What Blood Cells Tell About Diabetes

Diabetes risk may be greater with high white blood cell counts

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) White blood cells defend your body against disease. But they can also mistakenly attack your healthy tissues, leading to inflammation - a process that may play a role in diabetes.

People with higher amounts of white blood cells may have an increased risk of diabetes, according to a team of Israeli researchers.

"Get tested for diabetes if you're overweight or older than 45."

Recent research has found a link between white blood cell counts and diabetes risk. Gilad Twig, MD, PhD, of Chaim Sheba Medical Center, and colleagues wanted to set out to test this link in a group of young healthy adults.

There are a number of factors that can boost a person's risk of diabetes, including age, BMI (a measure of body fat using height and weight), family history of diabetes, lack of physical activity and levels of fat in the blood.

Dr. Twig and colleagues found that white blood cell counts may be another risk factor, even when they took other risk factors into account.

Their findings showed that the risk of diabetes increased as levels of white blood cells increased. Specifically, there was a 7.6 percent increase in diabetes rates for every 1,000 cells/mm3 increase in white blood cell counts.

People with a higher white blood cell count (6,900 cells/mm3) had a 52 percent higher risk of diabetes than those with the lowest white blood cell counts (less than 5,400 cells/mm3).

Men with the lowest white blood cell counts were protected from diabetes, even if they were overweight, had a family history of diabetes or had higher levels of blood fats.

According to the authors, white blood cell counts are commonly used and widely available tests. With more research, white blood cell counts could one day be used to predict diabetes risk.

For their study, Dr. Twig and colleagues measured white blood cell counts in 24,897 men with normal blood sugar levels. Participants were screened for diabetes at different points over the course of about 7.5 years.

The research was published September 6 in Diabetes Care, a journal of the American Diabetes Association. 

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Review Date: 
September 23, 2012
Last Updated:
September 26, 2012