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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Environmental Illness, and Low White Blood Cell Count

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White Blood Cells I feel I must apologise for my recent lack of blogging activity but I'm sure when I explain why you'll understand - plus the reason has given me the inspiration for this post!

As regulars will be aware I have suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) for a long time - since I was 11, so 20 years now. Like many ME/CFS sufferers I am also burdened by adrenal fatigue, low thyroid function, hypoglycaemia, Candida and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) amongst other things. I also suffered from severe Multiple Chemical Sensitivity for a number of years in my early 20s but thankfully was able overcome it (touch wood)!

Like most suffering from environmental illnesses (or more appropriately here 'invisible illnesses') I have been constantly frustrated by the absence of any abnormal findings on conventional medical tests over the years. After all, if the standard lab tests are normal there can't possibly be anything wrong with us in the eyes of the average doctor - or perhaps we are just too difficult to deal with.

Recently however something significant did show up in some routine blood tests I had carried out by my GP. Ultimately however I once again ended up frustrated at the medical system here in the UK.

I had attended the doctor's surgery in an effort to obtain some form of evidence for the long-standing liver impairment I know to be present from my symptoms and various functional testing I have had carried out privately (e.g. detoxification profiles, toxic exposure profiles, intestinal permeability assessment etc). I described my symptoms of chronic, dull pain just under my rib cage on the right hand side, intestinal pain on passing stools, stool colour ranging from white to yellow and orange (not a healthy brown), fatty stools, yellowing of the skin (jaundice) etc. Credit to my GP as he always listens and subsequently examined me which involved palpating (pressing) on my body at various points around the liver, gallbladder and intestines. I indicated that the most pain was felt the close he pressed to the liver and gallbladder area. He subsequently ordered a standard liver enzyme blood test - the results of which came back well within normal ranges. Nothing I hadn't expected as low grade liver impairment and inflammation just won't show up on these tests - they look for enzymes released by hepatocytes (liver cells) when they die so only show up when major damage is currently being done to the liver as in alcoholic liver disease or viral hepatitis.

However, my GP also ordered a full blood count as a matter of routine and lo and behold it came back with findings that could not be ignored - my total leukocyte (white blood cell) count was officially low as were numbers of neutrophils and monocytes (vital players in the innate immune response - our first line of defence against infectious disease) and lymphocytes (white blood cells involved in acquired immunity that recognises and attacks specific targets). Here are those results:


Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Environmental Illness, and Low White Blood Cell Count 


On previous blood counts over the past 10-15 years all these results had been hovering just inside the bottom of the 'normal' range so no notice had been taken. This was the first time there had been obvious abnormality and signs of substantial immune impairment so my GP had no choice but to order a retest. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you choose to look at it, the second set of results put me back just within normal range so no further action has been taken.

Now at this point I'd just like to point out what a great example this is of medicine not following the basic principles of science and being more concerned with finances and resources than the health of patients. Put simply I had two blood counts, one showed undeniably low leukocytes and one showed borderline levels. Now how can you make a decision not to take further action when you have one abnormal and one normal (just) result to work from? Not to beat about the bush - you can't! Scientists repeat tests over and over so they can see patterns in results. At the very least a doctor would need a third test to make any kind of reasonable decision about the status of my leukocytes and my immune  system. Unfortunately that is not how things work within the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK and most conventional medical systems around the world. A test is just a snapshot - if blood was taken again today my results may very well be low again.

So what could have caused my leukocytes to be low on the first blood count? Well as I've just touched on a blood test is just a snapshot at a particular time and everything in the human body tends to show some natural variation throughout the day and night (diurnally) and over longer periods such as seasons. This is particularly true when you have a chronic illness such as ME/CFS. It may be that I have had low leukocytes on many occassions and this is just the first time it has coincided with me having a blood test. However, there are a couple of factors that immediately spring to mind that I think may account for the result at this time - stress and sugar.  

As some regular readers will know, I am currently completing a bachelors degree in nutritional health and at the time of the test I was hugely stressed with writing my dissertation and another essay. This towards the end of a demanding final year with a lot of other work already having taken a lot out of me. My stress levels had also recently been chronically high due to ongoing problems with keeping this website online and running smoothly!

Stress is a factor that should not be dismissed in any disease. Over the past century scientists have gradually unravelled the links between stress and disease. Pioneers such as Hans Seyle in the 1950s showed how the body responds to stressful events by triggering the release of adrenal hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline in the short-term and cortisol in the longer-term. With the advent of the branch of medicine known as psychoneuroimmunology it has now been established that each system within the body (immune, endocrine, nervous etc) rather than acting independently is in constant bidirectional communication with each of the other systems. As such stress is perceived by the brain/nervous system, which tells the endocrine to secrete various hormones, which bind with receptors on immune cells and direct its action. Unfortunately it is now established that chronic stress through the actions of cortisol and other hormones and hormone-like chemicals (neuropeptides) has the effect of suppressing immunity.

Other factors such as the food we eat can also significantly impact immunity.  One dietary component which is particularly detrimental to the immune system is sugar. Unfortunately during the writing of my dissertation I was in the situation where I either had to give up or rely on a regular sugar fix (mainly from sugary drinks) to keep my brain working and my energy levels up. Ironic I know given my medical conditions and the fact I am studying nutrition - but having tried various more natural solutions to limited effect I was left with no choice if I was to meet the university's inflexible deadline. Rest assured I would not advise anyone do the same but I am extremely stubborn and there was no way I was going to risk my high grade average or drop-out of the course at this late stage! I know I can help myself and others with the knowledge and experience I've gained in the future so I had to get through the course by any means possible. Back to sugar itself - simple sugars in their various forms including glucose, fructose and sucrose have profound effects on leukocytes and immunity. The vast majority of various sugars from the diet are converted to glucose in the body - glucose being the type of sugar in the blood that is primarily used as fuel for the cells. Eating a diet high in sugar leads to high blood glucose levels which in turn increases the production of free radicals and other  damaging chemicals such as advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) in the body. These chemicals can cause miscommunication between immune cells and the activation of genetic transcription factors such as Nuclear Factor KappaB (NF-KappaB) which has potent effects on immune cells and has been linked to viral infection, inflammatory and autoimmune disease, and cancer. Studies have shown high doses of sugar can reduce the ability of leukocytes to engulf bacteria in a process called 'phagocytosis' by up to 50%.

Stress combined with consuming large amounts of sugar therefore has the potential to lower both numbers of immune cells and their ability to function correctly. I'd urge everyone to look into the effects of stress and sugar consumption on immunity in more detail as it's both a fascinating subject and knowledge we as environmental illness sufferers can use to avoid negative influences on our health. 

So, one again, please do not do as I did and take on the amount of work a degree course entails and then resort to sugar to get you through it as I did. I can assure you I am now back to a low carb diet and and meditating more than ever and taking walks in the countryside to manage my stress levels amongst other things!


If you suffer from ME/CFS or other environmental/invisible illness and have had some abnormal test results or you always get normal results despite feeling lousy and would like to vent your frustration please leave a comment below. Also if you'd like to discuss factors that impact on immunity go ahead and leave a comment too...


Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Environmental Illness, and Low White Blood Cell CountDynamic Neural Retraining Program (DNRS)


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  • I supposedly fell ill with borrelia infection (lyme disease) 4 years ago but didn't find out until two years ago that it was probably that. It was constant fatigue, excessive sleeping, low fevers, mild body aches and some other problems. I successfully overcame the long term suspected borrelia infection a year ago (after 3 years) after I found a Chinese medicine expert, who also figured out I had a parasite infection and impaired adrenal function. The long term infection did eventually seem to destroy my immune system, but it seems to be starting to recover a year later.

    So, in my experience, the biggest mistake I made was trying to use medical doctors for this type of illness. Medical doctors lack the training or experience to deal with these long term infections. Medical doctors depend on lab tests, so when you are sick with something that doesn't show up on lab tests, they aren't trained on what to do and often then make mistakes because they try to label you as having something that they were taught about, rather than understanding there are serious illnesses that they don't know anything about. You actually end up sicker for a longer period of time by trying to use medical doctors.

    You have to keep searching for alternative medical options until you find something that works for you.

    What I found with a Chinese medicine expert is that they are trained to understand how your body is or isn't functioning without much dependency on lab testing. So they can treat these complex infections that doctors can't. They try to get your body back to a functional healthy state. Think about it. Chinese medicine has been around for centuries, long before lab tests. They had to figure out how to treat illnesses without having any lab tests.

    I would encourage anyone with a long term illness or infection to find a good Chinese medicine expert and try their recommended treatments for six months or so and see if it helps. I was so far gone by the time I started, it took about 6 months to recover from the long term infection.

    The biggest problem we, the people who suffer from these long term infections and illnesses, have is that we tend to have the same mentality as medical doctors in thinking that treating illness is about lab testing and taking drugs. It isn't, and it doesn't work, and it can make you sicker. Try alternative medicine, such as Chinese. And take nutritioinal supplements and do everything you can to get your immune system to function well. This isn't stuff a medical doctor can do.

    Comment last edited on about 8 years ago by Maff
  • Hi saratronic, first of all great to hear that you have at least got to 75% of what you feel is normal. Very happy for you and hope you continue to improve :)

    Sounds like your white blood cells were significantly below the normal range. It never ceases to amaze me how we ME/CFS/fibro sufferers can get dismissed so easily...even when we have abnormal results on routine tests. These illnesses have been clearly demonstrated to involve immune system dysfunction yet when we have abnormal numbers of immune cells they don't make the connection and it's just "one of those things"? Madness!

    I can't say my illness was triggered by vaccines but I did have adverse reactions to tetanus and TB jabs I was given at school during my teens. My arm swelled up like a balloon and I felt very flu-like for a couple of weeks after each. We don't know what is going on with our immune systems when we have ME/CFS/fibro so not a good idea to mess with them with vaccines...

    The NHS really is useless. I need to go back to my GP to put more pressure on for a referral to Breakspear.

    Have you had any tests relating to the GERD and associated symptoms? I would expect you really need a tests looking for the root cause of it. If you can't get it done on the NHS then Biolab in London is good for this stuff (if you can afford!).

    Comment last edited on about 8 years ago by Maff
  • 3 years ago my WBC count when down lower than yours for 4 consecutive measurements over a period of 3 months. My neutrophil count when down to 1.1 and total to 2.9. I was referred to a haematologist who said i had had a virus. this happened to me before when i was 14. I am now 30. I have had ME/CFS/fibro since I was around 14 years old. I think mine is linked to vaccines as my second bout of overwhelming ME and pain and low WBC counts came shortly after a series of vaccines before I went to Asia.
    Haematolgoist did nothing at all and was baffled and just said it was "one of those things". My fibro pain has subsided in the last 6 months although I am still ridiculously tired all of the time. All other tests proved fine except my lungs are not exchanging gases properly and I have developed severe GERD and frequently (once - twice a day) bring food up into my mouth and have a permanent sore throat and bunged up nose.

    What is going on? I am in the UK and have found the NHS to be be pants. I have been passed from doc to doc with no diagnosis really, just continuous testing. ANy ideas? Similar stories?
    Thanks : ) I still manage to work nearly full time by the way although I was off work for around 6 months at my peak a few years ago! I thought Id never get better but have improved to 75% of what I consider to be "normal"

    Comment last edited on about 8 years ago by Maff
  • Hello all,

    Please accept my apologies for not replying to your messages for so long. As you will have noticed if you are a frequent visitor to the site - I have been very busy re-designing everything. I will never learn as this has caused a great deal of stress with lots of teething problems to resolve. Hopefully I am on top of things now.

    I'm so pleased to see that so many of you have found this blog either interesting or helpful. I would agree with Bill P that Martin Pall is an excellent researcher and many people are reporting success with his treatment protocol for ME/CFS, fibromyalgia, MCS and other environmental Illnesses. The great point is that it is based on antioxidants and it is intended to correct a disturbed cycle at the root of these illnesses, so is potentially both moreeffective and substantially cheaper than other treatments. Many of Professor Pall's articles are published here on EiR (lgo to Information > Articles and in the MCS and ME/CFS categories look for articles with 'nitric oxide', 'NO' and 'NO ONOO' in the title).

    As Eva mentioned, Breakspear here in the UK and the Environmental Health Center in Dallas in the US are well regarded by environmental illness sufferers. In fact I am trying at the moment to get a referral to Breakspear through my GP. Unfortunately these places are frighteningly expensive if you have to pay for them yourself!

    We are suffering from extremely complex illnesses here but doctors and researchers are making headway and the information we share with each other is equally as valuable in my opinion. Some things I feel are important to address are the infections (including viruses, Lyme, gut dysbiosis etc), leaky gut syndrome, methylation cycle issues, nitric oxide (Martin Pall), hormonal problems (particularly adrenal and thyroid), neurotransmitter imbalances, allergies and sensitivities, energy production problems/mitochondrial health, fatty acid balance, and general nutritional status.

    Lori, I would see a naturopathic doctor or one practising nutritional or environmental medicine, or even a nutritionist/nutritional therapist, as they will use the Adrenal Stress Index (ASI), a saliva test that tracks adrenal hormone levels throughout a whole day. Much more helpful than one off blood tests.

    Personally, I am currently planning to undertake low-dose naltrexone (LDN) therapy which is intended to balance the immune system and help to restore normal function. It may also help with mood and energy as it works by increasing production of endorphins by the body. I also plan to travl to the Probiotic Therapy Research Centre in Sydney, Australia, for Human Probiotic Infusion (HPI) treatment. This is designed to restore healthy flora to the gut - as I am sure many of you know, healthy gut flora is essential to immune function, good mental and emotional health, and basically the overall health of the body. Gut dysbiosis has been a huge issue for me and the major driver of my symptoms for most of my illness in my opinion. I guess the proof will be in my response to these treatments!

    It would be great to hear how you are all getting on and do let us know if you have had any treatment successes (or indeed failures).

    Best of health!

    Comment last edited on about 8 years ago by Maff
  • Hi Bill,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. You clearly have great courage and desire to live as much of a normal life as possible despite some very serious health concerns. I think many people will be in awe of what you have accomplished with your life through constant physical adversity and you can count me among them!

    I personally have no intentions of letting ME/CFS and environmental illness beat me and believe that the best way to deal with any chronic illness is to remain as active as possible, both physically and mentally, and to pursue those things in life that bring happiness and a sense of achievement and satisfaction. There is nothing worse for the spirit and overall health and well-being than giving in or "settling" for less than you are worth in life. You seem to be a testament to this Bill.

    Thanks again for sharing with us and all the best for the future.

    Comment last edited on about 8 years ago by Maff
  • Hi all, I'm a newcomer here. Don't wish to be negative, but dson't have much good to report except that I have lasted long time. I started to suffer the effects of what was much later diagnosed as CFS and Fibromyalgia, when I was almost 22years of age. This year on Dec. 7 I will "celebrate" my 76th anniversary. My problems started when in 1955 a doctor at an Airforce base in Australia froze my inner right shin to see if it stopped pain in my shin. It didn't, but that gave me an ulceration that had to be scraped clean and took months to heal. By the tme it was healed I had large blisters on and below my foot and migratory thrombo phlebitis in my leg up to the groin and on top of that I had bouts of tachicardia (up to 200 bpm) and all over body aches, with tremendous fatigue. There has been minor let-ups but it has never left me. I used to be very athletic and enjoyed running distance, bicycle racing, represented my school at the State sports and just prior to the problem, I could press my own weight.

    Now I have CAD with CABGs in 1981 and 1997, followed by a TIA during 1981 & a stent in 2007. I suffer from Complex apneas(obstructive & central), multiple bouts of pneumonia plus pseudomonas lung infection, bundled branch block wand now a pacemaker, still with Atrial fibrillation, I have had spinal surgery ( unsuccessful) with metal rods up my spine.

    Following my TIA when I drove my car through heavy traffic for 6 or 7 miles without knowing anything about it. I was thought at first to be drunk as I couldn't walk or talk properly. I got over it partly and was told to get safer work, be cause it could happen again. I studied and became a Technical Teacher after I turned 51.

    I don't hold oput any hope of being cured now, but I am glad I put up with my problems and didn't stop. One doctor stopped me once and told me I would never get well without stopping, but I only became worse over two years, so I managed to force myself back, into my teaching job and that was the only time missed until I was made redundant July 4 1997. It is my belief that if I had stopped fully, then I would never have started again. I am finding it harder now, as I am having more problems with recall and also stiffening of my whole body.

    Perhaps you are different, but I suggest you don't let this thing beat you.

    Bill from Australia

    Comment last edited on about 8 years ago by Maff
  • Hi Fay,

    Thank you so much for your response. I'm so glad my blog post was helpful and encouraging to you. Apologies for my slow reply.

    I truly believe all of us "conundrums" (in the words of your doctor) can regain our health, or at least enough that we can really enjoy life again. It's just a matter of getting at the root causes of our problems - which can be different for everyone - and treating them appropriately. Of course a healthy diet is the foundation of any attempt to maintain or regain good health and it sounds like you and your husband are doing pretty well in that respect. One thing that immediately strikes me however is a lack of essential fatty acids (EFAs) in your diet which are vital for many bodily functions such as regulating the immune response, the efficiency with which nutrients get into cells and toxins are removed, as well as maintaining brain function. I'd suggest you add nuts and seeds and oily fish to your diet as good sources of EFAs. Small fish such as sardines are best as they contain lower concentrations of mercury. If you are vegetarians then EFA supplements are available that use algae as a source of the omega-3 form rather than fish.

    It sounds like your doctor went to town on the tests but it is so frustrating when they come back negative isn't it! Occasionally something shows up but on further investigation we don't fit into any particular box. In your doctor's defence though he may have meant "conundrum" in the nicest possible way rather than as a way of dismissing you as making things up. My doctor also thinks I am an impossible case but he feels as frustrated as I do that he can't help and offers to do all he can. Environmental illnesses are very difficult for all involved!

    I'm glad to hear you are doing better on the B12 injections and other treatments. B12 is absorbed at the very end of the small intestine so if there are problems such as leaky gut present B12 absorption really suffers and eventually you can become deficient when liver stores are depleted.

    I hope you continue to see benefits from your treatment and it would be great to see you on the site again :)

    Comment last edited on about 8 years ago by Maff

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