What are the causes of low protein levels?

Updated April 17, 2017

Proteins are made up of amino acids and are essential nutrients for the body. Proteins are needed for the growth, maintenance and repair of cells. They can be found throughout the body in muscles, tissues, organs and blood. It is important to maintain a healthy level of protein in the blood, and changes in this level can indicate a variety of conditions.

Blood Protein

The major protein in the blood is albumin, which is produced in the liver. Albumin is an important metabolic component. It is a powerful antioxidant, meaning it helps to prevent or repair oxidative damage to tissues. It also helps to carry vitamins, minerals and hormones to distribute them throughout the body. Albumin also regulates the water in the tissues. Albumin binds to toxic substances and waste in the blood to help eliminate them. Although the level of protein in the blood does not determine disease, it can indicate the presence of an underlying condition.

Underlying Conditions

One of the most common conditions causing low blood protein is nephrotic syndrome. Nephrotic syndrome is a group of symptoms including low blood protein, protein in the urine, swelling and high cholesterol. Nephrotic syndrome is caused by a variety of diseases that damage the kidneys. Low protein levels can also be suggestive of liver disorders, malnutrition and digestive disorders such as coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease.

Proteins in Urine

There are several conditions that cause excess protein in the urine, therefore leaving blood levels low. Conditions affecting the kidneys, which function as filters in the body, can cause protein to leak into the urine. Diseases such as Glomerular Disease damage the glomeruli, parts of the kidney that help filter the blood. When these are damaged, protein and red blood cells can leak into the urine. This can cause systemic problems including oedema, since one of the functions of albumin is the take excess fluid from the body to be eliminated through the kidneys.

Those at Risk

The incidence of low blood protein is more common in individuals with certain risk factors. These include those who suffer from alcoholism. The intake of excessive alcohol affects the function of the liver, which is where the albumin is produced. Also, women who are pregnant are prone to having low protein levels. Those with autoimmune disease are also at risk since they will typically have a higher immunoglobulin level, which correlates to a lower blood protein level.

Boost Blood Protein

Since there are correlations of low blood protein levels and disease, it is important to keep blood protein levels at their optimum. There are two important factors to help with this. 1. Practice good hygiene. Most germs are introduced into the body by touching the face, including eyes, nose and mouth, with the hands. The introduction of foreign microorganisms into the body increases the immunoglobulin, or antibody, level. An increase in the immunoglobulin level directly correlates with a decrease in the blood protein or albumin level. 2. Make sure dietary protein is optimised. Many people try to cut down on cholesterol and fat intake, which inadvertently decreases their protein intake as well. There are many healthy sources of protein, including fish, poultry, beans, nuts and whole grains. If blood albumin levels remain low, supplementation with amino acids could help restore them.

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About the Author

Stephanie Chandler is a freelance writer whose master's degree in biomedical science and over 15 years experience in the scientific and pharmaceutical professions provide her with the knowledge to contribute to health topics. Chandler has been writing for corporations and small businesses since 1991. In addition to writing scientific papers and procedures, her articles are published on and other websites.