White blood cells are a type of immune cell that helps 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.

Introduction

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 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 are 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 Higher Levels of White Blood Cells Bad?

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

White blood cells get stuck in the arteries and harden, which cause plaque to build up and leads to a heart attack.

Leukocytes participate in the inflammation process, are recruited at the site of endothelial injury, and form foam cells in the plaque (1R). Interleukins and tumor necrosis factor-α are released from activated leukocytes and cause endothelial dysfunction (

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

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

Optimal Reference Range For White Blood Cells

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Participants with baseline WBC <3,500 and WBC >6,000 had higher mortality than those with 3,500 to 6,000 (WBC/mm3)(R, R2).

In the 7 countries study, after adjustment for risk factors, each point increase in WBCs was associated with a 21% higher 5-year heart disease mortality (R).

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

WBC counts of 9,000-10,000 had a 3.2 fold elevated risk for Cardiovascular disease death compared with those with WBC counts of 4,000-4,900 (Japanese) (R).

White Blood Cells and Disease

1) High WBCs Increase the Risk of Dying

Repeatedly, studies show that the WBC count 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 (Koreans) (R).

2) High WBCs Cause Heart Disease

The WBC count was almost linearly associated with cardiovascular mortality (Americans) (R).

The WBC count is a predictor of Cardiovascular disease mortality (Japanese) (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 three times more likely to die at 30 days (R).

Circulating white blood cells amplify oxidative stress in heart failure (R).

3) High WBCs Contribute to Cancer

The WBC count was also significantly associated with cancer death (R).

4) High WBCs Contribute to Diabetes

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

A high WBC 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 Can Be Bad For Dialysis

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

Lifestyle to Increase White Blood Cells

1) Sauna

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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

Exercising in the cold leads to an increase of 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 were an increase in the numbers of total leukocytes, neutrophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes (R).

4) Smoking

WBC count in male smokers was significantly higher than ex-smokers and non-smokers. In current cigarette smokers, WBC count was related to the number of cigarettes smoked, amount of inhalation, and duration of smoking (R).

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

Nutritional Factors That Increase WBCs

5) Vitamin B12

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In rats who eat a low-protein diet, Vitamin B12 helps increase WBC count. However, this effect is only seen in rats with protein deficiency; rats who ate a normal level of protein had unchanged WBC count (R).

6) Zinc Deficiency

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 amount of lymphocytes.

Zinc deficiency induces stress responses, which might have increased the WBC count (R).

7) Fish Oil

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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).

8) Folic acid

Folic acid supplementation can also increase WBC count (R).

9) Selenium + Vitamin E Injection

Adult male rats were injected with Vitamin E, selenium, or a combination of Vitamin E and selenium. The number of WBC in the blood were 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 an increased WBC count (R).

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

10) Garlic

Garlic treatment significantly increases the total white blood count in rats. Garlic fed rats had a significantly higher amount of neutrophil, lymphocytes, and monocytes in garlic fed rats were significantly higher than the control (R).

11) Noni Fruit

Tahitian Noni Juice increased WBC count, as well as other blood and platelet counts, in male rats (R).

12) 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 WBC count in humans (R).

Hormones/Pathways That Increase WBCs

13) Cortisol/Glucocorticoids

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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 amount 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).

14) Leptin

The WBC count is correlated to the amount of body fat in humans.

Leptin stimulates myeloid production, which is a precursor of white blood cells (R).

Elevated leptin concentrations are associated with elevated white blood cell counts in both men and women (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 WBC 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).

15) 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).

16) MSH

MSH is capable of increasing WBCs in diabetic rats, who have lower levels (R).

17) 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).

Thyroid

18) 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).

19) 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).

20) Prolactin

Prolactin has a variety of immune stimulatory effects (R).

Injection of prolactin in mice increases White Blood Cells counts (R).

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

21) 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 and live mouse models, scientists discovered that an enzyme secreted by neutrophils called neutrophil elastase (NE) impairs insulin signaling and boosts resistance. Conversely, deletion of NE in obese mice fed a high-fat diet improved insulin sensitivity (R).

Inhibiting White Blood Cells

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) Alcohol

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Alcohol is inversely proportional to WBC count. In both smokers and nonsmokers, alcohol consumption decreased white blood cells in a dose-dependent manner (R).

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

3) High Selenium Diet (300mcg)

WBC counts decreased in men who ate a  high-selenium diet. The decrease is mostly due to the changes in granulocytes (R).

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

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13 COMMENTS

  • Shubham kamble

    What to do when white blood cells increase?
    What kind of food help to decrease white blood cells ?

  • Juniko

    No, I am currently waiting on a second opinion. All of my blood tests came back negative for an auto immune disease but my biopsy came back abnormal.

  • Yoon Sul

    Was just curious to see if you found out what was causing your low counts?

  • Juniko

    Hello Emma, I am currently under going different tests because of low white blood cells (1.6). I feel healthy, I exercise regularly and have started eating healthier. Just wondering if you ever found out why your count was low? Appreciate any advice.

  • Leslie Stephens

    Hi neha mine is 12000 and I’m worried about leukaemia. What did your doctor say about your white blood count???

  • Neha Singh

    My white blood cells is 12,500 how should I get into control and I am conceive..

  • Shailesh

    Hi.. I m Shailesh

    My WBC Count shows 34900 where Biological Ref Range is 4000-10000/cmm so it shows higher range -Elect.Impedance
    What should I do for it control?

  • Linda B

    I was under the impression you needed white blood cells to increase immunity therefore fighting cancer?? If you lower this won’t your cancer increase?

  • Sandeep Gupta

    Interesting to note there was some studies in the 1960s which suggested even eating any type of cooked food vs raw food increased the WBC count. It was termed “digestive leucocytosis”. This research hasn’t been able to be replicated however.

    1. Nattha Wannissorn

      So you mean eating any food increase WBC count?

  • Craig Slater

    Nice article. My WBC is low and below the reference range. This is a bit of a puzzle but I wonder about the validity of the reference range for someone on a clean/anti-inflammatory diet and someone optimised/self-hacked from various angles (e.g. cold thermogenesis) 🙂 I am never sick, plenty of energy etc. Or does it mean there is somethiing underlying. Further investigation ongoing.

    1. Emma Donovan

      Hi Craig – I too on very clean diet and have low WBC. investigations also ongoing. Happy to share thoughts [email protected].

      1. Lesley rowe

        Me too low neutrophils my diet is really really good lots of exercise etc

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