The condition referred to as low bilirubin is a complex one to understand. Sometimes having low bilirubin is great since it can help prevent coronary diseases. On the other hand, low bilirubin may be a sign of kidney disease. To understand more, you need to know what bilirubin is and what it does.
What is Bilirubin?
This is the substance that is produced when red blood cells are broken down in the liver, and they are excreted through the digestive system and that is why your stool has a brownish color. Some Bilirubin is also excreted in urine, and this gives your urine the same brownish color. It can also be found in bile, and when you have high levels of bilirubin, then one is said to be suffering from jaundice. Bilirubin is thought to be an anti-inflammatory and also antioxidant, and when found in normal levels, can be of benefit to the body.
What are the functions of Bilirubin?
The functions of this substance are not properly understood and a lot of research is being done to see how bilirubin can be used to improve the health of people suffering from kidney and heart conditions. People with liver disease have too much bilirubin in their bodies and this is why their skin and eyes have the yellow tint; this is one case when bilirubin can be dangerous.
Conversely, studies have shown that smokers with low levels of bilirubin are more susceptible to lung cancer. This means that smokers with normal levels of bilirubin are less-likely to develop lung cancer. Bilirubin also has anti-inflammatory properties, and helps in stopping hardening of arteries that can lead to coronary artery disease.
According to research, people suffering from End-Stage Kidney disease are found to have low bilirubin in their bodies. There is more research going on, to see if there is a direct relationship between bilirubin and this disease.
Causes of low bilirubin
When one is healthy but still having low bilirubin, the causes may be:
- High Caffeine – the xanthenes in caffeine reduce bilirubin
- Excess Vitamin C – this has been found to reduce bilirubin and is used to lower it in cases of high bilirubin levels
- Phenobarbital – this is a drug given to people who experience seizures and is sometimes used in managing high bilirubin levels.
- Theophylline – a drug used for lung disease and contains xanthenes which reduce bilirubin like in the case of caffeine.
There are certain diseases that are associated with low bilirubin levels, though the real relationship is still under research:
- Coronary Artery Disease
- End Stage Kidney Disease
- Seasonal depression
- Hemolytic Anemia
Research is still going on to see how low bilirubin can help protect cells from damage and also regulate fats in the body.
How to test for low bilirubin
People have two types of bilirubin in their bodies
- Indirect or Unconjugated bilirubin – this is the insoluble type that flows in the blood to the liver, where it is turned into conjugated bilirubin which can then dissolve in water.
- Direct or Conjugated bilirubin – this is the type that is formed in the liver from unconjugated bilirubin. The liver mixes it with sugars, making it soluble in water, and it can then be excreted in stool and urine. It is the type that is tested through blood specimens.
Now, labs will only test for conjugated bilirubin. However, they can also test the full bilirubin content, and then subtract the conjugated bilirubin and determine the level of unconjugated bilirubin. When the tests are done, low levels of any of these can be an indication of a problem, or toxicity due to medication.
The normal ranges of bilirubin are:
- Direct Bilirubin 0.0 to 0.3 mg/dL
- Total Bilirubin – 0.1 to 1 mg/dL
Treatment of low bilirubin
Doctors will not normally do anything if you have low bilirubin and do not have any disease or medical condition. Low bilirubin is thought to be good for healthy people, and it is only when it gets too high that doctors get concerned. High bilirubin can cause Jaundice, red blood cell damage and brain damage.
If you have low bilirubin and want to bring it up to normal levels, just to be ob the safe side, then there are some things that you can do at home to achieve this:
- Stop smoking if you do; this will reduce chances of getting lung cancer too.
- Reduce your caffeine intake due to xanthenes
- Keep your vitamin C intake at the required daily level
NOTE: before you do anything to raise your low bilirubin, you should talk to your doctor. There are some cases where low bilirubin may actually be beneficial to your health, such as when you are in danger of getting coronary artery disease. However, the low bilirubin may be a sign of kidney failure. So talking to a doctor is wise.