Everything You Need to Know About High White Blood Cell Count and How to Decrease WBC Naturally

Find out when you should be worried about a high white blood count, along with ways you can decrease white blood cells with the right diet.

Perrin Braun
By Perrin Braun
Dorian Rhode
Edited by Dorian Rhode

Published December 20, 2023.

A group of red and white blood cells on a blue background

White blood cells play an important role in your body’s immune system, searching the blood for invading viruses, bacteria, and fungi. When a foreign virus or bacteria enters your blood, the white blood cell, known as a leukocyte, recognizes and destroys the invading particle before it can cause disease. [1]

There are several types of white blood cells, each with their own function. Some directly kill the foreign bacteria, while others attack your own cells that are infected by viruses. Other types of white blood cells can even play a role in allergic reactions.

» In contrast, discover what it means to have a low white blood cell count.

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What happens if white blood cells are high?

Since white blood cells fight off infection, people tend to think that elevated levels are actually beneficial—but, this is not necessarily the case.

A high white blood cell count isn’t a specific disease in itself, but it can indicate an underlying problem, such as infection, stress, inflammation, trauma, allergy, or certain conditions. That’s why a high white blood cell count usually requires further investigation.

While a high white blood cell count can be a sign of an underlying issue, it is important to understand the different types of white blood cells to further evaluate the specific cause and potential implications. The types of white blood cells include:

  • Neutrophils: Neutrophils, which account for about 70% of white blood cells, can increase in response to bacterial infections and physical or emotional stress.
  • Lymphocyte: A high lymphocyte count may occur with a viral or bacterial infection.
  • Monocytes: Increased monocytes can indicate chronic inflammation.
  • Eosinophils and basophils: Elevated levels of basophils and eosinophils may occur when there is an allergic response or in cases of a parasitic infection.

The only way to truly determine if your levels are too high is to get your blood tested by your physician’s office or through InsideTracker.

The InsideTracker blood analysis measures your white blood cell count and will tell you whether it is in the optimal zone for you. If your white blood cell count is elevated, you should speak with your doctor.

In addition to your total white blood cell count, InsideTracker also measures the different types of white blood cells, which can give clues as to what may be causing the elevated white blood cell count.



What are the symptoms of high white blood cell count?

People with a white blood cell count higher than normal, a condition called leukocytosis, typically don’t have any specific symptoms—but may have a medical condition responsible for raising white blood cell levels.

Since an elevated white blood cell count can be a symptom of another underlying problem, you might experience symptoms that are associated with that condition. However, people with leukocytosis may also experience a combination of these symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Fainting
  • Bleeding
  • Bruising
  • Weight loss
  • General pain

What is a high white blood cell count?

The specific number for high white blood cell count varies from one lab testing facility to another, but a general rule of thumb is that a count of more than 10,500 leukocytes in a microliter of blood in adults is generally considered to be high, while 4,500-10,500 is considered within the normal range. [2]

» Find out what a complete blood count (CBC) test is and why you need it

What are the causes of high white blood cell count?

There are a few reasons why you might have high white blood cell count:

  • Infection: As infection-causing bacteria or viruses multiply in the blood, your bone marrow produces more white blood cells to fight the infection. Infection can also lead to inflammation, which can in turn cause the number of white blood cells to increase.
  • Smoking or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Essentially, COPD means that you have a lung and airway disease like emphysema or chronic bronchitis that blocks proper airflow. [3] It is commonly caused by cigarette smoking, which results in inflammation in the lungs and air passages. As you gain more inflammation in your lungs and airways, your body will produce more white blood cells to fight it off.
  • Leukemia: Leukemia is a type of cancer that dramatically increases your number of white blood cells. Leukemic white blood cells are often non-functional, which may increase the risk of infection in these cancer patients. [4]
  • Immune system disorders: Some auto-immune disorders like Crohn’s or Graves’ disease can elevate your white blood cell levels. If you have one of these conditions, your doctor should monitor your white blood cell levels.
  • Stress: Finally, emotional or physical stress can also cause elevated white blood cell counts. The good news is that white blood cell levels will return to normal after the stress is gone.
a diagram explaining how daily habits affect white blood cell functioning



How does exercise affect your white blood cell count?

If you get your blood tested right after working out, you might not have to worry—your body actually increases your white blood cell count during exercise! In fact, this increase in your white blood cells' activity might allow your body to identify disease-causing organisms more rapidly than under normal circumstances, which is yet another benefit of exercise.

Immediately after exercise, your levels of white blood cells increase in proportion to the intensity and duration of the workout.

Since the amount of white blood cells then lowers to its normal level after exercise, you should ideally wait one day after a heavy workout session to get your blood tested.

How to decrease white blood cells with food

What you eat also has an effect on your white blood cell count. To keep your levels in check, avoid eating foods high in fat, calories, sugar, and salt (such as fast foods). Aim for foods that are high in antioxidants like vitamins C and E, fiber, calcium, fish oils, mono-unsaturated fats, and low on the glycemic index.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat (or PUFA) that is known to increase heart health and elevate the activity of phagocytes, a type of white blood cells that protect you from foreign bacteria. Omega-3 PUFAs are found mainly in fatty fish like trout, herring, and salmon, but also in walnuts and flaxseed. Studies have shown that PUFAs significantly increased white blood cell counts in women on a controlled diet.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are a type of molecule that protects our cells against harmful molecules called free radicals, which damage cells, protein, and DNA (for instance, free radicals cause peeled apples to turn brown).

Eating more phytochemicals helps protect against this type of damage. Phytochemicals with antioxidant capacity include allyl sulfides (found in onions, leeks, and garlic), carotenoids (in fruits and carrots), flavonoids (fruits and vegetables), and polyphenols (in tea and grapes). While they don’t specifically work to increase white blood cell count, they help to support a healthy immune system.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps the body to produce more white blood cells, which in turn helps the body to fight infections. All citrus fruits—including oranges, lemons, and limes—contain vitamin C. You can also get vitamin C from other fruits, such as berries, papayas, pineapples and guavas, and vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and bell peppers.

Non-alcoholic beer

In addition to these nutrients, you may want to invest in some non-alcoholic beer. Believe it or not, one study showed that drinking 1 to 1.5 liters of non-alcoholic beer for 3 weeks before and 2 weeks after running a marathon helps to reduce both inflammation and white blood cell count.

Your InsideTracker Plan will give you recommendations for a variety of foods that satisfy your preferences and provide you with the nutrients you need.

Some foods that have also been shown to affect lowering inflammation include:

  • Garlic
  • Grapes
  • Herbs and spices
  • Soy protein
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Black and green teas
  • Vinegar

Aim to eat at least six servings of fruits and vegetables per day, which will benefit much more than your white blood cell levels.

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Take control of your health

Understanding the implications of a high white blood cell count is essential for optimizing your health. InsideTracker's blood biomarker analysis not only measures these levels but also offers valuable insights and personalized recommendations to improve your health markers. By exploring dietary adjustments and leveraging tools like InsideTracker, you can take proactive steps to manage your white blood cell count. You even have the opportunity to view a free InsideTracker demo to get you started.

Whether you're an athlete or not, monitoring these levels can improve your performance and overall well-being. Don't overlook the importance of understanding and addressing high white blood cell counts for a healthier life.




References:

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26760415/

[2] https://www.ucsfhealth.org/medical-tests/wbc-count

[3] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-(copd)

[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27866578/