The decision by nephrologists, renal dietitians, federal agencies, health care payers, large dialysis organizations, and the research community to embrace serum albumin as an important index of nutrition and clinical performance is based on numerous misconceptions. Patients with analbuminemia are not malnourished and individuals with simple malnutrition are rarely hypoalbuminemic. With the possible exception of kwashiorkor, a rare nutritional state, serum albumin is an unreliable marker of nutritional status. Furthermore, nutritional supplementation has not been clearly shown to raise levels of serum albumin. The use of serum albumin as a quality care index is also problematic. It has encouraged a reflexive reliance on expensive and unproven interventions such as dietary supplements and may lead to adverse selection of healthier patients by health care providers. The authors offer a rationale for considering albumin as a marker of illness rather than nutrition. Viewed in this manner, hypoalbuminemia may offer an opportunity to improve patient well-being by identifying and treating the underlying disorder.
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