Ask the Doctor: Low White Blood Cell Count

Hello Dr. Rona,

My doctor has just informed me that my white blood cell count has gradually dropped from a value of 4 to a value of 2.7 over the past 3 years. I’ve had chronic fatigue syndrome during the ’90s, 3 minor strokes, and a heart attack in 2002, with heavy menstrual bleeding resulting in a hysterectomy in 2003. As well, I’ve consistently had thyroid readings termed “low side of normal” and have had a mulit-nodular goiter for the last 6 years. I have been feeling healthy overall although do ‘relate’ to symptoms of low thyroid as described in your Vitality article.

My questions are: Should I be concerned about the decline in my white blood cell count?

  • What can I do to raise my white blood cell count?
  • Is there more testing that should be done in order to determine the cause of this change?

Thank you very much for any light you can shed,

Karol Klein
Ottawa, Ont.

Karol:

More testing is indeed warranted. A low white cell count (leukopenia) can be seen with viral infections, a long list of drugs including radiation and chemotherapy as well as certain forms of anemia. Sometimes, alcohol abuse and severe stress (death of a spouse or other major life changes) can be responsible. Autoimmune disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus and different types of arthritis can be the cause. A deficiency in zinc or copper (also associated with thyroid problems) could cause a low white cell count as well. Psychiatric drugs like Wellbutrin and antibiotics like minocycline and metronidazole can suppress white blood cell counts. Of course there are also the immunosuppressive drugs used in diseases like MS that can lower white cell counts.

If none of these were operative in your situation, a referral by your family doctor to a hematologist for more detailed testing would be the most appropriate thing to do.

Strategies to raise your white cell count depend upon the cause but you might want to increase your protein intake, take more vitamin C, probiotics, bovine colostrum, astragalus and vitamin D. A naturopath or holistic medical doctor can do an assessment and recommend a regime of vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements.