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Neutrophils are white blood cells that are vital to the immune system. They help fight against infections and prevent inflammation. Read more below to learn more about these cells.

Introduction

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Neutrophils play an important role in fighting against infections in the human body.

Neutrophils play several, yet relative, functions depending on its cell- type. It is either a White Blood Cell, a granulocyte or a phagocyte (R).

Contrary to its role in proactive cell-mediated immune response, neutrophil recruitment and infiltration can lead to further tissue injury. Neutrophils are the first cells to be recruited to the site of inflammation and have a potent antimicrobial armor that includes oxidants, proteinases and cationic peptides (R).

Neutrophils are also called PMN’s. They are the most abundant white cells in the body. They play a vital role in the body’s host defenses. However, the PMN’s have a very short lifespan. These cells survive for less than 24 hours in the circulation and will undergo self-destruction automatically (R).

Through the process where part of the cell forms a sticky membrane that allows attachment to other proteins, some neutrophils activate macrophages to program their own death while others undergo stand alone necrosis (R).

Waste products will then be eliminated through the excretory, digestive and urinary tracts. The limited life span of a neutrophil is beneficial in preventing endothelial and further  tissue injury to the host (R).

Under pathological circumstances, however, the unregulated release of neutrophils  into the extracellular space can damage host tissues (R).

Phagocyte Activity

Neutrophils can engulf (completely surround and swallow) bacteria. They can degrade the bacteria and protect the immune system (R).

However, neutrophils prefer to engulf carbohydrates (from ingested sugars, honey and juice) over bacteria. When simple sugars are digested, it negatively affects the neutrophil’s ability to engulf bacteria. Fasting strengthens neutrophils’ ability to engulf bacteria (R).

However, normal starch digestion has no effect. Neutrophils prefer to engulf some types of sugar over other types. Scientists concluded that sugar ingestion affects function and not the number of phagocytes in engulfing bacteria (R, R).

 

Health Benefits of Neutrophils

1) Neutrophils Protect the Immune System

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Through a process called transcellular migration, neutrophils pass through the endothelial sinusoids to the site of an injury (R).

Their quick response makes them the first group of immune cells to participate in the body’s immunologic line of defense. They protect the body through ingestion of the invading organism and the secretion of killer enzymes altogether (R).

Some neutrophils activate macrophages to program their own death. The limited life span of a neutrophil is beneficial in preventing endothelial and further tissue injury to the body (R).

Abnormally low neutrophil count (neutropenia) also makes the immune system susceptible to infection. It is also suggestive of several diseases, like diabetes, TB, HIV, etc. (R).

2) Neutrophil Count Can Signal Diseases

Abnormally high levels of neutrophils in the blood is called neutrophilia. Through immune-activation, neutrophils migrate from the marrow to the site of infection or disease. Neutrophilia can occur from acute infections caused by cocci, bacilli, certain fungi, spirochetes, viruses like rabies, rickettsia, and parasitic infestations (R).

It is important to note that high neutrophil count or neutrophilia signifies an ongoing immunologic response in the body. This can be an infection, an injury, or a more serious disease entity like cancer (R).

Checking your neutrophil count can help alert you of any infections or diseases occurring in your body.

Negative Effects Of Neutrophils

1) Neutrophils Contribute to Alzheimer’s Advancement

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The hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease is brain inflammation. Neutrophils are found in swollen brain areas.

Inhibiting neutrophil traffic to the brain is beneficial to people with Alzheimer’s disease (R) .

2) Neutrophils May Cause Heart Tissue Scarring

Following the process of reparation after a heart attack, white blood cells clear the dead cells and debris around the injured area.

However, neutrophils lifespan is limited to 5 days and will eventually die. Macrophages then release growth factors, leading to suppression of inflammation and formation of granulation tissue (R).

Connective tissues and endothelial cells increase due to suppression of chemokine activity. During this period, the cells form a network that leads to heart tissue scarring (R).

3) Neutrophils Negatively Affect Lung Injuries

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Although white blood cells are highly important in the activation of immune defenses in lung diseases, it can cause problems in the lungs as well. Hyperactivation of the cells can lead to tissue damage by releasing toxic agents (R).

Technical

  • The bone marrow form and store neutrophils. Billions of neutrophils are produced every day in the bone marrow of a normal adult (R).
  • A mature neutrophil, whether used or unused has a limited life span in the body (R).
  • Infections that can cause neutropenia includes TB, dengue fever, Epstein-Barr, cytomegalovirus, HIV and viral hepatitis. Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Lupus kills normal cells including neutrophils (R).
  • Although high count helps the body’s patent host defense mechanisms, it can also lead to tissue and endothelial injury (R).
  • However, extreme caution and monitoring help avoid bone marrow suppression. Imatinib successfully helps chronic myeloproliferative disorders (R).
  • During the proliferative phase of healing, activated myofibroblasts or muscle connective tissues, extracellular matrix proteins and angiogenic endothelial cells form an extensive microvascular network that will eventually lead to heart tissue scarring (R).
  • Hyperactivation leads to tissue damage by release of cytotoxic and immune cell–activating agents such as proteinases, cationic polypeptides, cytokines, and reactive oxygen species (ROS) (R).

Managing Neutrophilia

A complete medical history and physical examinations are considered the first step in managing neutrophilia. Adrenal diseases like Cushing’s syndrome, hyperadrenocorticism should be assessed. Corticosteroid use should also be checked. Previous medications and past medical history should be thoroughly documented (R).

If the patient has a fever, the next step is to check the cause of the fever. A complete blood count including erythrocyte sedimentation rate plus C-reactive protein should be requested. A peripheral blood smear is also advised to check the shape of the blood cells. Lastly, a bone marrow study can be requested to rule out cancer (R).

Rest, sleep and a healthy diet helps in lowering physiologic and pathologic neutrophilia (R).

However, it is important to treat underlying cause with specific therapy.

Hydration during an infection helps in decreasing fever that causes neutrophilia. Sudden increased levels of WBC or Hyperleukocytosis requires urgent treatment with leukapheresis, hydration and cytoreductive therapy using hydroxyurea (R).

Managing Neutropenia

Neutropenia (low neutrophil count) is caused by the following mechanisms: an injured or lack of bone marrow stem cells; a transfer of neutrophils from the marrow to the tissue pools and marginal blood areas; and or an increased destruction of neutrophils in the circulation. Many diseases can cause neutropenia as well (R).

The primary cause of neutropenia is immunosuppression due to chemotherapy. Recombinant G-CSF (granulocyte-colony stimulating factor) stimulates white blood cell production (R).

Here are some drugs that cause neutropenia: Aminopyrine, Quinidine, Cephalosporins, Penicillins, Sulfonamides, Phenothiazines and Hydralazine (R).

Dietary considerations are:

  • Avoid raw and undercooked meat or well water
  • Consume only pasteurized fruit juices, beer, milk, and milk products
  • Avoid aged cheese and cheese-based dressings
  • Avoid unwashed raw fruits and vegetables; these may contain large numbers of bacteria.
  • Do not consume outdated and moldy products

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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