The Biomarker Handbook is a curated series that seeks to provide readers with insights on each biomarker we cover in our blood test packages and its relation to our body.
White Blood Cells, also known as leukocytes or white corpuscles, are cellular components found in the blood, along with red blood cells. However, unlike their red counterparts, white blood cells do not have haemoglobin and are more mobile in nature. Their mobility allows them to effectively protect the body from bacteria and prevents the spread of diseases within the body.
Keeping track of your white blood cell count can help you detect hidden infections. Additionally, your white blood cell count can also help to monitor the side effects of certain treatment, for example, chemotherapy.
Types of White Blood Cells
White blood cells are essential to the body as they help prevent diseases by attacking bacteria, viruses, and foreign organisms that could be harmful towards the body. Listed below are the five different types of white blood cells essential to our bodies:
The Function of White Blood Cells
Neutrophils: They are the first defense mechanism after an injury and the most common type of white blood cell. They surround and engulf any foreign organisms. After which, these foreign organisms are then killed and digested. Neutrophils are also able to produce microscopic webs that ensnare disease-causing germs.
Monocytes: Of all the white blood cells, monocytes are the largest in structure. They are able to detect infection or inflammation and are able to identify harmful foreign organisms within the body. Monocytes circulate the bloodstream for several hours to a few days before migrating into the body tissue, where they continue to protect the body by attacking and destroying harmful organisms.
Eosinophils: Eosinophils protect the body from parasitic infections or allergic reactions. They do this by releasing chemical mediators, which target and destroy parasites. However, abnormally high levels of eosinophil can cause organ and tissue damage, mainly affecting your heart, lungs, spleen, and skin.
Basophils: Basophils are the least common type of white blood cell and play a vital role in your body’s immune system. They contain heparin, which prevents blood from clotting due to it being a naturally occurring blood thinner. Basophils also mediate allergic reactions by releasing histamine and producing antibodies that bind to other cells and induce an allergic reaction.
Lymphocytes: Lymphocytes circulate between the bloodstream, lymph nodes and other lymphatic tissue, such as the spleen. Additionally, our bodies consist of two types of lymphocytes- B cells and T cells. B cells produce antibodies, which target invading germs and destroy them with the help of other immune system cells. T cells aid in the recognition of infectious foreign material and the activation of other immune system cells.
Ideal White Blood Cell levels
The normal range of white blood cells per microliter of blood is dependent on different factors, such as age.
Further analysis can help to determine an accurate percentage of the various types of white blood cells. Variation from the average rate can indicate an underlying condition or ailment.
Causes of Abnormal White Blood Cell Levels
An abnormally high white blood cell count is known as leukocytosis. This usually indicates:
- The presence of an infection or infectious disorders such as tuberculosis
- Certain cancers and inflammatory conditions
- A reaction induced by a drug or supplement used to raise white blood cell levels
- A bone marrow disease
- A disorder regarding the immune system
On the other hand, an abnormally low white blood cell count is known as leukopenia. Individuals suffering from leukopenia will have a weakened immune system, with their bodies more
susceptible to infections. This may be an indication of:
- A viral infection disrupting the function of the bone marrow
- Congenital disorders that affect the bone marrow’s production of white blood cells
- Cancers affecting the bone marrow
- Autoimmune diseases
- Severe infections
- Medication that destroys or slow down the production of white blood cells
How to balance an abnormal White Blood Cell count
Individuals suffering from an unbalanced white blood cell count can include the following foods in their diet to help balance their white blood cell levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Found in fatty fish like trout, herring, and salmon, omega-3 fatty acids have been known to elevate white blood cells levels, especially in women.
Vitamin C is known to help in the production of white blood cells. Good sources of Vitamin C include oranges, pineapples, broccoli, and cauliflower, just to mention a few.
For individuals with an abnormally high white blood cell count, choose to add foods high in selenium to your diet. In addition, a study done has found that these foods may help lower your white blood cell count, with this decrease mostly due to the changes in granulocytes. Thus, be sure to increase your intake of foods high in selenium, such as brazil nuts, halibut, and canned sardines.
White blood cells are a vital part of our body’s immune system. They make up the building blocks of our body’s defence against infectious diseases and harmful foreign organisms. Thus, in order to keep your body in optimal health, keep track of your white blood cell count by going for blood tests at least once a year. Keep yourself healthy and remember that an abnormal white blood cell count could be an indication of a life-changing disease and should be addressed immediately.
If you’re interested in learning more about taking care of your immune system on a budget, take a look at our lifestyle article here!
Interested in other biomarkers, check out the rest of The Biomarker Handbook.
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