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Albumin: An Important Marker for Kidney Patients
What is albumin?
Albumin is a type of protein in your blood. If you are a dialysis patient, it is one of the key blood levels in your monthly labs. It is a general indication of a patient’s well-being. A good level is 4.0 gm/dl or higher.
Albumin is a marker that is helpful to your doctor and dietitian when doing a monthly assessment of your nutrition and health status. Albumin levels are used as an indicator of how well you would fare if you became ill. In other words, an optimal albumin will help you to feel well and heal well.
Albumin can be affected by a number of factors, such as:
- A recent hospitalization
- Shortened treatments
- Excess fluid gain in between treatments
- Wounds, ulcers or legions
- Digestive problems such as malabsorption, vomiting or diarrhea
- High blood sugars
- Poor dental hygiene
It is very important that a person on hemodialysis eat enough protein. Some protein is lost during dialysis, so a higher protein diet is needed. Maintaining albumin at the desired level of 4.0 gm/dl or higher will help a person feel healthier and more energetic. It will also assist in maintaining fluid balance. Since albumin and other proteins are lost during dialysis, it is very important that a patient replenish by eating enough protein.
How much protein is enough?
One way to maintain your albumin level is to eat enough protein. The amount you need varies with stage of kidney disease, nutritional status and other factors. Your protein needs are calculated based on your weight. Ask your dietitian exactly how much protein you should be eating. The bottom line is that you should be eating meat or other high quality protein sources at every meal.
Protein is found in fish, seafood, chicken, beef, lamb, fresh pork and veal. Three ounces of meat is about the size of a deck of cards and has 21 grams of protein. Eggs are a great source of protein, with one egg containing 7 grams of protein. Soy protein, Greek yogurt, legumes and peanut butter are high in protein. Because these foods have more potassium and phosphorus than meat your dietitian may recommend limiting portions and how often you eat them.
What about protein supplements?
Many protein supplements are available if you are unable to get enough from your foods. Protein bars, powders and drinks are also a good choice, as long as they are not too high in phosphorus, sodium or potassium. Ask your dietitian for a list of kidney-friendly protein supplements and information on additional protein sources.