How Do You Increase White Blood Cell Count?

And What Factors Affect White Blood Cell Count

White blood cells (WBCs) are the immune cells in your body. They circulate in your bloodstream and work as guardians to help protect you from viruses, bacteria, and other infectious organisms.

Maintaining a normal level of healthy white blood cells can help reduce the risk of infection and is a key component of overall health. If you have a low WBC count, called leukopenia, you may be at an increased risk of developing infections.

Importantly, you don't want extremely high levels of white blood cells. Increased WBC levels—known as leukocytosis—are a sign the body is responding to a stressor. Stressors that increase WBC levels can be physical, such as an infection, cancer, or an autoimmune disorder, or emotional.

This article discusses the function of white blood cells, the causes of increased and decreased white blood cell counts, and the medications and habits needed to maintain a healthy white blood cell count.

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Types of WBCs and Their Functions

Several types of white blood cells are found in your body, and each has specialized functions. The major WBC types are:

  • Neutrophils: These cells make up the majority of the white blood cell population. Neutrophils are the primary cells responsible for responding to bacterial infections.
  • Lymphocytes: Lymphocytes are the second most common white blood cell subtype. The lymphocytes include T cells and B cells, which help support the immune system's response to infections, cancers, and other stresses.
  • Eosinophils: These white blood cells are primarily responsible for allergies and responding to parasitic infections. 
  • Monocytes: These WBCs are the first to respond to an infection. These blood cells include macrophages and dendritic cells and can be elevated in autoimmune disorders and chronic infections. 

WBCs fight infection and are also an integral part of the body’s ability to fend off cancer. Since cancer cells are foreign to the body, white blood cells such as lymphocytes can help eliminate cancer cells.

Some cancers can evade detection by the immune system, but medical advances have created new therapies and treatments that use white blood cells to detect and target cancer, such as checkpoint inhibitors and cell therapies

How White Blood Cells Are Measured

The most common test to detect WBC levels is called a complete blood count, or CBC.

The CBC can provide information on the total number of white blood cells in the body, as well as the specific types of white blood cells. The CBC is a useful diagnostic tool because it can provide healthcare providers with information on your white blood cell count and the potential causes of an elevated white blood cell count. 

Another test that is used for white blood cell assessment is called flow cytometry. This is a more advanced test that is typically used for evaluating cancerous white blood cell counts. Cytometry analyzes each cell individually and can precisely determine subtypes of white blood cells. 

Causes of Increased White Blood Cell Counts

There are many causes of elevated WBC counts. WBC levels can rise due to the following:

  • Infection
  • Medications, particularly steroid medications
  • Pregnancy 
  • Surgery or injury
  • Allergic reaction
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Stress, both emotional and physical
  • Bone marrow disorder
  • Cancer, particularly leukemia and lymphoma 
  • Smoking

Causes of Low WBC Counts

While many conditions can lead to high white blood cell counts, there are only a few major causes of low white blood cell counts. These include:

  • Chemotherapy medications
  • Immunosuppressive medicines
  • Medications
  • Bone marrow failure
  • Autoimmune disorders

If you have a low white blood cell count, you should ask your healthcare provider to determine the cause and the best course of treatment. In some cases, a very low white blood cell count can increase your risk of developing serious infections.

Medicines That Increase WBC Count

If you have a low white blood cell count, your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to stimulate white blood cell production. These medications, such as Neupogen (filgrastim), Neulasta (pegfilgrastim), and others, are all part of a family of drugs called granulocyte colony stimulators (G-CSF). These medications work by jump-starting the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells.

Foods That Increase WBC Counts

If your white blood cell level is low, there are changes you can make to try to increase it. Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatments, including diets, that may disrupt your WBC count. Very low WBCs are medical emergencies that require prompt treatment. 

A healthy diet, rich in vegetables, and protein is a good way to maintain a healthy immune system.

A Mediterranean diet, which consists of whole grains; fruits and vegetables; beans, nuts, and seeds; healthy fats; moderate amounts of fish and poultry; and limited amounts of red meat, has been shown to help boost white blood cell levels. Foods such as blueberries, strawberries, and leafy green vegetables can help reduce the risk of developing certain immune disorders. These whole foods are a good source of antioxidants, which can help support the function of a healthy immune system.

As much as possible, look to get your nutrients and antioxidants from foods. You should consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplements.

Summary

Maintaining a healthy white blood cell count can help reduce the risk of infection and is a key component of overall health. If you have a low WBC count you may have leukopenia, which increases your risk of developing infections.

A Word From Verywell

If you have a low white blood cell count, there are several strategies you can use to boost your white blood cell levels. Work with your healthcare provider to see if changes in your medications or your diet can help increase your levels.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is white blood cell count important?

    The white blood cell count is a measure of the body’s immune system. When the white blood cell count is high it is a sign that the body is under stress and there may be an infection, injury, or other stressors on the body.

  • Which foods improve white blood cell counts?

    A healthy diet of vegetables and antioxidants will help support a healthy white blood cell count. Leafy green vegetables, fruits, and protein can help maintain a robust white blood cell count.

  • What should you do for white blood cell count during chemotherapy?

    Chemotherapy will change the white blood cell count in your body. As a result, your healthcare provider, usually your cancer specialist called an oncologist, will closely monitor your white blood cell count during chemotherapy. If your WBC count drops too low, you may need additional medications to boost your WBC count, or you may need to halt chemotherapy temporarily.

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