Boosting Immunity while Reducing Inflammation

Boosting Immunity while Reducing Inflammation
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Cooked white mushroom consumption stimulates antibody production, while potentially still playing an anti-inflammatory role.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

There’s lots of products that promise to boost your immune system, and who wouldn’t want that? Well, there’s millions of people with autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, allergies—millions of people whose immune systems may already be a bit too active.

I try to make sufferers of seasonal allergies feel better by explaining that having an overactive immune system is not all bad. Individuals with allergies “have a decreased risk for cancer (compared with the general population).” Yes, your immune system may be in such overdrive it’s attacking things left and right, like tree pollen, but that heightened state of alert might also help bring down some budding tumors in the body. So, it’s tricky; we want to boost the part of the immune system that fights infection, while down-regulating the part that results in chronic inflammation. And, mushrooms may fit the bill.

There are thousands of edible mushrooms, though “only [about] 100 are cultivated commercially, and only 10 of those on an industrial scale.” And, I do mean industrial, rising to over 20 million tons, and for good reason. They accelerate immunoglobulin A secretion; let me explain.

Though skin is considered our largest organ, we actually interface with the outside world more through our mucous membranes, that line our mouth, our entire digestive tract, our reproductive and urinary systems, inside the breast glands, on our eyeballs—occupying our largest body surface area.

Our gut alone covers more area than a tennis court, and much of it is only one cell thick. One microscopic layer is all that separates us from all the toxins, viruses, and bacteria out there, and so we need one heck of a first-line defense. And, that defense is called IgA, immunoglobulin A. Immunoglobulin means antibody; these are our type A antibodies. “Dietary intake may improve mucosal immunity by accelerating IgA secretion,” but no studies have ever been conducted on mushrooms—until now.

So, they had half the people eat their normal diet, half eat their normal diet, plus cooked white button mushrooms, every day for a week. Then, using the “passive dribble” method for collecting saliva, they just measured the amount of IgA they were pumping out. No change in the control group, but after a week of mushrooms, IgA secretion jumped 50%, and even stayed up there for a week after they stopped eating the mushrooms.

“This study has shown for the first time that [a] dietary intake of [white button mushrooms—just regular white mushrooms, about a cup a day] resulted in higher IgA secretion.” And, the “elevated…secretion remained stable [into] week 2,” but then fell back to baseline. So, “[t]his suggests that, in arresting or slowing the decrease of IgA in individuals such as the elderly or those with immune compromise, a continuous daily intake of…[mushrooms] may be necessary to maintain an increased IgA secretion”—meaning you can’t just eat mushrooms once, and expect to be protected forever; you have to make them part of your regular diet.

But, if you continue to churn out 50% more antibodies, might that contribute to chronic inflammation, which is implicated in the development of a variety of diseases? No. In fact, mushrooms appear to have an “anti-inflammatory capacity in vitro, suggesting that they could be regarded as a potential source of natural anti-inflammatory agents.”

For example, here’s an inflammatory response without mushrooms, and with mushrooms—both white, and a few other varieties. They think it might be the phytonutrient pyrogallol, found in a variety of mushrooms, as well as in our old friend amla (Indian gooseberries), that similarly appear to reduce inflammation, while at the same time boosting immune and anticancer function.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to artizone, ignaciofedz, & Óskar87jk via flickr, as well as mushroomcouncil.org and the British Mycological Society.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

There’s lots of products that promise to boost your immune system, and who wouldn’t want that? Well, there’s millions of people with autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, allergies—millions of people whose immune systems may already be a bit too active.

I try to make sufferers of seasonal allergies feel better by explaining that having an overactive immune system is not all bad. Individuals with allergies “have a decreased risk for cancer (compared with the general population).” Yes, your immune system may be in such overdrive it’s attacking things left and right, like tree pollen, but that heightened state of alert might also help bring down some budding tumors in the body. So, it’s tricky; we want to boost the part of the immune system that fights infection, while down-regulating the part that results in chronic inflammation. And, mushrooms may fit the bill.

There are thousands of edible mushrooms, though “only [about] 100 are cultivated commercially, and only 10 of those on an industrial scale.” And, I do mean industrial, rising to over 20 million tons, and for good reason. They accelerate immunoglobulin A secretion; let me explain.

Though skin is considered our largest organ, we actually interface with the outside world more through our mucous membranes, that line our mouth, our entire digestive tract, our reproductive and urinary systems, inside the breast glands, on our eyeballs—occupying our largest body surface area.

Our gut alone covers more area than a tennis court, and much of it is only one cell thick. One microscopic layer is all that separates us from all the toxins, viruses, and bacteria out there, and so we need one heck of a first-line defense. And, that defense is called IgA, immunoglobulin A. Immunoglobulin means antibody; these are our type A antibodies. “Dietary intake may improve mucosal immunity by accelerating IgA secretion,” but no studies have ever been conducted on mushrooms—until now.

So, they had half the people eat their normal diet, half eat their normal diet, plus cooked white button mushrooms, every day for a week. Then, using the “passive dribble” method for collecting saliva, they just measured the amount of IgA they were pumping out. No change in the control group, but after a week of mushrooms, IgA secretion jumped 50%, and even stayed up there for a week after they stopped eating the mushrooms.

“This study has shown for the first time that [a] dietary intake of [white button mushrooms—just regular white mushrooms, about a cup a day] resulted in higher IgA secretion.” And, the “elevated…secretion remained stable [into] week 2,” but then fell back to baseline. So, “[t]his suggests that, in arresting or slowing the decrease of IgA in individuals such as the elderly or those with immune compromise, a continuous daily intake of…[mushrooms] may be necessary to maintain an increased IgA secretion”—meaning you can’t just eat mushrooms once, and expect to be protected forever; you have to make them part of your regular diet.

But, if you continue to churn out 50% more antibodies, might that contribute to chronic inflammation, which is implicated in the development of a variety of diseases? No. In fact, mushrooms appear to have an “anti-inflammatory capacity in vitro, suggesting that they could be regarded as a potential source of natural anti-inflammatory agents.”

For example, here’s an inflammatory response without mushrooms, and with mushrooms—both white, and a few other varieties. They think it might be the phytonutrient pyrogallol, found in a variety of mushrooms, as well as in our old friend amla (Indian gooseberries), that similarly appear to reduce inflammation, while at the same time boosting immune and anticancer function.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to artizone, ignaciofedz, & Óskar87jk via flickr, as well as mushroomcouncil.org and the British Mycological Society.

Doctor's Note

The immune-boosting fruit and vegetable video I reference is Boosting Immunity through Diet. See also Kale & the Immune System and Sleep & Immunity.

The balance between immune function and cancer is not always as straightforward as I noted; see my video series that begins with Cancer as an Autoimmune Disease.

More about mushroom magic in:

Probably best to eat cooked, though (see Toxins in Raw Mushrooms?).

How else to decrease inflammation? See:

What can we do about allergic diseases? See:

And if amla is not your old friend, become acquainted:

Check out my associated blog posts for additional context: Vitamin D from Mushrooms, Sun, or Supplements?Mushrooms & Immunity; and Probiotics during Cold Season?

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

47 responses to “Boosting Immunity while Reducing Inflammation

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  1. Really cool. Thanks, Dr. Greger. I’m hoping that with time you are able
    to find other foods that have this same and or similar effect
    as the mushrooms and amla do. A very interesting study and topic
    to start the week! Thanks.




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  2. Curious… in Italy there is a great culture of mushrooms(especially in autumn)… and even i really appreciate a cup of rice with boletus edulis… now i’ve only to find if the way i eat my mushroom is okay with the findings of the studies…




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      1. “Feeding studies using mushrooms and mushroom extracts have in general provided no evidence of toxicological effects of agaritine or mushroom consumption, in contrast to results of studies which have administered non-physiologically relevant concentrations of chemically synthesized hydrazine derivatives to mice. The available evidence to date suggests that agaritine from consumption of cultivated A. bisporus mushrooms poses no known toxicological risk to healthy humans.”

        Roupas, Peter, et al. “Mushrooms and agaritine: A mini-review.” Journal of Functional Foods 2.2 (2010): 91-98.
        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464610000241




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  3. So this is the same mushroom that you need to freeze, thaw, boil, discard the water to remove the carcinogen. I’m guessing that would get rid of the good stuff too.




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  4. The subjects in the active group (n = 12, 41.4 ± 11.3 y old) consumed 100 g of blanched WBM daily with their normal diet for 1 wk,” Why were they blanched? Are these the same kind of mushrooms that are toxic in the raw state?




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    1. I would suspect the blanching would be to kill external bacteria. I know white button mushrooms are grown on manure normally. Even though it would be well-composted, perhaps bacteria (or viruses) can survive and contaminate the mushroom. Shiitake and oyster mushrooms are grown on wood substrates. I’m not sure about other mushrooms, like the brown/portabello, etc.




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  5. I’m curious if that cup of mushrooms is a measured cup cooked or a measured cup after cooked.

    I LOVE mushrooms, but I rarely get a whole cup of cooked mushrooms as part of my daily diet. I tend to consume 1 to 2 packages of 10 ounces worth of raw mushrooms each week. (I cook them before eating.) That seems like a lot right there to me…

    Great video! Thanks for all the background info.




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  6. Hi Dr. Greger,

    Get your videos daily and so appreciate all the
    information and take it to heart.

    I’m a vegetarian, 10 years and a vegan for 2 years.
    Eat 5 times a week, oyster and enoki mushrooms
    and have been for years. Diagnosed with Alopecia
    Areata last week. The autoimmune system is attacking
    the hair follicles I am told.

    Diet was not an issue per the derma doc but again
    most docs don’t address ones diet but happily give
    prescriptions for meds and wish me a happy day!

    My question to you, can eating too many mushrooms
    as I do, compromise the immune system into overdrive?

    Thank you,

    Barbara




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  7. NF-κB is a master transcription factor for the inflammatory response, and this review details some of the mushroom compounds that inhibit this pathway.

    Petrova, R., et al. “Fungal metabolites modulating NF-kappa B activity: An approach to cancer therapy and chemoprevention (Review).”Oncology reports 19.2 (2008): 299. http://ww.mushroomhunter.net/chaga%20pdf/metabolite%20and%20cancer.pdf

    Past work points to the caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), which blocks NF-κB binding to DNA, as the active agent in white button mushrooms.




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  8. How much mushrooms must one eat to gain the benefits of mushrooms in the diet? I’m not a fan of mushrooms but maybe I can hide them in some of my food. And must they be eaten daily or can I have them a couple times a week and be okay?




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    1. The research suggests to me that if you eat a pound a day for a week, you can skip a week and still get the outstanding benefits. Since there is no research (presumably) on minimum dose or frequency, I would aim for even a small amount each day. Since we have varied diets, that may be hard to do, but even eating mushrooms more frequently should help the immune system. At a minimum, once per two weeks, but because we are likely to consumer lower doses than in the study, more frequent consumption would be wise. As for taste, I do think they are an acquired taste, so try them with your favorite herbs, seasonings, etc. until you find a few ways you like them. I enjoy them steamed with my veggies, but they can be bland that way. Pan-fried with garlic and salt is usually a big hit with people. Depending on how crowded your fry pan is, they will turn out either soft or browned. Good luck with your mushroom adventures!




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  9. Australian researchers say that the “fresh” mushrooms eaten in the following study were mostly only white button mushrooms and that the “dried” mushrooms eaten in the following study were mostly only shiitake mushrooms:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19048616

    Although the dried shiitakes were not as spectacular in preventing breast cancer in Chinese women as the freshly-eaten white buttons, freshly-eaten shiitakes might outperform freshly-eaten white buttons in another study – we don’t know:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicinal_mushrooms

    The 2 reasons why Dr. Greger advises us to boil white buttons before eating them is because: (1)all Agaricus mushrooms, including white button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) and the Brazilian mushrooms known as “mushroom of God” (Agaricus blazei) are high in cancer-causing agaritine, which can be deactivated only by boiling in hot water (or by canning). (2)white button mushrooms usually have pathogenic, Gram-negative, horse manure bacteria on the top, which can be killed by boiling in hot water but the bacterial endotoxins cannot be eliminated and will enter the human bloodstream even after the horse manure bacteria are completely killed by boiling in hot water or by the hydrochloric acid in the human stomach. It might be better to eat white button mushrooms fresh (raw) despite these 2 formidable disadvantages because the overall net health benefit is greater.

    Shiitake mushrooms, on the other hand, can be safely eaten fresh because they don’t contain much cancer-causing agaritine or horse manure. However, freshly-eaten shiitakes can cause rare, allergic skin reactions in Asians (but never in Caucasians).

    As for pyrogallol, one website says that smoked foods are extremely high in pyrogallol and that pyrogallol causes DNA damage:
    http://www.goodguide.com/ingredients/102723-pyrogallol
    http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/cancer_biologists_find_dna_damaging_toxins_in_common_plant_based_foods




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    1. I would be really worried about harmful metals getting in your food. If you eat enough whole plant foods, you do not need to worry about getting enough minerals by cooking with pennies. In fact, mushrooms are an excellent source of zinc! I know this is the case for cremini mushrooms, I think white button may be a great source of zinc as well but I’m not sure. Shitake mushrooms are an amazing source of copper.




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    1. I don’t see an answer to this question , I also want info on Chaga as it is supposed to have immune boosting properties and possibly anti cancer if you look at it;s use in Russia




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  10. My problem with mushrooms is that I can never eat enough to prevent a significant portion from rotting. My solution was to dry the mushrooms at 200°f and then grind them in my blender into a powder. That powder is easy to sprinkle on just about anything and it does not rot. The strong mushroom flavor only seems to come out from cooking it, so I can add it to salad dressings and even smoothies, and adding it to soups and sauces of all types is a no brainer.

    My question is am I compromising the healthy benefits by drying and grinding them?




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  11. My Mom was recently diagnosed with Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Temporal Arteritis. What can she do to help reduce inflammation and help her reduce the amount of steroids she needs to take ?




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  12. thanks for this but what aout the natural toxin in mushrooms called agaritine? in some readings it can cause cancer but it is a weak carcinogen. how much of it can a human eat before it causes disease?




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      1. I eat raw mushrooms all the time and never experience any adverse effects. I read that a symptom is stomach pain and that simply doesn’t happen for me, at all. I also read that the problem is the hard cell wall which cooking breaks down, but blending them I imagine may do the same thing.




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  13. Do the mushrooms have to be cooked? I like to put raw mushrooms in my smoothies sometimes… I know it sounds gross, but honestly you can’t even taste them over the fruit. I imagine the cooking process is what helps make the compounds in them more bioavailable, but what about blending them?
    Also, what about cremini mushrooms and shitake mushrooms? Cremini mushrooms are my favorite due to mineral content and my favorite when cooking mushrooms due to flavor. I also like putting raw mushrooms in salads.




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    1. Thanks for your response. I’ve come to the personal conclusion that raw mushrooms aren’t a concern. I think whole foods and the digestion process is very different than studying the effects of an isolated toxin within a complex plant food and feel like the same could be said for many healthy raw plant foods if we focused on a single substance, such as cyanide in flax. I’m gonna go with my personal experience and observations on this one but as always, appreciate the info provided.




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  14. Hello there. Firstly THANKYOU SO MUCH DR GREGOR we really appreciate you and your excellent work. Very much.

    MUSHROOMS. Boosting immunity whilst reducing inflammation. Brilliant. I have been (most unfortunately) treated for cryptogenic organizing pneumonia by a pharmacologicaly minded lung specialist. I was slowly suffocating and HAD to take high dose prednisolone to reduce inflammation in my lungs so that i could once more function. 6 months later half the dose, the dreadful condition is regressing.

    Since finding De Gregor, I am understanding that I have to transition to full plant based eating, but are there other fruit and veg that operate in the same extremely mysterious way as mushrooms? Im eating them almost every day along with other things from the daily dozen (and trying to source bona fide non-gmo metal/pesticide free ‘amla’ powder proves to be difficult for the time being in aus).

    Thankyou
    Catie




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    1. Hi Katie,

      I am a volunteer for Dr. Greger. Thanks so much for your question.

      Many plant foods improve immune function while decreasing inflammation. In fact, that is one of the many benefits of eating a whole food, plant-based diets. Almost all whole, plant-foods are anti-inflammatory, with certain foods like green leafy vegetables, berries, flaxseeds, many fruits and vegetables, and herbs and spices leading the way. Many of these same foods also improve our immune function. Therefore, don’t feel compelled to eat specific foods everyday for that reason. There may be other reasons to eat certain foods, like flaxseed or cruciferous vegetables, or green leafy vegetables everyday though.




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    2. Katie there are so many other mysterious things about so many different plant foods, it’s amazing actually. Eating a plant based diet in general has AMAZING effects and can reserve and prevent disease and even reverse aging. I highly highly recommend the book “How Not To Die” if you hadn’t read it already. But yeah, not only are there equally incredible aspects to other plant foods apart from the awesome yet humble mushroom, but there’s actually a bit of magic in COMBINING certain plant foods. Combining foods together can mysteriously increase antioxidant levels and potency as shown in some videos on this site. There are just so many videos and facts like that on this site as well as in his book. I’d just have fun searching the video library to find other goldmines such as the mushroom videos. Nature is amazing! So glad you’re starting to feel better.




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    3. Oh and Terrasoul sells a really high quality, organic, raw amla powder from India. They have amazing prices too. That’s the only place I’ve ever gotten amla powder. Organic India is a really good company too and I believe they sell amla berry powder as well.




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  15. But why did he skip over the rest of the study where allergies seemed to increase some other cancers such as prostate? It’s right there if you pause the video and look…. I like you Dr. Greger, but I will call you out if I see some BS..




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  16. HI There,

    I have been struggling with low energy, borderline thyroid function (hypothyroid) for several years, and I have a question about the role of Food Allergies.

    I have been seeing a naturopath for several years who subscribes to finding hidden food allergies by way of blood testing – he uses Rocky Mountain Analytical labs which test for food allergies and immunology – which tests for IGG, IGA and IGE. http://rmalab.com/sites/default/files/tests/instructions/20140424_CI_Food_Reactions-web.pdf

    I have struggled with dairy and yeast – cause gastro-intestinal and sinus congestion for years. Cutting these foods has made a difference. However, the testing also says I have significant food allergy response to blueberry, cranberry, pineapple, sesame, mushroom. My naturopath says these are great foods but suggests they may not be good for me – and that I should eliminate them…

    I am wondering what Doctor Gregor and the research has to say about the role in such plant-based iga antibody response to plant-based foods – should I be cutting them out? This video indicates mushroom for example might cause an increase in antibodies, but REDUCE inflammation.

    My question: Are there long-term risks to me consuming these foods? Is it possible that they are causing inflammation of the mucous membranes and affecting my bodies immune system, adrenal and thyroid function, making me more susceptible to disease? Or might they act in a similar way that mushrooms do?

    Thanks!
    Derrick




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  17. Recently a friend told me that he tried to become a vegan, but his doctor found that, after several months on a vegan diet, his leukocyte count have lowered and, thus, his immune response has supposedly compromised. In face of overwhelming evidence that a vegan diet deter the manifestation of many diseases, my friend condition seems odd. I do not discard that he is simply a point out of the curve, but I also thought about a possible general explanation. It is known that animal protein triggers autoimmune diseases; these can take quite a while to become symptomatic. Because the reference leukocytes count used as reference is based on the blood counts of “normal” individuals, which involve a majority of animal protein consumers, wouldn’t it be likely that many of these individuals have chronic inflammations, albeit asymptomatic? In this case, a larger leukocyte count would be expected. Therefore, the reference level for the leukocyte count would be misleading. Does this make sense? I searched Google Scholar to find studies on immune response and vegan/vegetarian diet, but investigations are so specific that could not provide a strait-forward answer. I found only one conference abstract, that yield little information besides saying that “our data indicate that a vegetarian diet might have a possible [negative] impact on human immune response” (Neubauerova et al. , 2007). Interesting enough, up to today (September, 2017) this study appears not to have made it to publication.




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    1. candrews: I’m not a doctor and have no special insight in this area. I just thought I would share that your basic thinking is reasonable. For example, NutritionFacts recently did a series of videos on white blood cell counts. Those counts in vegans look low compared to others if a person lives in a country that eats a typical “western” diet. However, it turns out that those lower counts are normal for healthy humans and are actually the opposite of a risk factor (not sure what that would be called – health indicator?)! You might want to check out those videos.

      Similarly, note that a person on a whole plant food based diet may have lower HDL (the “good” cholesterol) compared to others, but there is good reason for this and those numbers are perfectly normal/not a risk factor for someone with human-normal levels of cholesterol on a whole plant food based diet.

      I have no idea if this same reasoning can be applied to your friend’s situation or not. I just wanted to give you support for your idea. We know that healthy people have non-“normal” biomarkers in several areas when compared to a society that is generally sick. However, those non-normal levels are often an indicator of health, not a problem. Hopefully someone more knowledgeable about leukocyte counts will chime in to give a better answer for this specific question.




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    2. candrews: WAIT! I just looked it up on-line. If the page I looked at is accurate, then it turns out that “leukocyte count” is the technical term for ‘white blood cell count’. In that case, both you and your friend will really want to take a look at the series of videos here on NutritionFacts on that topic. Depending on your friend’s actual level, this could really put his mind at ease. :-)
      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/what-does-a-low-white-blood-cell-count-mean/
      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/what-is-the-ideal-white-blood-cell-count/




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    3. Hey there,

      A normal leukocyte count (WBC) is 4500-1000. In medicine, we generally care more about trends then about the value itself. What was your friends original WBC count and what is it now? For example, if it was 12000 and is now 6000, then that indicates that he was in a state of inflammation or infection, and now is not. This is a good thing. If it was 7000 and is now 3000, then he is leukopenic, and at risk for infection. Leukopenia has a variety of causes, ranging from leukemia to antibiotic use. Point being, it may not have lowered due to the change in his diet, and should be investigated if it is <4500. If it did lower because of his diet, and is still greater than 4500, then this is a positive indication that his systemic inflammation is decreased.

      I agree with Thea- check out these videos.

      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/what-does-a-low-white-blood-cell-count-mean/
      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/what-is-the-ideal-white-blood-cell-count/




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