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Thesis (M.S.)—University of Nebraska—Lincoln, 1971. Department of Interdepartmental Area of Nutrition.


Copyright 1971, the author. Used by permission.


Transferrin, the iron binding protein in blood, has been found to be severely depressed in children with kwashiorkor (protein malnutrition).The severity of this depression compared to other serum proteins, its selective response to kwashiorkor but not marasmus (protein and calorie malnutrition), and the simplicity of an immunological test for transferrin has led to a proposal that routine clinical use of serum transferrin levels be used for the diagnosis of kwashiorkor.

The purpose of the current study was to further define the sensitivity of transferrin levels to the protein nutritive status in human; specifically, to determine if short term feeding of low protein diets to healthy, adult human subjects would produce a measurable change in the serum transferrin levels as measured by TIBC.Normally, such mild experimental procedures produce significant changes in protein nutriture as measured by the nitrogen balance technique but are not sufficiently drastic to cause noticeable change in total serum protein levels.A specific serum protein, such as transferrin, would have to be very sensitive to the protein nutritive state in order for it to be affected by such conditions.

Serum total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) levels were measured in 19 adult subjects on low nitrogen diets in order to determine the effect of nitrogen intake on human serum transferrin levels. In the first study 10 adult men were given either 4.8 g or 8.8 g of high quality protein nitrogen per day per subject.TIBC levels dropped during a period of lowered nitrogen intake and rose during a period of increased nitrogen intake but the changes were not statistically significant.In the second study 9 adult men and women were given 4.0 g of protein nitrogen per day from corn which was supplemented with either 0.0, 4.0 or 8.0 g of urea per day.All diets were given for a period of 10 days to each subject, the order of presentation being randomly arranged for each subject.Mean TIBC levels during the 4.8 g N/day period were significantly below pre-study levels.Mean TIBC levels rose with increasing nitrogen intake but the changes were not statistically significant.TIBC was shown to be more sensitive to changes in protein intake than either total serum protein or serum albumin levels but less sensitive than nitrogen balance. This study supports the use of serum transferrin in the detection and treatment of kwashiorkor.

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