Ammonia physiology is important to numerous disease states including urea cycle disorders and hepatic encephalopathy. However, many unknowns persist regarding the ammonia response to common and potentially significant physiologic influences, such as food. Our aim was to evaluate the dynamic range of ammonia in response to an oral protein challenge in healthy participants. We measured blood and breath ammonia at baseline and every hour for 5.5 hours. Healthy men (N = 22, aged 18 to 24 years) consumed a 60 g protein shake (high dose); a subset of 10 consumed a 30 g protein shake (moderate dose) and 12 consumed an electrolyte drink containing 0 g protein (control). Change in blood ammonia over time varied by dose (p = 0.001). Difference in blood ammonia was significant for control versus high (p = 0.0004) and moderate versus high (p = 0.03). Change in breath ammonia over time varied by dose (p < 0.0001). Difference in breath ammonia was significant for control versus moderate (p = 0.03) and control versus high (p = 0.0003). Changes in blood and breath ammonia were detectable by fast, minimally-invasive (blood) or non-invasive (breath) point-of-care ammonia measurement methods. These pilot data may contribute to understanding normal ammonia metabolism. Novel measurement methods may aid research into genetic and metabolic ammonia disorders.
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