If you’ve heard the term “alpha1 antitrypsin” (or “A1AT”), you may already know that it’s a protein that your body makes in your liver. But what does it actually do, and why do we need it?
Although A1AT is made in the liver, its main job is to keep certain enzymes—particularly neutrophil elastase—from damaging fragile lung tissue. Neutrophil elastase is released when bacteria or irritants, such as tobacco smoke, invade the lungs. Although neutrophil elastase destroys the bacteria and irritants, it can continue to attack anything around it, including healthy lung tissue. The job of A1AT is to bind neutrophil elastase and prevent it from damaging healthy lung tissue.
How A1AT Works in Your Body
The main function of A1AT is to protect the lungs from neutrophil elastase.
Some people have a condition known as A1AT deficiency, which occurs because their body cannot make enough of the A1AT protein. Without sufficient levels of the A1AT protein to protect the lungs following an infection, the body’s immune system will attack healthy tissue causing lung damage and, eventually, emphysema.
Alpha-1 is a progressive disease, which means that it can worsen over time and cause more damage to your lung function if left undiagnosed and untreated. Getting tested for Alpha-1 is the first step toward better understanding your lung disease and overall health and receiving appropriate treatment.
Doctors often recommend augmentation (replacement) therapy to replace the missing A1AT protein. While it is not a cure for Alpha-1, augmentation therapy has been proven to raise the levels of A1AT protein, which your body needs to maintain good lung health.
If you have COPD, emphysema, irreversible asthma, unexplained liver disease, a skin disorder called necrotizing panniculitis, or a family history of Alpha-1, you should talk to your doctor about testing for Alpha-1.