Total Protein

July 21, 2020

What is Total Protein?

Total protein measures the total amount of protein present in the blood. There are two main types of protein in the blood; albumin and globulin. Albumin transports many small molecules around the body, but its main purpose is to stop fluid from leaking from blood vessels. Globulins are a family of proteins which make up a large portion of serum proteins and have many functions within the human body.[1]

Why take a Total Protein blood test?

A total protein test measures the combined amount of both albumin and globulin. The test can be used to diagnose many health conditions such as kidney disease, liver disease and malnutrition.

Low total protein levels can indicate kidney or liver disease while high total protein may be indicative of dehydration.

You can test your total protein 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 total protein such as a liver function test which can be purchased for just £39.00. Total protein is also included along with 20 other biomarkers integral to good health in our best-selling Baseline Plus blood test.

What function does Total Protein have in the body?

Total protein measures the two major proteins in the blood, albumin and globulin, each of which has various functions in the body.

Albumin is the most important plasma protein and has some significant roles in the body. Albumin is a major transporter of ligands, an ion or molecule which bonds to a central metal atom. Albumin regulates the plasma oncotic pressure to prevent leakage from blood vessels.[2]

Globulins make up a large proportion of blood serum proteins and include carrier proteins, enzymes and immunoglobulins. There are five groups of globulins, α1, α2, β1, β2 and γ. One example of a major β globulin is transferrin, a protein which attaches to iron molecules and transports it in the blood. Transferrin is responsible for regulating the body’s iron absorption into the blood.[3]

How do changes in Total Protein affect health and wellbeing?

Total protein levels can change because of medical conditions and disorders. Proteins are essential for our health and the growth and development of body cells and tissues.

A low total protein level may indicate a liver or kidney issue. It could also mean that protein isn’t being absorbed or digested as it should be. High total protein levels can occur during dehydration or some types of cancer.

If you are worried about your liver or kidney function or just want to check where you fall on the range, you can test your total protein level with Forth’s leading blood test service.

What can cause Total Protein to change?

If a total protein count is high then it can indicate dehydration. Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than it’s taking in and if left untreated it can be serious. Dehydration can make you feel quite unwell and some of the symptoms are uncomfortable.[4]

Dehydration is more likely to occur if you have:

  • Diabetes
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Been sweating too much after exercising
  • Have a high temperature over 38oC
  • Been taking diuretics which make you pee more
  • Spent too much time in the sun (heatstroke)

Some globulin levels can rise in response to inflammation, infection, oestrogen levels and injury. Individuals who smoke are more at risk of increased globulin levels, particularly antitrypsin, these individuals also have a higher level of background inflammation.[5] Inflammatory disease like arthritis can also cause a rise in serum globulin levels.

A low total protein count may indicate a liver issue. 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]

What are the most common symptoms of high or low Total Protein?

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[7]

Common signs of dehydration include:

  • Thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth, lips and eyes
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Peeing less often, less than 4 times per day
  • Dark yellow, strong smelling pee

How to keep Total Protein 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 who have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease tend to eat highly calorific diets which mainly consist of carbohydrates and fats.[8] 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 whole grains. 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.[9]

Hydration is another important factor, particularly if your total protein 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.[10] 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.

- Health scores calculated



[1] Lab Tests Online UK. (2013). Total Protein Test. Available at:

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

[3] Lab Tests Online UK. (2014). TIBC, UIBC and Transferrin. Available at:

[4] NHS. (2017). Dehydration. Available at:

[5] Sanders, C, L., Ponte, A and Kueppers, F. (2017). The Effects of Inflammation on Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Levels in A National Screening Cohort. COPD: Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: 15(1), pp 10-16.

[6] National Health Service. (2017). Liver Disease. Available at:

[7] National Health Service. (2017).  Liver Disease. Available at:

[8] 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.

[9] (2019). Carbohydrate and Diabetes. Available at:

[10] EDWCA. (2019). The Benefits of Drinking Water. Available at:

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This information has been medically reviewed by Dr Nicky Keay

Nicola has extensive clinical and research experience in the fields of endocrinology and sport and exercise medicine. Nicky is a member of the Royal College of Physicians, Honorary Fellow in the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Durham University and former Research Fellow at St. Thomas' Hospital.

Dr Nicky Keay

Dr Nicky Keay

BA, MA (Cantab), MB, BChir, MRCP.