- Ben Fuchs
Albumin, which is derived from the Greek word for white (as in albino or even album, which was originally a book with a bunch of white pages), is a multi-functional Swiss army knife type protein, with a chemical structure that allows it to perform many different biological roles. It’s primarily produced in the liver and measuring its levels is one of the ways physicians determine hepatic health. Deficiencies can be indicative of cirrhosis or liver disease.
Albumin’s most well-recognized function involves its ability to act as a water trapping or water attracting “sponge” in the blood. Albumin has an ability to pull water. It’s technically called osmosis, but you can just think of a sponge. Dip a sponge in water and the water gets sucked up automatically. That’s called osmosis and that’s exactly how albumin works in the blood. Sponges are made of long chain sugars that trap water and while albumin is more like a magnet than a trap, the water pulling or absorbing effect is the same. One of the most obvious consequences of an albumin deficiency is swelling and edema. That’s because without albumin trapping fluid it tends to leak out of the blood and into the tissues. Albumin can also be thought of as a fluid expander for the blood, without it blood can become thick and sludgy and more prone to clot. Albumin levels can drop significantly in with burns or blood loss. This loss of albumin can be serious and if it’s severe it can even be life threatening and doctors will inject a pharmaceutical version of albumin into the blood as a replacement.