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Total Protein Test – Everything You Need to Know

The total protein test is a blood test that calculates the total amount of proteins in the blood. It counts approximately 500 different types of proteins1. This is done by analysing two important protein groups; albumin and immunoglobulin1. This is why the total protein test is also known as the Albumin:Globulin ratio1.

In this post, we will learn all about the proteins in our body and the significance of the total protein test for our body’s optimal performance.

What are proteins?

We are all familiar with the proteins that we eat, but what are the proteins within our body and what do they do?

Our body contains over 200,000 different types of proteins and they all have their own specific roles2. These proteins are made up of blocks of amino acids2. Up to 50 amino acids in differing orders create the proteins we have in our body2.

Understanding that proteins exist in a multitude of types and are made from several amino acids highlights the importance of having a healthy varied diet.

The liver plays a vital role in creating proteins, by breaking down amino acids, recreating other amino acids and creating albumin, the most common type of protein in our body2.

Proteins are grouped into two types; Fibrous or Globular2.

Fibrous proteins

  • Involved with the mechanical strength of cells and are a long-stranded shape2.
  • For example, collagen, a protein that ensures healthy joints and skin.

Globular proteins

  • Compact shaped proteins.
  • Involved in many chemical functions in the body.
  • Examples include antibodies, which are part of your immune system, and hormones2.

Why do we need proteins?

Proteins are essential for almost every aspect of your body and for various reasons. Here are some examples of the most common and important tasks carried out by proteins in the body:

  • Growth
  • Repair
  • Enzymes
  • Creation of antibodies
  • Muscle contraction
  • Hormone production
  • DNA replication for cell multiplication

And the list goes on.2

What are albumin proteins?

  • Albumin is a globular protein.
  • Most common protein found in the bloodstream1.
  • Controls fluid movement through blood vessels and transports nutrients, drugs, hormones and vitamins throughout the body1.
  • The liver creates albumin and maintains its levels within the blood.

What is a serum albumin test?

This is a blood test that specifically identifies albumin levels within the blood. Low levels may indicate an issue with the liver, malnutrition or inflammation1. However, increased levels of albumin indicate dehydration1.

What are immunoglobulin/globulin proteins?

  • Immunoglobulin is a globular protein that creates antibodies.
  • There are five groups of immunoglobulins in total and they are all counted within the blood test1.
  • Immunoglobulin is produced in the lymph tissue. This is part of your immune system within the lymph nodes that are found in your neck, armpits, groin and bone marrow3.

Antibodies are created in response to a specific foreign body found within the body, such as a bacteria or virus that would cause an illness. These antibodies attach to the foreign body and neutralise the threat of illness by breaking it down. If your body does not have the antibody for the illness, then you may become ill whilst the body works out the right one.

When should you get the Total Protein Test?

Protein tests are most commonly carried out to assess liver function. But as there are many proteins involved within the test, abnormal results may point to other health issues as well. This includes kidney issues, malabsorption issues, or bone marrow issues1.

Protein tests for liver health assessment should be evaluated with other liver function tests. The ElevateMe health test includes a liver function test that tests for albumin as well as globulin.

Symptoms of high protein levels

Protein intake is often highly encouraged when you are more physically active or trying to build muscle. However, there are side effects of having too much protein. Possible side effects include:

  • Reduced calcium in the bones resulting in weaker bones
  • Kidney problems that increase the likelihood of kidney stones
  • Liver issues4

Symptoms of low protein levels

Proteins are synthesised through many processes. If we consume too little protein, our bodies have the ability to increase protein production to match the reduction. Symptoms can occur when low protein levels are prolonged. These may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Muscle weakness and wasting
  • Swelling
  • Mood changes
  • Low blood pressure & low heart rate
  • Nutrient malabsorption
  • Liver disease
  • Anaemia
  • Slow immune response and slow healing of cuts
  • Food cravings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frail hair, skin and nails.5
Note that any abnormal protein levels may indicate the start of liver disease, which is always symptomless in the early stages.
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What kind of sample is required for a Total Protein Test?

The total protein test is usually a blood test. In some cases, your GP can also order a urine test. If urine is positive for protein, it indicates a kidney issue6.

What’s the normal amount of protein in the body?

The recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.8g per kilogram of body weight a day4. But what does this translate to when we are talking about blood results?

In the table below, you will find the normal reference ranges that the majority of lab blood tests come with.

At ElevateMe, we use optimal ranges instead of reference ranges. Optimal ranges are a much better metric than reference ranges for people who do not wish to be just “well” but instead wish to thrive and operate at peak performance.

Here’s a post on why optimal ranges are better than reference ranges for optimum health.

Type of Blood TestNormal Range2Optimal Range
Total Proteins60 – 83 g/L60 – 83 g/L
Albumin32 -50 g/L44 – 55 g/L
Immunoglobulins5.6 – 18 g/L19 – 31 g/L

Note that these numbers may vary if factors like activity levels, age, muscle mass, and overall health are outside the normal range5.

What does it mean if you have a high Total Protein test reading?

High protein levels are apparent when you become dehydrated. This is because the reduced fluid content makes the elements carried in your blood become more concentrated1. Occasionally high protein results can also indicate some cancers, as some cancerous tumours produce proteins1.

What does it mean if you have a low Total Protein test reading?

Low proteins within the bloodstream can indicate several possibilities:

  • Liver disorder – the liver is not producing enough due to some damage
  • Kidney disorder – the kidneys are more likely to develop stones
  • Malabsorption disorder – the body is unable to digest or absorb the proteins eaten
  • Immunoglobulin levels are too low – the bone marrow which aids in making immunoglobulins is not functioning correctly1

Can you control protein levels with a particular diet?

Although we eat proteins as part of our diet, we are not able to use these straight away in their original form. The body needs to break down these proteins into their constituent building blocks of amino acids. These amino acids are then released into the bloodstream and can be used in protein production.

Eating a variety of protein will increase the number of amino acid blocks available for your body. Thus, it is recommended to consume complete (sometimes referred to as whole) proteins that contain all the 9 essential types of amino acids7.

There are 20 different amino acids, all of which are used in protein production. However, whole proteins contain the 9 essential amino acids that are imperative for your body7. Examples of complete protein foods include Egg, Beef, Poultry, Fish, Milk, Cheese, Yoghurts, and a combination of both plants and grains for vegetarian and vegan diets7.

To increase your protein levels, it is important that the cause of low proteins is found. Once found, proper nutrition or supplements can be started. This will then ensure that you are getting all the protein that your body needs to increase your protein levels back to normal.

For example, low protein diets are regularly suggested for kidney disease patients. This is to reduce the kidney’s workload and prolong their use8. But reducing protein intake can create its own issues. The less protein eaten means there are fewer amino acids available for your body’s needs. This is a difficult balance your medical professionals need to get right to prevent further complications.

Improving your overall health

Monitoring your protein levels is a good way to keep checks on your liver health and avoid early signs of liver disease. Moreover, protein is necessary to avoid being tired and groggy all the time. The ElevateMe health test is designed to help you track all the biomarkers that will lead you to live at your best health. Start tracking your health today!

You can also take this free health quiz and receive instant feedback and actionable advice based on your scores.

Are you feeling weak? 

Protein deficiency causes tiredness, skin degeneration, hair loss, muscle loss, and an increased severity of infections. Ensuring optimal protein levels is essential for you to thrive.  

Take an ElevateMe blood test today to track your protein levels and get an overview of your sleep, fitness, energy, metabolism, cognition, mood, and immunity.

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References

1 Lab Tests Online. (2019). Total Protein Test. Last accessed 02/06/2021.

2 Moini, J. (2019). Anatomy and Physiology for Health Professionals. 3rd ed. Burlington, USA: Jones & Barlett.

3 NHS. (2020). Swollen glands. Last accessed 02/06/2021.

4 Delimaris, I. (2013). Adverse Effects Associated with Protein Intake above the Recommended Dietary Allowance for AdultsISRN nutrition, ID: 126929.

5 Mazur, J. (N.D.). 13 Negative side effects of not getting enough protein. Last accessed 02/06/2021.

6 American Kidney Fund. (2021). Protein in Urine. Last accessed 02/06/2021.

7 Collins, N. & Schnitzer, A. (2013). How dietary proteins intake promotes wound healing. Wound Care Advisor. 2 (6), 16-19.

8 Jeffreys, S. & Steinmair, M. (2020). Nutritional Management of Patients with Chronic Kidney Disease Through Low-Protein DietsEuropean Medical Journal. 5 (4), 66-72.

Written by Louise Taylor

After completing Clinical Technology at the University of Bradford, I am venturing into the NHS as a General Medical Engineer.

23/06/2021

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