Nutrition & white blood cells

Updated May 10, 2017

Your nutrition plays a vital role in protecting and defending your body, particularly when it comes to your immune system. Your white blood cells make up part of your immune system. When you become ill, your white blood cells are being attacked by the infection. Certain things, such as cancer treatments, can weaken or lower your white blood cell count. It’s important to have a strong immune system to protect yourself from illnesses and infections.


Your blood is made up of red blood cells, or RBC, and white blood cells, or WBC, and platelets. Platelets help your blood clot when you’re bleeding. Your blood consists of more red blood cells than white blood cells. Your doctor can check your WBC count to help determine certain illnesses and how far and illness has spread. Your white blood cells can move from your blood into tissues to help fight infection, according to KidsHealth. When you’re sick, your WBC count is often much higher than when you’re not sick because your body is trying to fight the infection.


Your bone marrow produces white blood cells and your WBC count increases during times of illness or infection. Granulocytes and lymphocytes make up part of your white blood cells, which helps fight germs, viruses, bacteria and cancer cells. Some parts of your white blood cells produce antibodies, according to KidsHealth, which help neutralize or destroy certain foreign materials. Once your body has been attacked by an infection, your lymphocytes can remember how to make the same antibodies it made previously to fight the infection.


Certain treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation and certain cancers can lower or deplete your WBC, according to the Mayo Clinic. Chemotherapy, or chemo, and radiation can zap your WBC count as these drugs can enter or penetrate your bone marrow. Blood and bone cancer also depletes your WBC as it enters bone marrow tissue. Some cancers that metastasize, or spread, can also affect your WBC count as the cancer breaks off from one tissue or organ and enters your blood or bone tissue.


Good nutrition can positively influence your immune system. Certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and calcium, help boost your immune system and keep your bones healthy and strong. Vitamin C contains antioxidants that help fight free radicals. Strong, healthy bones can protect you against certain conditions such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. These conditions can soften and weaken your bones, possibly making it easier for cancers to affect your body. Foods rich in vitamin C include fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, kiwi, berries and leafy green vegetables. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products such as butter, cheese, milk, yogurt and ice cream.


Eating a well-balanced diet can help ensure that you’re receiving all of the essential vitamins and minerals that your body requires to stay healthy. If you have a very busy lifestyle, consider taking a multivitamin to ensure you’re meeting all of the daily-recommended allowances of vitamins and minerals. Talk to your doctor to make sure you’re taking the right vitamins before beginning a vitamin regimen.

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About the Author

Kristin Davis has been writing since 2004, specializing in the health and fitness fields. She has written for online and print publications including Fitness Monthly and Creative Circle. Davis has certification through the International Fitness Professionals Association as a personal trainer.