocyte subtype provides greater predictive ability [R].

2) High WBCs Cause Heart Disease

The white blood count was almost linearly associated with cardiovascular mortality [R].

White blood cell count within 24 hours of admission for a heart attack is a strong and independent predictor of in-hospital and 30-day risk of dying. Relative to those patients in the lowest 20%, patients in the highest 20% of white blood cell counts were 3 times more likely to die at 30 days [R].

Circulating white blood cells amplifies oxidative stress in heart failure [R].

3) High WBCs Contribute to Cancer

A high WBC count was also significantly associated with cancer death [R].

4) High WBCs and Diabetes

A high WBC value predicted diabetes when adjusted for age, sex, body fat, and other established predictors of diabetes [R].

Also, a high WBC count at baseline was associated with a subsequent worsening of insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes in Pima Indians [R].

These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that a chronic activation of the immune system may play a role in causing type 2 diabetes [R].

5) High WBCs Are Bad for Dialysis

An increased neutrophil count and reduced lymphocyte count are independent predictors of increased mortality risk in dialysis patients [R].

Lowering White Blood Cells

If you have high white blood cells, you might want to look into some ways to reduce them. Here are some methods that may decrease white blood cell counts.

Everyone is different, and our bodies can be complex. If you want to decrease your levels, it’s best to put them in Lab Test Analyzer so that it can compute based on this and your other results what you could do to become optimal.

1) Testosterone and SHBG

Higher sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) and testosterone levels are associated with lower WBC counts in middle-aged men [R].

2) Stop Smoking

WBCs in male smokers was significantly higher than ex-smokers and non-smokers. In current cigarette smokers, WBCs were related to the number of cigarettes smoked, the amount of inhalation, and the duration of smoking [R].

Obviously, smoking is not recommended as a means to increase WBCs if that’s what you want.

3) Moderate Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol is inversely proportional to WBCs. In both smokers and nonsmokers, alcohol consumption decreased white blood cells in a dose-dependent manner [R].

This could be one reason why moderate alcohol intake is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

4) Zinc

Zinc plays an important role in immune functions. Zinc deficiency increased the number of total white blood cells, granulocytes (neutrophil, eosinophil, and basophil), and monocytes in mice without changing the number of lymphocytes.

Zinc deficiency induces stress responses which may result in increased WBCs [R].

Therefore, supplementation with zinc (if you’re deficient) may help decrease high white blood cells.

5) High Selenium Diet (300mcg)

WBCs decreased in men who ate a high-selenium diet. The decrease is mostly due to the changes in granulocytes [R].

6) Reduce Stress

Stress can increase cortisol, adrenaline, and prolactin all of which can increase WBCs. Reducing stress can decrease these hormones and help normalize high WBC counts.

7) Reduce Carbs in Your Diet

High carb meals are capable of increasing leptin, insulin and IGF-1, more so than by consuming fat.  Reducing carbs in your diet may help bring down elevated WBCs.

8) Reduce Calories

Dietary proteins increase insulin, IGF-1 and growth hormone.

Consuming less food, in general, reduces thyroid hormones, insulin, leptin, IGF-1, and growth hormone, which in turn will decrease WBCs.

The amount of body fat is also correlated with WBCs.

Therefore, consuming less food should help reduce WBCs.

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