What is bilirubin?
Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that's produced when your red blood cells are broken down. A bilirubin test can help check for gallstones and liver damage.
What is its function?
When your red blood cells break down, bilirubin is what’s leftover. It’s a waste product with no known function in your body.
Bilirubin ends up in your liver where it's combined with bile (helps you digest food). Eventually, bilirubin is removed from your body through your stools.
What can cause my levels to change?
High bilirubin levels can be a sign that your liver is damaged. High levels might also be caused by drinking too much alcohol, certain medications, or if you're destroying more red blood cells than normal (haemolysis).
Sometimes high levels might be caused by Gilbert’s syndrome — a harmless inherited disorder.
What are the most common symptoms?
Jaundice, when your skin and eyes turn yellow, is the main sign of high bilirubin levels. If your liver is damaged, other symptoms include:
- abdominal pain
- nausea and vomiting
- dark urine
What can I do to change them?
To prevent high bilirubin levels caused by liver damage, avoid too much:
- saturated and trans fats — like fried foods, red meat, cakes, pastries, and cream
- refined carbohydrates — like white bread and white pasta
- added sugars — like fruit juices, fizzy drinks, and sweets
- salt — like frozen foods, salted nuts, and smoked or cured meats
- alcohol — limit to 14 units a week (equivalent to about 6 pints or 7 medium-sized glasses of wine)