Using Blood Chemistry to Screen for Infections
Dicken Weatherby, ND
There are many ways to use blood chemistry analysis to screen for and track infection processes in the body. I use blood testing for everything from investigating the presence of a viral infection to finding out how the body is responding to a chronic infection.
As you probably realize by now, I use tighter ranges than the conventional lab ranges found on a routine blood test result. For me, using optimal ranges is a great tool in cutting-edge functional assessment and preventive-oriented medicine.
In this article, I’ll focus on some of what to look for in the white blood cell count and related readings. In my book, Blood Chemistry and CBC Analysis: Clinical Laboratory Testing from a Functional Perspective, I cover in depth these tests and the patterns that can guide us in diagnosis and treatment, but for this article, I’ll provide a more basic overview.
White Blood Cell Count
Getting a white blood cell count on a patient is one of the best tools to access the presence and type of infection. It can also tell us a lot about the body’s ability to respond to infection and inflammation.
White blood cells (WBCs) fight infection; defend the body via phagocytosis; and produce, transport and distribute antibodies as part of the immune process. The body produces about 100 billion WBCs each day. WBCs are produced by bone marrow and lymphoid tissue, and travel in the blood to areas of the body where they are needed. They can be divided into two groups:
- Granulocytes This group is made up of neutrophils, basophils and eosinophils, which are formed in the blood marrow and get their name from the granules present in the cytoplasm. They also contain a multi-lobed nucleus and are often referred to as “polys” or polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs).
- Agranulocytes This group consists of monocytes and lymphocytes. They have no granules in their cytoplasm and non-lobed nuclei. Monocytes originate in bone marrow, and lymphocytes are formed from the lymphoblasts in the reticuloendothelial tissues of the spleen, lymph glands, tonsils, thymus and appendix.
The conventional lab range for WBC count (in standard U.S. units) is 3.7-11.0 X 103/mm3, which I find too broad. I consider 5.0-7.5 to be optimal, with anything below 3 or above 13 alarming.
High WBC Count Results
In the case of a high WBC count (any reading above 7.5), I would consider the following possibilities:
- Childhood diseases, such as chicken pox, measles, mumps, rubella
- Acute viral infection
- Acute bacterial infection
- Stressful situations
- Diet and lifestyle influences: obesity, smoking, poor nutrition, highly refined diet.
If none of the above fit, I would further consider intestinal parasites, free radical pathology, adrenal exhaustion, asthma or emphysema. Also be aware that there can be an increase in WBC count in the last month or so of pregnancy.
Low WBC Count Results
Anything below 5.5 X 103/mm3 can mean the body is using up its WBCs faster than it can replace them. A common cause of this would be a chronic viral infection. Look for a pattern of low WBCs with an increased lymphocyte count (greater than 44%) and decreased neutrophils (less than 40%).
A chronic bacterial infection could also result in a low WBC count, but with a different pattern: increased neutrophils (greater than 60%) and decreased lymphocytes (less than 24%).
Other things I consider investigating when I see a low WBC count are: pancreatic insufficiency, systemic lupus erythematosus, hepatitis, adrenal dysfunction, parathyroid dysfunction, intestinal parasites and rheumatoid arthritis, among others.
You also might investigate for influencing lifestyle and nutritional factors, such as a raw food diet, food allergies and vitamin B-12, B-6 or folic acid anemia.
Specific Readings: Neutrophils, Bands, Lymphocytes and Monocytes
These can be used to look more specifically at WBC activity:
Neutrophils Neutrophils are the WBCs used to combat bacterial or pyrogenic infections. I like to see ranges between 40%-60%. When I see readings above 60%, I look for childhood diseases such as chicken pox, mumps, rubella, etc., as well as acute, localized and general bacterial infections. In a chronic viral infection, a frequent pattern is increased neutrophil count along with decreased total WBC count. Occasionally you may see multi-segmented neutrophils on a CBC report. Suspect B12 and/or folate deficiency if you see this.
Bands Bands are non-segmented neutrophils or metamyelocytes. They are immature neutrophils pushed out into general circulation and tend to be increased in acute infections, even if there is no increase in the total WBC count. If you see an increase in bands suspect early acute infection. I consider <5% optimal.
Lymphocytes Lymphocytes are the source of serum immunoglobulins. They play a very important role in cellular immune response and immunological reactions, and also migrate to areas of inflammation in the body. My optimal range for lymphocytes is 24%-44%. If I see increased lymphocytes, I investigate for childhood diseases, acute viral or bacterial infection, and other causes of inflammation. Toxicity can cause high readings. When lymphocytes are decreased, I consider the possibility of a chronic infection. Occasionally you may see abnormal or atypical lymphocytes on a CBC report. In this case, suspect infectious mononucleosis, viral hepatitis or other viral infections.
Monocytes Monocytes are the body’s second line of defense, active in removing the residues of viral, bacterial and cellular infections. They tend to be increased after the first three days of an acute infection. In the absence of infection, the level of monocytes usually stays below 7%. Anything greater than that would indicate some sort of infection, though it can also be elevated in liver dysfunction and in the case of intestinal parasites. Use the monocyte reading to track the course of an infection, expecting to see elevated levels in the recovery phase of an infection.
Taking it Further
There are other tests to consider based on WBC count results, tests like C-Reactive Protein, immunoglobulins and more. WBC count is just a first step – a very good one – but there are always more layers and patterns to look for in blood chemistry analysis. That’s what I love about blood work, so consider it as part of your diagnostic protocol along with other important tools, such as a physical exam and good medical history.
Dicken Weatherby, ND is based in southern Oregon. A graduate of NCNM, Dicken is co-author of the bestselling book Blood Chemistry and CBC Analysis-Clinical Laboratory Testing from a Functional Perspective. He has self-published seven other books in the field of alternative medical diagnosis, has created numerous information products, and runs a number of successful Web sites (www.BloodChemistryAnalysis.com, www.Health-E-Marketing.com and www.StrawBale.com). He is involved in research, writing and consulting, and teaches functional diagnosis seminars in both the U.S. and his native country, the U.K.