Proper nutrition is imperative to a healthy body and healthy blood. White blood cells, one component of your blood system, will battle viruses, bacteria and other invaders that pose a threat to your health. Your body can produce 100 billion white blood cells in a day, but malnutrition, disease and injury may cause a decrease in white blood cell production. Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants work together to help your body maintain a healthy immune system, which allows adequate production of white blood cells.
White blood cells, or WBCs, are produced by your bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft, vascular tissue that fills the central portion of your bones. The bone marrow produces five kinds of white blood cells: monocytes, lymphocytes, neutrophils, basophils and eosinophils. Each type of WBC has its own immune system function in the destruction of harmful substances and prevention of illness. For example, monocytes help destroy invading bacteria, and eosinophils attack parasites. A normal number of WBCs is 3.5 to 10.5 cells per liter.
Several vitamins have an impact on the WBCs of your immune system. Vitamin D is a known immune system modulator. The vitamin D receptor is located on most immune system cells, including the WBCs. Research from 1986 by G.A. Rook published in “Immunology” found that vitamin D can inhibit the growth of bacteria causing certain types of tuberculosis. Vitamin C, a well-known immune system booster, stimulates both the production and function of WBCs. Vitamin E functions in stimulating the activity of lymphocytes, and several of the B vitamins -- B6, B12 and folic acid -- have a role in immune system health. Therefore, low amounts of certain dietary vitamins may decrease your WBCs, while good nutrition allows them to function properly.
Complete nutrition to include the minerals copper, selenium and zinc is needed for a healthy immune system, thus proper WBC production and function. Copper functions as an antioxidant to protect WBCs from environmental damage. Supplementing children with copper deficiency increased the ability of their WBCs to destroy disease-producing agents, but the exact mechanism is yet unknown. Selenium seems to enhance activation and growth of lymphocytes as well. Zinc is important to WBC membrane integrity. It plays an important role in membrane structure, thus protecting the WBCs from damage.
White blood cells can be damaged by reactive oxygen species, chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen. Reactive oxygen species come from exhaustive exercise or environmental chemicals. Also, certain diseases, such as cancer and chronic inflammatory diseases generate reactive oxygen species. Dietary intake of antioxidants plays a role in protecting cells against reactive oxygen species damage, thus protecting WBCs.
Nutritional Additions For Healthy WBCs
Eating foods adequate in vitamins C, D, E and B complex will likely affect your WBCs. Salmon contains good amounts of both vitamin D and B12, while orange juice can give you vitamin C and folate. Vitamin E is obtained mostly by consuming nuts and oils, such as corn oil, canola oil and peanuts. Most seafood contains zinc, copper and selenium, although meat is a good source of both zinc and selenium. Other foods rich in copper include seeds, nuts and mushrooms. Fruits, berries and some beans have high antioxidant levels that protect your WBCs and promote a healthy immune system.
- University of Rochester Medical Center: What Are White Blood Cells?
- Mayo Clinic: Low Blood Cell Counts: Side Effect of Cancer Treatment
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamins
- Immunology: Vitamin D3, Gamma Interferon, and Control of Proliferation of Mycobacterium Tuberculosis By Human Monocytes
- Immunology: Vitamin E and Immune Response
- American Cancer Society: Nutrition for Kids with Cancer, Low White Blood Cell Counts
- Linus Pauling Institute: Minerals
Based in Michigan, Keri Gardner has been writing scientific journal articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in such journals as "Disability and Rehabilitation" and "Journal of Orthopaedic Research." She holds a Master of Science in comparative medicine and integrative biology from Michigan State University.