The Daniel Fast and WBC

Following up on the post, White Blood Cells in Vegans, I came across two more pieces of info.

The Linus Pauling Institute says, “Vitamin A and retinoic acid play a central role in the development and differentiation of white blood cells, such as lymphocytes, which play critical roles in the immune response (1).”

Unlike omnivores, vegans do not have a direct, dietary source of vitamin A, but rather get it indirectly via carotenoids (mainly beta-carotene). Beta-carotene is fat-soluble. It seems theoretically, possible then, that a low intake of carotenoids or fat could contribute to lower vitamin A status and white blood cell count (WBC).

This is purely hypothetical; to my knowledge vitamin A levels have not been measured in vegans and other signs of low vitamin A status have not been a noted problem. Anecdotally, I had been eating plenty of beta-carotene and fat at the last measurement of my WBC which showed them to be below normal.

Paul Appleby, of EPIC, passed on a study to me of a clinical trial using a “Daniel Fast” from the University of Memphis (2). In this trial, mostly healthy and some vegetarian subjects (13 men, 30 women; 20-62 years old) went on a Daniel Fast for 21 days, eating no processed or packaged food and only plant foods (as much as they wanted). Their WBC went from an average of 5.7 to 5.0 (2). 5.0 is within the normal range, but on the lower end (normal being about 3.5 to 12.5 billion per liter).

The authors of the Daniel Fast study say, “It has been suggested that ingestion of food additives and preservatives can increase white blood cell count by triggering an immune response due to a sensing of invading pathogens from the food stuff; however, we are unaware of any scientific reports that confirm this hypothesis.” I should point out that lots of things have been suggested, but it doesn’t seem impossible that vegans generally eat less food additives and preservatives and this could be contributing to low WBC.

I have added this information to VeganHealth’s article on White Blood Cells.

There were some other interesting things about this study. Here are the before and after (or during in the case of the nutrient intakes):

calories: 2,185 → 1,722
fat (g): 74 → 54
fat (%): 30 → 27
saturated fat (g): 24 → 9
cholesterol (mg/dl): 171 → 139
LDL (mg/dl): 98 → 76
weight (lbs): 171 → 167
bp: 115/72 → 106/67

The authors did an analysis which showed that the improvements in these parameters did not occur in only the unhealthier subjects, but rather across the board. They say, “It is interesting to note that even those subjects who were vegetarian prior to starting the fast experienced dramatic reductions in total and LDL-[cholesterol], in addition to improvements in other markers. Clearly, the exclusion of meat from the diet (as is the case for vegetarians) is not the only dietary factor involved in raising circulating cholesterol and other risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic disease.”

It should be noted that this trial had no control group and was not randomized in any way.

I found this interesting because even though the subjects didn’t lose much weight (the weight change wasn’t even statistically significant), their blood pressure and cholesterol levels went down substantially in only 3 weeks. That’s impressive. But does it mean that it is the diet that everyone should be on all the time, indefinitely?

Stay tuned.


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1. Linus Pauling Institute. Micronutrient Information Center. Vitamin A. Accessed 5/20/13 | link

2. Bloomer RJ, Kabir MM, Canale RE, Trepanowski JF, Marshall KE, Farney TM, Hammond KG. Effect of a 21 day Daniel Fast on metabolic and cardiovascular disease risk factors in men and women. Lipids Health Dis. 2010 Sep 3;9:94. | link

6 Responses to “The Daniel Fast and WBC”

  1. Dan Says:

    These are very interesting data. The reduction in hsCRP is very dramatic, larger than that of statins, although not statistically significant (p=0.13). With a larger sample and similar trend it would (likely) have been. This is essentially the diet I am consuming, except for the addition of some processed tofu products (which might not have been allowed by these investigators). HDL went down also rather strikingly (by 14 points), but the inclusion of specific HDL-increasing foods was not encouraged by the investigators. Basically this looks like an Ornish diet to me, and could have a dramatic impact on cardiovascular events and cancer. I won’t be waiting for the 5-year hard outcomes RCT to confirm.

  2. Bertrand Russell Says:

    “But does it mean that it is the diet that everyone should be on all the time, indefinitely?”

    Even if the answer to “should” is “yes,” it doesn’t mean people will. No one does everything they can for absolute optimal health.

  3. Andrea Says:

    From the previous article, I thought the WBC ranges were chosen by scientists based on important factors but it seems the WBC ranges were chosen by scientists based on WBC count averages in the population. Its very sad that the science is based on sick people that ingest HCAs, PAHs, AGEs and other toxins daily from animal products which raise WBC count.

    “But does it mean that it is the diet that everyone should be on all the time, indefinitely?”

    Yes if they also manage to include activity and are able to maintain adequate Vitamin A/D/K levels to the point where their immune system doesn’t budge during the flu season.

  4. Sharky Says:


    Have you come across any studies that looked at plant-based diets in relation to platelet counts? I’ve had borderline low platelets for a few years (idiopathic thrombocytopenia). If I supplement with omega-3, I bruise easily and clot slowly. I was wondering how common this is among vegans.

  5. Jack Norris RD Says:


    I’ve also had low platelets occasionally and I know one other vegan with low platelets. I also tend to clot slowly, so I rarely supplement with omega-3s.

    In Haddad’s study, vegans had lower platelets than omnivores (235 vs. 270), but well within the normal range.

  6. Dan Says:

    Andrea, I do not go out of my way to supplement with vitamin A, especially given the data on increased lung cancer with chronic vitamin A use (now confirmed in multiple supplement trials, including one just published last week, as well as some from over a decade ago), and yet my immune system does not budge during flu system. In fact, since I went low carb (still vegan) I rarely ever get sick. This is despite close contact with patients. It will take alot more than anecdote and in vitro studies to get me to dose up on vitamin A.

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