A low platelet count can interfere with normal blood clotting and affect your body's ability to heal damaged tissues, since these blood cells stop you from bleeding. Certain diseases and medications can decrease platelet count, leading to complications.
Depending on the severity of your condition, you may be able to naturally increase your platelet count. Some foods, especially those rich in iron, folate and vitamin K, can help.
The Role of Blood Platelets
Blood platelets, or thrombocytes, are small cell fragments produced in the bone marrow. Their role is to help your body form blood clots. If you have an injury, these cells migrate to affected tissues and bind together to fix the damage and stop bleeding. At the same time, they release chemicals that cause other platelets to clump together.
These cells are about 20 percent smaller than red blood cells. Yet, they play a key role in overall health. Without them, your body wouldn't be able to heal from injury.
A platelet count below 150,000 or above 450,000 platelets per microliter of blood is considered abnormal. The lower this number, the higher your risk of bleeding. Too many platelets, on the other hand, may lead to the formation of blood clots.
Several factors can affect your platelet count. In fact, more than 100 food ingredients, vitamin components and drug compounds influence this number, according to a review published in the Journal of Health Specialties in April 2015.
Aspirin, for example, has antiplatelet effects, preventing these cells from sticking together. That's why this medication is typically prescribed to those with blood clotting disorders. If you already have a low platelet count, aspirin may cause or increase bleeding. The same goes for ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesic medications.
Other factors that interfere with blood platelets have nothing to do with your diet or the drugs you use. Major depression, exercise and smoking can all affect platelet count, as noted in the Journal of Health Specialties.
What Is Thrombocytopenia?
If you have too few platelets, your doctor will likely mention "thrombocytopenia," the scientific term for low platelet count. As the Canadian Cancer Society points out, this health condition occurs when the bone marrow fails to produce enough platelets. It may be also due to an enlarged spleen, cancer, kidney disease, immune system disorders and certain medications.
Most individuals have no symptoms until their platelet count reaches a critical point. When that happens, they may experience unusual gum or nose bleeding, slow wound healing, blurred vision and altered consciousness. Women may notice heavy vaginal bleeding. Other signs of a low platelet count may include:
- Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Blood in the urine or stools
- Fatigue and low energy
- Small red spots under the skin
- Vomiting blood
- Persistent headache
If bleeding persists, seek emergency care. This condition may lead to severe internal bleeding and even death.
According to MedlinePlus, certain dietary factors, such as folate and vitamin B12 deficiencies, can affect the bone marrow's ability to make platelets. Therefore, eating foods rich in these nutrients may help keep your bone marrow healthy and increase platelet count.
Your diet should also include foods high in vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K and iron. These nutrients support blood clotting and immune function, which in turn, may lead to higher platelet concentrations.
Consume Folate-Rich Foods
As mentioned, thrombocytopenia may result from folate deficiency. Also known as vitamin B9, this nutrient promotes the formation of red blood cells and helps maintain cell function. It occurs naturally in leafy greens, citrus fruits, melons, beef liver, fruit juices, nuts, legumes and Brussels sprouts, as reported by the National Institutes of Health. Some foods, such as breakfast cereals, bread and pasta, are fortified with folic acid, a synthetic form of folate.
How much folate you need depends on your age. Adults over the age of 19 years should aim for at least 400 micrograms per day. If you're pregnant, get at least 600 micrograms of folate daily. This vitamin can be obtained from food and/or supplements.
Cooked beef liver, for example, provides 65 percent of the daily recommended folate intake per serving (3.5 ounces). It also boasts more than 26 grams of protein, 34 percent of the daily recommended allowance of iron and nearly half the daily recommended amount of zinc. With just 175 calories per serving, it fits into most diets.
Lentils are a good source of folate, too. One serving (half a cup, cooked) has 115 calories, 8.9 grams of protein and about 45 percent of the daily recommended intake of folate.
This water-soluble vitamin is also found in chickpeas. A single serving (half a cup, cooked) delivers 134 calories, 7.2 grams of protein, and more than one-third of the daily recommended folate intake.
Fill Up on Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 levels and platelet count are strongly connected. In a June 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Investigations, subjects with vitamin B12 deficiency had a significantly lower red cell distribution width-platelet ratio (RPR) than those receiving vitamin B12 treatment.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends a minimum daily intake of 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day for adults, 2.6 micrograms per day for pregnant women and 2.8 micrograms daily during breastfeeding. Beef liver, meat, fish and shellfish, eggs, dairy foods and nutritional yeast are all excellent dietary sources.
Even if you have a normal platelet count, you still need vitamin B12 in your diet. Low levels of this nutrient may cause tiredness, depression, poor appetite and memory problems, as the NIH points out. In the long run, a vitamin B12 deficiency may damage the nervous system.
Vegans and vegetarians are more likely to become deficient in vitamin B12. If you don't eat meat and dairy, consider taking dietary supplements that contain this nutrient.
Eat Your Veggies
Rich in vitamin K, leafy greens are among the best foods to increase platelets. This nutrient plays a crucial role in blood coagulation and may help prevent bleeding, one of the main symptoms of thrombocytopenia. In fact, a diet low in vitamin K may result in excessive bleeding and contribute to atherosclerosis, osteoporotic fractures, neuromuscular disorders and even cancer.
Kale, spinach and Brussels sprouts are all good sources of vitamin K. Boiled collard greens, for instance, provides more than 600 percent of the daily recommended intake of this nutrient per serving (half a cup).
The same amount of raw spinach delivers 181 percent of the daily recommended vitamin K intake. Each serving of natto (3 ounces) offers more than 1,000 percent of the daily recommended allowance.
This fat-soluble vitamin helps your body form blood clots. The problem is that only 30 to 40 percent of it is stored in your system, as the NIH points out. About 40 to 50 percent is excreted in the stool and another 20 percent in the urine. Additionally, certain medications, such as fat blockers and antibiotics, may reduce vitamin K absorption, which can further increase the risk of deficiencies.
Beware that diet alone may not be enough to increase platelet count. Get regular blood clotting tests and keep in touch with your doctor. Depending on your symptoms, a doctor may recommend blood transfusions, corticosteroids, or even a splenectomy, or spleen removal surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic.
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- University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center: "Platelets"
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- Mayo Clinic: "Folate (Folic Acid)"
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- Mayo Clinic: "Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) 'Diagnosis'"