Can You Increase Your White Blood Cell Count?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

An important marker for doctors to monitor your health, your white blood cell count may be taken to look for conditions such as infection, inflammation, allergies or leukemia.

Normal White Blood Cell Levels

White blood cells range in number from 4,500 to 11,000 per microliter of blood, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). If that number falls below 4,500, it's called leukopenia.

  • In addition to serious blood and lymph diseases such as lymphoma and leukemia, a low WBC count can be a sign of inflammatory disorders such as lupus, or disorders of the liver or spleen like cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Cancer in the bone marrow can impair production of white blood cells, while chemotherapy drugs can temporarily lower the white blood cell count.
  • Many other drugs can lower your white blood cell count, including some anti-seizure medications.

What to Do if Your White Blood Cell Count Is Low

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Because having a low white blood cell count weakens your immunity to foreign invaders, it's important to take steps to avoid infections, according to the NLM:

  • Take care when handling pets and other animals.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Limit your exposure to crowds and people who show symptoms of an infection.

People with an abnormally low number of neutrophils, the white blood cells that sense infections and destroy pathogens, have a condition called neutropenia. When the neutrophil count falls below 1,000 per microliter of blood, it becomes harder for the body to fight off infections. Patients with neutropenia often complain of symptoms that include fever, shaking and chills, Dr. Lichtin says.

Watching what you eat and drink is also important for people with neutropenia. Dr. Lichtin recommends following a neutropenic diet, which minimizes your exposure to pathogens in food. While a neutropenic diet won't boost your white blood cell count, it can lower the risk of infection.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offers these guidelines for following a neutropenic diet:

  • Thoroughly rinse fresh fruit and vegetables under warm running water and scrub or brush produce to remove dirt.
  • Use separate cutting boards for meat and produce, and avoid wooden chopping boards.
  • Refrigerate or freeze food immediately after purchase.
  • Defrost food in a refrigerator, in cold water or by microwave, not on the counter or in the kitchen sink.
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Avoid these foods in particular:

Dr. Lichtin also advises some patients to limit or avoid alcohol, because alcohol can suppress white blood cells by interfering with blood cell production in the bone marrow.

Read more: 11 Food-Safety Mistakes You Don't Know You're Making

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