How to Increase Your Platelet Count Naturally

Platelets, also known as thrombocytes, are a type of blood cell responsible for blood clotting. For example, platelets rush to the site and form a clot or plug to stop the bleeding if you cut yourself. Platelets also help recruit other clotting factors to the area.

If your platelet count falls below normal levels, there is a risk of uncontrolled or prolonged bleeding. There are several causes of this condition, called thrombocytopenia, that can range from a nuisance to serious disease.

While it's important to work with your healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis, and sometimes medical treatments are needed, there are ways to help increase your platelet count on your own. For instance, eating more nutrient-rich foods such as papaya, pumpkin, spinach, and squash is thought to be beneficial.

This article will review the causes of low platelets, when to see a healthcare professional, and natural ways to help get your platelet count back to normal.

Blood with platelets

Science Photo Library - SCIEPRO / Getty Images

What Are the Symptoms of Low Platelets?

Platelets are measured in a complete blood count. This common blood test also provides red blood cell count, white blood cell count, and blood indices, which measure red blood cells and platelets' size, shape, and quality.

A normal platelet count is between 150,000 and 450,000 platelets per microliter (mcL) of blood. Ordinarily, there are few symptoms before a platelet count drops to 50,000 microliters or less, and the risk of severe bleeding is uncommon if the count is above 10,000 microliters.

A low platelet count is most commonly found during a routine blood test. Other symptoms may include:

  • Bruising (ecchymosis)
  • Small red dots on the skin that do not blanch with pressure (petechiae) and larger patches (purpura)
  • Prolonged bleeding, even from a small cut
  • Abnormally heavy menstrual periods
  • Nosebleeds
  • Bleeding gums when brushing teeth
  • Rectal or urinary bleeding
  • Headaches or other symptoms that may occur due to internal bleeding in various regions of the body

Causes of Low Platelet Counts

Levels of platelets can be reduced in the blood by a few different mechanisms. These include:

  • Decreased production: Bone marrow (the spongy tissue within bones that produces blood cells) stops making enough platelets. This can occur due to certain types of cancer that damage bone marrow, bone marrow suppression from chemotherapy or other medications, a lack of nutritional "building blocks" to make blood cells, alcohol abuse, or genetic conditions.
  • Increased use or destruction: Platelets can be used up too quickly (such as during pregnancy and bleeding events) or be destroyed in the bloodstream. Certain autoimmune diseases attack and destroy platelets. Destruction can also be caused by a reaction to some medications, infections, and other causes.
  • Sequestration: This is a condition in which the spleen holds onto platelets, so they are unavailable for clotting. It's often due to another condition, such as cirrhosis of the liver or blood-related cancers.

In some cases, a normal number of platelets are present, but they don't function as they should (such as in conditions where they don't aggregate (clump) properly).

Determining the Cause of Low Platelets

Determining an exact cause for a low platelet count is essential in identifying the appropriate treatment.

When a person has a low platelet count, the cause may be obvious (such as if they've received chemotherapy). However, at other times the cause is unknown. In this case, a very careful history is done, a physical exam and other blood parameters may be evaluated.

Further tests, such as a vitamin B12 level, a bone marrow biopsy (removal of a tissue sample for testing), and more may be needed to determine a precise diagnosis.

When Should You See a Doctor?

Signs and symptoms of thrombocytopenia (a low platelet count) may include:

  • Prolonged bleeding from a cut or wound
  • Easy bruising
  • Red dots on the skin that do not blanch with pressure (petechiae) or large areas that similarly don't blanch (ecchymosis)
  • Bleeding from the gums when brushing teeth
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Persistent or prolonged nosebleeds
  • Blood in the urine or stool
  • Headaches

If these symptoms persist, seek medical help right away.


Natural Ways to Increase Platelets

Depending on the cause of your low platelet count, you will likely need some medical treatment to increase your levels.

There are also foods and supplements that you can consume (and some you should avoid) to support the manufacturing of platelets and increase your platelet count.

Foods to Eat

Papaya

Papaya and papaya leaves are a well-known natural remedy for thrombocytopenia in some parts of the world, and several studies are evaluating this claim. While there are many theories as to why papaya could increase platelets, it does appear that this enzyme-rich fruit significantly increases the activity of an enzyme that is important in platelet production in bone marrow.

Papaya (or an extract made with the leaf) is perhaps best known in regions where dengue fever, an infection characterized by a dangerous drop in platelet levels, is endemic. In one placebo-controlled trial with adults who had dengue fever, papaya leaf extract was associated with less of a decline in platelet levels at days one through five of hospitalization.

Another study looking at children with dengue fever also noted some benefits with regard to platelet levels.

You can eat fresh papaya fruit or make juice from the papaya leaf (available in some warmer climates) at home. There are also extracts available, but it's important to talk to your healthcare provider before considering using papaya in supplemental form, as it can interact with other medications.

Spinach and Other Green Leafy Vegetables

Spinach is an excellent source of folate (vitamin B9), a nutrient needed for the production of not only platelets but also red blood cells and white blood cells.

Other good choices for foods high in folate include other leafy greens such as mustard greens, beef liver, legumes (especially black-eyed peas and kidney beans), rice, peanuts, and asparagus. Many breakfast cereals are also fortified with folate.

Folate in leafy greens is a good way to illustrate the complexity of our health and the importance of overall good eating practices. It's been noted that adults with high blood pressure have an increased risk of strokes. Researchers in China examined whether folate supplementation could reduce this risk. They found that among people who had low platelet counts (and high homocysteine levels), supplementing with folate reduced the risk of the first stroke by 73%.

Kiwi

Kiwi is rich in vitamin C and is an excellent addition to a low platelet diet. Vitamin C supports the normal functioning of platelets, such as gathering together (aggregating) and sticking (adhesion).

Additional foods high in vitamin C include red pepper, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits.

Collard Greens

Collard greens have nearly the highest content of vitamin K of any food. Vitamin K plays an essential role in clotting.

Along with collard greens, turnip greens, spinach, kale, and broccoli are also excellent vitamin K sources, with other foods having less than half or less the content of these green leafy veggies. If you want to try the highest source of vitamin K, the Japanese food Natto fits the bill.

Dark Chocolate

This sweet treat is actually an excellent source of iron.

While iron is best known for its role in forming red blood cells, its association with healthy platelet levels had been relatively under-recognized until recently. Iron is needed for the process of forming the large cells in bone marrow (megakaryocytes) that are broken up into pieces to form platelets.

Dark chocolate is a great iron source, with only oysters and white beans having a higher iron content per serving. Other good sources of iron include spinach, lentils, and tofu. (Fortified cereals often contain iron as well.)

Nutritional Yeast

If you do any vegetarian or vegan cooking, nutritional yeast is likely already a staple for its cheesy flavor. Other than beef liver, nutritional yeast has the highest content per serving of vitamin B12. This nutrient is necessary to produce platelets.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the possible causes of thrombocytopenia. Increasing your intake of nutritional yeast and other sources, such as clams, tuna, and salmon can help support healthy platelet levels.

Foods to Avoid

You should avoid certain foods and supplements that have been implicated in lowering platelet counts while you're trying to raise your platelet levels.

Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages may reduce platelet counts in more than one way. First, it can lead to a deficiency of folate (needed for platelet production), and second, it raises the chance of bleeding. In addition, it appears to play a role in the death of platelets (apoptosis).

Tonic Water (Quinine)

Quinine is a well-known cause of drug-induced thrombocytopenia, and tonic water usually contains quinine. However, you'd have to drink a lot of tonic water to consume a harmful level of quinine. Still, the compound has been associated with the destruction of platelets, and there is at least one case report of life-threatening thrombocytopenia linked to tonic water.

Nutrasweet (aspartame)

The artificial sweetener Nutrasweet (aspartame) has been linked to thrombocytopenia, though the exact mechanism is uncertain.

A review of this information, as well as other possible metabolic issues and conditions associated with aspartame, has led researchers to suggest monitoring the consumption of aspartame with regard to health.

Others

Some other foods have been linked to lower platelet counts or platelet dysfunction in at least a few studies. These include:

  • Cranberry juice
  • Cow's milk
  • Jui (a Chinese herbal tea)
  • Tahini

Supplements

As discussed above, papaya leaf may help increase platelet counts for some people, and supplements are available. A supplement of papaya leaf extract may be more accessible for some people, but consult your healthcare provider before trying.

When taken in supplemental form, the doses of nutrients may greatly exceed those found in foods. In other cases, due to lack of regulation, the supplement may be present in only very small amounts.

Supplements to Avoid

There is a long list of supplements that may either reduce platelet count or reduce clotting ability. For the most part, these aren't problematic for people who are healthy, but it's important to look at supplements as you would any medication. They have biological effects that may alter your body in ways good or bad.

Some supplements that may alter platelet function (or clotting) include:

  • Feverfew
  • Ginseng
  • Garlic, ginger, and turmeric (in supplement form, not dietary intake)
  • St. John's wort
  • Motherwort
  • Gingko
  • Hawthorn
  • Evening primrose oil/black seed oil

Some supplements may also interact with prescription medications or other supplements to contribute to poor platelet function or bleeding risk.

Medical Treatment

In most cases, dietary practices won't be enough to increase platelet counts and medical intervention is needed. In this case, the treatment options usually depend upon both the cause of thrombocytopenia and the severity or risk of bleeding.

Treatment of the underlying problem is paramount when it is known. This may mean treating an underlying deficiency, such as vitamin B12 deficiency, addressing cancer that is present in bone marrow, or treating a serious infection. Treatment for the low platelet issue itself may include:

  • "Tincture of time:" This is essentially waiting to see if a problem corrects itself. An example where this is used frequently is chemotherapy. Many people have low platelet levels following a chemo infusion, but as long as platelets are not too low or causing problems (like heavy menstrual periods), waiting for levels to rise on their own again is often the treatment of choice.
  • Blood or platelet transfusions: If thrombocytopenia is severe, or a person is having a complication of thrombocytopenia such as internal bleeding, immediate transfusion may be needed.
  • Immunosuppressive medications: If an autoimmune condition is the cause of low platelets, then you may need medication to slow or stop the harmful immune response. The first line treatment is often corticosteroid medications such as prednisone. If not effective or effective enough, other medications to modulate the immune system may be needed.
  • Splenectomy: For some people who have thrombocytopenia due to sequestration of platelets in the spleen, removing the spleen may be necessary to resolve the problem.
  • Medications to stimulate production: There are now medications available that boost platelet production by the bone marrow, but these are used uncommonly.
  • Plasma exchange: Plasma exchange may be used in some types of thrombocytopenia such as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura.

Summary

Having a low platelet count can increase the risk of prolonged or excessive bleeding. Increasing platelets typically requires medical interventions, but there are some foods that help support platelet production. Some beneficial foods include papaya, kiwi, collard greens, and dark chocolate.

A Word From Verywell

There are many potential causes of a low platelet count and levels can range from primarily a nuisance to life-threatening. The most important step is to talk to your healthcare provider and learn about any known causes.

Being your own advocate can go a long way in helping you get the care you deserve. Adding some of the nutrient-rich foods mentioned in this articles into your diet (and reducing your intake of those that may lower your count) may help to increase your platelets, plus these foods can also be part of an all-around healthy diet to maximize your well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you increase your white blood cell count?

    To increase your white blood cell count, it can be a good idea to eat more foods rich in vitamin C (such as kiwi, red pepper, and citrus fruits), iron (like dark chocolate and red meat), and vitamin B12 (as found in meat and nutritional yeast).

    As with platelets, diet alone may not increase your white blood cell count sufficiently to prevent infections, and further treatments are needed. Many people now receive medications to stimulate their bone marrow to make white blood cells during chemotherapy.

  • How long does it take for platelets to increase?

    The length of time it takes for platelet counts to increase depends on both the cause and the treatments used. Platelets are continually produced and replaced and have an average lifespan in the bloodstream of eight to 10 days (when not broken down by the immune system, involved with clotting, or other conditions that may affect this).

    Therefore, in theory, you should be able to see the effects of changes you make within only a few weeks. That said, dietary changes may not lead to rapid change. For example, if you are very low on nutrients (such as folate or iron), it could take a while to build up your body stores of these nutrients.

  • How can you increase your platelet count during chemotherapy?

    It's important to talk to your oncologist about any supplements to increase platelet count because they could work against treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. For example, antioxidant supplements during chemotherapy or radiation therapy for breast cancer was associated with a poorer prognosis in postmenopausal women.

    Most often, if platelet counts are low enough to be worrisome, treatment will include either reducing the chemotherapy dose or replacing platelets with a transfusion. While there are medications that have been developed that stimulate bone marrow production (similar to those used to stimulate the development of white blood cells), they are not widely used at this time.

  • How can you increase your platelet count during pregnancy?

    Roughly 5% to 10% of women develop low platelet levels (thrombocytopenia) during pregnancy. Most often, this reduction in platelets is relatively minor. Low platelets can pose a problem with delivery with a cut off of around 50,000 microliters for cesarean section and 30,000 microliters for a vaginal delivery a general goal.

    Increasing your count will depend on the underlying cause, as there can be several different mechanisms that lead to low platelets during pregnancy. The most important step is to talk to your doctor. Certainly increasing your intake of some of the foods mentioned above may be wise, especially as these nutrients are important for fetal development as well.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Lynne Eldridge, MD
 Lynne Eldrige, MD, is a lung cancer physician, patient advocate, and award-winning author of "Avoiding Cancer One Day at a Time."