White blood cells, often called leukocytes, are three types of cells found in the blood, along with red blood cells and platelets. Specifically, the white blood cell family contains five members: monocytes, lymphocytes, basophils, neutrophils, and eosinophils. Together, these five cells act as our body’s primary immune system, responding to irritants and invaders. All blood cells are made in the bone marrow and then pass into the bloodstream. Leukocyte levels in the body are assessed through a blood differential test (also called a white blood cell differential) as a part of a complete blood count. This test can detect abnormal or immature cells and diagnose an infection, leukemia, or an autoimmune disorder. A healthcare professional may order a blood differential when someone has general signs and symptoms of infection and/or inflammation, such as:
- Fever, chills
- Body aches, pains
A decrease in total white blood cell count is unusual and generally a cause for concern. There are a few conditions within the body that cause white blood cell levels to drop, including:
- A severe infection, such as sepsis, which is wiping out blood cells faster than the body can make them
- A disease affecting the bone marrow, like lupus or HIV
- Medications that impact the bone marrow (e.g., chemotherapy)
If you follow a whole food, plant-based (i.e., vegan) diet, your white blood cell count (including Neutrophils and Monocytes) might be on a lower level. Research studies are supporting the hypothesis that people on a vegan diet have overall lower WBC counts. For those individuals, the optimal reference range should be adjusted downwards to 3.11 - 8.83 x10E3/µL [L, L, L, L].
An elevated total white blood cell count is always the result of infection or inflammation. In the instance of infection, the source is likely bacterial. The causes of inflammation are varied. Physical stressors like exercise, seizures, anxiety, tobacco use, burn injuries, heart attack, appendicitis, and splenectomy can result in inflammation. There are a few chronic conditions that lead to inflammation, such as inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis. Some cancers (like those of the bone marrow) can cause an abnormal white blood cell count.
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