Ammonia does not sound like a substance you want to have in your blood. However, it is a normal constituent in your blood and many other body fluids. As with all substances in the body, there is a standard range of ammonia, and you don’t want to exceed the average levels. When this happens, ammonia starts causing toxic effects in different parts, especially the brain.
But is there a way to lower ammonia levels in the blood? This article will walk you through everything you need to know about ammonia. Where is it metabolized, and why? What is considered a high ammonia level? How high can ammonia levels reach before dying? And finally, we’re also giving you a few recommendations to maintain ammonia levels under control.
What causes ammonia?
Ammonia is a normal part of the blood and other body fluids. However, it is usually found in the blood as an ion. That is an electrically charged substance. In normal circumstances, ammonia levels are lower than 35 mol per liter. When ammonia levels go higher, the substance is converted into urea, and it is eliminated through the urine. The liver is one of the most important organs to maintain ammonia levels under control because it is where the urea cycle takes place. This is where we have enzymes that convert ammonia into urea, which is then eliminated through the kidneys.
That is where urea comes from, but what is the source of ammonia? The primary sources include:
- Bacterial urea hydrolysis: Different microbes have urease, which breaks urea into ammonia and carbon dioxide. This activity in bacteria is so common that many infections can be detected by ureolytic activity as a marker.
- Other nitrogenous compounds in the intestines: Fermentation of different nutrients containing nitrogen may also lead to the formation of ammonia. This typically happens in the gut, which is one reason why intestinal gas smells.
- Purine nucleotide cycle: This metabolic pathway helps maintain adenine nucleotide levels in the organism. It is a complex chemical process, but in a nutshell, aspartate and inosine monophosphate turn into ammonia and fumarate. This is another source of ammonia in the body.
- Amino acid transamination in muscle tissue: Some amino acids contain ammonia in the form of amine groups. Ammonia removal is a common chemical reaction in muscle tissue amino acids. It mainly happens when the muscle tissue is broken down or catabolized.
- Other sources in the liver and kidneys: Amine group removal from glutamate also happens in the liver and the kidneys, creating more ammonia.