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Albumin

Albumin is the most abundant protein found in the blood. It is made in the liver and is a good indicator of liver or kidney disease. Albumin is a transport protein for several substances including calcium, zinc, free fatty acids, bilirubin and many drugs. It also helps to maintain the oncotic pressure within blood plasma and so prevents fluid from leaking out into the blood vessels unnecessarily.[1] [2]

Why Take An Albumin Blood Test?

Albumin is produced by the liver and has many functions within the human body, Due to the site of its production and its high concentration within the blood, albumin is a good biomarker for liver or kidney damage. An albumin blood test can be used to assess the health of your liver and/or kidneys.[3]

You can test your albumin levels by purchasing a simple at-home finger prick test kit which is then analysed at an accredited lab. Forth offers a number of blood tests which include albumin such as a liver function test which can be purchased for just £39.00.

What Function Does Albumin Have In The Body?

In the human body, albumin is the most important plasma protein and has several significant roles. It is a major transporter of substances known as ligands. The ligands albumin transports include bilirubin, fatty acids and ions as well as drugs like methadone, warfarin and propranolol.

As soon as albumin enters the bloodstream, up to 40% remains there while the rest enters the space surround cells called interstitial space. It is here that ions, proteins and nutrients can cross the cell membrane and enter or leave the cell. Albumin is a modulator of plasma oncotic pressure thanks to its large molecular weight and its negative charge.[4] If plasma oncotic pressure decreases, the liver will increase it’s rate of synthesis to around double.

Albumin also has several other functions. The protein adds to the body’s pool of amino acids, prevents the formation of blood clots and buffers extravascular fluids.[5]

How Do Changes in Albumin Affect Health and Wellbeing?

Because severe liver disease results in a decrease in albumin, also known as hypoalbuminemia, there are fewer binding sites for specific drugs to bind to and be transported around the body. Therefore, large amounts of the drug which are unbound are within the body and this can result in increased drug sensitivity.[4]

Hypoalbuminemia is often a sign of liver disease, however, it can also be a sign of malnutrition. For example, if an individual is fasting then this can lead to a 33% reduction in blood albumin levels in the 24-48 hours following the commencement of fasting.[5] Therefore, albumin can be used as a good indicator for nutritional status.

Low albumin levels, on the other hand, are usually associated with dehydration. Dehydration can affect your mental status as well as cause physical symptoms.

If you are worried about your albumin level or just want to check where you fall on the range, you can test your level with a simple at-home blood test.

What Can Cause Albumin To Change?

Albumin levels decrease in the case of liver damage. Therefore, a liver function test may be required to determine the type of disease affecting the liver. The liver can become diseased through several mechanisms, such as:

  • Infection e.g. hepatitis
  • Increased/excess alcohol consumption
  • Poor diet e.g. non-alcoholic fatty liver
  • Trauma
  • Inherited factors such as haemochromatosis
  • Immune system issues e.g. primary biliary cirrhosis[6]

When the liver is damaged it reduces its production of albumin and so there is a decreased concentration within the blood. Research has shown that advanced liver disease results in severe oxidative damage to albumin and has a reduced binding with bilirubin, a substance produced when red blood cells break down. The bilirubin binds to albumin where it is transported to the liver for excretion.A significant increase in serum bilirubin is the cause of jaundice, yellowing of the skin and white’s of the eyes.

An increased albumin level, however, may indicate dehydration. The most common causes of the condition are a poor fluid intake and an increased or normal fluid loss. Dehydration can occur because of vomiting, diarrhoea, burns, fever or urinary issues.[7]

 

What Are The Most Common Symptoms Of Liver Damage?

The most common symptoms of liver damage are:

  • Feeling tired and weak all or most of the time
  • Reduced appetite
  • Loss of libido
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea and/or vomiting[8]

Common Symptoms associated with dehydration are:

  • Feeling thirsty
  • Dizziness/light-headedness
  • Tiredness
  • Dry mouth, lips and eyes
  • Peeing less often, <4 times per day
  • Dark yellow, strong smelling pee[9]

How To Keep Albumin In The Healthy Range

Diet is a major factor in the health of the liver. The liver has important functions in the human body including the detoxification of chemicals, metabolism of drugs and blood filtration. Individuals with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease tend to eat highly calorific diets which mainly consist of carbohydrates and fats.[10] Therefore, it is essential to eat a healthy, balanced diet to ensure the liver remains healthy.  Make sure you are eating a good amount of dietary fibre as this will help to keep your digestive tract healthy, the liver filters the blood from the digestive tract. Good sources of fibre are fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. Eating lots of simple carbohydrates like white bread, cakes and pastries can increase blood glucose levels rapidly and lead to weight gain, so you need to be aware of how much you are eating. Swapping simple carbohydrates for wholegrains will slow down the rise in blood sugar, are healthier for the liver and are high in fibre.[11]

Hydration is another important factor, particularly if your albumin levels are increased. The liver is approximately 73% water and needs water to function. A lack of water can also mean the liver has to compensate by helping the kidneys and so can accumulate more fat.[12] Try to drink around 2 litres of water per day, although this may need to be increased if you are exposed to hot temperatures or are exercising. Alcohol doesn’t contribute to our hydration status, in fact it causes dehydration because it causes increased urination. Alcohol also harms the liver and can be a major contributory factor for liver disease.

Albumin Tests

All these tests include Albumin. Select the test that suits your personal needs.

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Baseline
£59
Per test
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Baseline Plus
£79
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Our best selling health check measuring 22 essential biomarkers for good health and wellbeing.
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Nutricheck
£79
Test key vitamins and minerals essential for energy and good health.
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Male Hormones
£79
At home hormone test including testosterone to check for any imbalances.
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Menopause Health
£89
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Liver Health
£39
Our liver test kit checks how your liver is performing.
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References

[1] Lab Tests Online. (2019). Albumin. Available at: https://labtestsonline.org.uk/tests/albumin

[2] Marshall, W. (2012). Albumin (Serum, Plasma). Association for Clinical Biochemistry. Available at: http://www.acb.org.uk/Nat%20Lab%20Med%20Hbk/Albumin.pdf

[3] Oettl, K et al. (2008). Oxidative Damage of Albumin in Advanced Liver Disease. BBA – Molecular Basis of Disease: 1782(7-8), pp 469-473.

[4] Moman, R, N and Varacallo, M. (2018). Physiology, Albumin. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.

[5] Throop, J, L et al. (2004). Albumin in Health and Disease: Protein Metabolism and Function. Compendium.

[6] National Health Service. (2017). Liver Disease. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/liver-disease/

[7] Ashraf, M and Rea, R. (2017). Effect of Dehydration on Blood Tests. Practical Diabetes: 34.5,.

[8] National Health Service. (2017).  Liver Disease. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/liver-disease/

[9] National Health Service. (2017). Dehydration. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dehydration/

[10] Nseir, W et al. (2014). Role of Diet and Lifestyle Changes in Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. World Journal of Gastroenterology: 20(28), pp 9338-9344.

[11] Diabetes.co.uk. (2019). Carbohydrate and Diabetes. Available at: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/nutrition/carbohydrates-and-diabetes.html

[12] EDWCA. (2019). The Benefits of Drinking Water. Available at: https://www.edwca.org/index.php/hydration/