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Diet and Nutrition

Albumin Deficiency

10/06/1998

Question:

What would be the possible causes of a albumen deficiency? Is this the same as a protein deficiency? The person that is suffering from this is a 81 year old female in good health except for a high cholesterol count. She can't seem to get an answer from her doctor, other than she should eat 8 egg whites a day. Is there a easier way to treat this problem?

Answer:

Thanks for your question. Albumin is a protein in the blood that is synthesized by the liver. It represents visceral (or "organ") protein stores in the body.

A person may have hypoalbuminemia (or low albumin levels) for many reasons. Dietitians use the serum albumin level as an indicator of protein malnutrition, though other situations may cause a low albumin level (stress, surgery, impaired liver function or overhydration of body tissues).

Protein losses may occur due to overall poor nutritional intake of calories and protein, protein losses in the urine, stool, blood or in wounds. Most healthy people do not lose protein in this way.

When a person does not eat enough calories to maintain normal bodily functions, the body may break down protein for calories. This does not happen overnight, since some days a person will eat more than other days. This process of protein degredation is called is called gluconeogenesis.

This occurs in malnourished children (in 3rd world countries or in poverty) and often hospitalized patients that do not eat enough and are under stress.

Indications of low protein stores are thin or sparse hair, poor wound healing, swelling in the hands or feet (called edema), or inability to fight disease (poor immune function). A person may also exhibit muscle wasting due to loss of lean body tissue. Albumin is measured in blood, so a person must have blood drawn in order to find out their albumin level.

In order to improve the albumin level, the person should consume both adequate calories and adequate protein. Adequate servings from the Food Guide Pyramid should be eaten on a daily basis. This includes at least 6 starch or bread servings, 2-4 fruit servings, 3-5 vegetable servings, 2 dairy group servings and 2 meat servings.

To improve protein stores, your friend should eat more high protein foods. These include eggs (both the whites AND the yolks, lean meats (chicken breast, lean red meats, lean cuts of pork like tenderloin, skim milk, low fat cottage cheese or low fat yogurt). I suggest your friend see a Registered Dietitian for more detailed counseling.

Her MD may have recommended lots of egg whites because they contain "albumin". This is not the same type of albumin that is in the blood. Egg yolks are high in cholesterol, but they are also a good source of protein, vitamin A and iron. If your friend's cholesterol is elevated, she can still eat 3-4 egg yolks per week. See previously answered questions about cholesterol for more information, or check out the American Dietetic Association Website for more tips on high protein foods, and low fat/low cholesterol diets. The address is www.eatright.org.

I hope this information helped you. Good Luck! high in cholesterol, but your friend may

Related Resources:

American Dietetic Association

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Response by:

Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
Adjunct Faculty
University of Cincinnati