8 signs and symptoms of protein deficiency



Few nutrients are as important as protein.


Protein is the basic component of muscles, skin, enzymes and hormones, and plays an essential role in all tissues of the body.


Most foods contain some proteins. As a result, true protein deficiency is rare in developed countries. However, some people may still be at risk.


The deficiency leads to several health problems, while a low protein intake can also be a concern, as it can cause subtle changes in your body over time.


This article lists 8 symptoms of low protein intake or deficiency.


What is protein deficiency?


Hand holding hair


Protein deficiency is when your intake can not meet the requirements of your body.


It is estimated that one billion people around the world suffer from inadequate protein intake (1).


The problem is especially severe in Central Africa and South Asia, where up to 30% of children get too little protein from their diet (2).


Some people in developed countries are also at risk. This includes vegetarians and vegans who follow an unbalanced diet, as well as institutionalized older people and hospitalized patients (3, 4).


While true protein deficiency is rare in the Western world, some people get very low amounts of their diet.


Very little protein can cause changes in body composition that develop over a long period of time, such as muscle wasting.


The most severe form of protein deficiency is known as kwashiorkor. It occurs most often in children in developing countries where famines and unbalanced diets are common.


Protein deficiency can affect almost every aspect of body function. As a result, it is associated with many symptoms.


Some of these symptoms may begin to occur even when the protein deficiency is marginal. They are listed below, along with some typical symptoms of kwashiorkor.



Summary: Protein deficiency is when people do not get adequate amounts of protein from their diet. Kwashiorkor, its most severe form, is seen most often in children in developing countries.



1. edema


The edema, which is characterized by swollen and swollen skin, is a classic symptom of kwashiorkor.


Scientists believe that it is caused by low amounts of human serum albumin, which is the most abundant protein in the liquid part of blood or blood plasma (5).


One of the main functions of albumin is to maintain oncotic pressure, a force that attracts fluid into the bloodstream. In this way, albumin prevents excessive amounts of fluid from accumulating in the tissues or other compartments of the body.


Due to the reduction of human serum albumin levels, severe protein deficiency leads to a lower oncotic pressure. As a result, fluid accumulates in the tissues, causing swelling.


For the same reason, protein deficiency can lead to the accumulation of fluid within the abdominal cavity. A swollen belly is a characteristic sign of kwashiorkor.


Keep in mind that edema is a symptom of a severe protein deficiency, which is unlikely to occur in developed countries.


Summary: The key symptoms of kwashiorkor are edema and an inflamed abdomen.


2. fatty liver


Another common symptom of kwashiorkor is a fatty liver or accumulation of fat in the liver cells (6).


If left untreated, the condition can become a disease of fatty liver, causing inflammation, scarring of the liver and possibly liver failure.


Fatty liver is a common condition in obese people, as well as in those who consume a lot of alcohol (7, 8).


The reason why it occurs in cases of protein deficiency is unclear, but studies suggest that a poor synthesis of fat transport proteins, known as lipoproteins, may contribute to the condition (9).


Summary: Fatty liver is one of the symptoms of kwashiorkor in children. In the worst case, it can lead to liver failure.


3. Skin, hair and nail problems.


Protein deficiency often leaves its mark on the skin, hair and nails, which are largely made of proteins.


For example, kwashiorkor in children is characterized by skin flaking or excision, reddening and depigmented skin patches (10, 11).


Hair thinning, discolored hair color, hair loss (alopecia) and brittle nails are also common symptoms (12, 13).


However, it is unlikely that these symptoms appear unless you have a severe protein deficiency.


Summary: Severe protein deficiency can affect your skin, causing redness, flaking and depigmentation. It can also cause brittle nails and hair loss.


4. Loss of muscle mass.


Your muscles are your body's greatest store of proteins.


When dietary protein is scarce, the body tends to take protein from the skeletal muscles to preserve more important tissues and body functions. As a result, lack of protein leads to muscle wasting over time.


Even a moderate protein failure can cause muscle wasting, especially in older people.


A study in elderly men and women found that muscle loss was greater among those who consumed the lowest amounts of protein (14).


This has been confirmed by other studies that show that a higher protein intake can delay the muscle degeneration that comes with aging (15).


Summary: Protein is essential for muscle growth and maintenance. The loss of muscle mass is one of the first signs of inadequate protein intake.


5. Increased risk of bone fractures


Muscles are not the only tissues affected by low protein intake.


Your bones are also at risk. Not consuming enough protein can weaken your bones and increase the risk of fractures (16, 17, 18).


One study in postmenopausal women found that a higher protein intake was associated with a lower risk of hip fractures. The highest intake was associated with a risk reduction of 69%, and protein of animal origin appeared to have the greatest benefits (19).


Another study in postmenopausal women with recent hip fractures showed that taking 20 grams of protein supplements per day for half a year reduced bone loss by 2.3% (20).


Summary: Protein helps maintain the strength and density of bones. Insufficient protein intake has been linked to lower bone mineral density and an increased risk of fractures.


6. Atrophied growth in children


The protein not only helps maintain muscle and bone mass, it is also essential for body growth.


Therefore, deficiency or insufficiency is especially harmful for children whose growing bodies require a constant supply.


In fact, stunting is the most common sign of childhood malnutrition. In 2013, an estimated 161 million children suffered from stunting (21).


Observational studies show a strong association between low protein intake and poor growth (22, 23).


Atrophied growth is also one of the main characteristics of kwashiorkor in children (24).


Summary: Insufficient protein intake can delay or prevent growth in children.


7. Increased severity of infections


A protein deficit can also make a dent in the immune system.


Impaired immune function may increase the risk or severity of infections, a common symptom of severe protein deficiency (25, 26).


For example, a study in mice showed that following a diet with only 2% protein was associated with a more severe influenza infection, compared to a diet that provided 18% protein (27).


Even a marginally low protein intake can affect immune function. A small study in older women showed that following a low-protein diet for nine weeks significantly reduced their immune response (28).


Summary: Eating too little protein can affect your body's ability to fight infections, such as the common cold.


8. Greater appetite and calorie consumption.


Although lack of appetite is one of the symptoms of severe protein deficiency, the opposite seems to be true for milder forms of deficiency.


When your protein intake is inadequate, your body tries to re-establish its protein status by increasing your appetite and encouraging you to find something to eat (29, 30).


But a protein deficit does not drive the desire to eat without direction, at least not for everyone. It can selectively increase people's appetite for salty foods, which tend to be high in protein (31).


While this may help in times of food shortages, the problem is that modern society offers unlimited access to tasty and high-calorie foods.


Many of these convenience foods contain some proteins. However, the amount of protein in these foods is usually considerably low compared to the amount of calories they provide.


As a result, poor protein intake can lead to weight gain and obesity, an idea known as the protein leveraging hypothesis (32).


Not all studies support the hypothesis, but the protein is clearly more satiating than carbohydrates and fats (33, 34).


This is part of the reason why increasing protein intake can reduce total caloric intake and promote weight loss (35, 36).


If you are hungry all the time and have difficulty controlling your caloric intake, try adding a little lean protein to each meal.


Summary: Low protein intake can increase appetite. While a greater appetite is beneficial in times of food shortages, it can promote weight gain and obesity when food is plentiful.


How much protein do you need?


Not all have the same protein requirement. It depends on many factors, including body weight, muscle mass, physical activity and age.


It could be said that body weight is the most important determinant of protein requirements. As a result, recommendations are usually presented as grams per pound or kilogram of body weight.


The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight (0.8 grams per kg). Scientists estimate that this should be enough for most people.


This translates to 66 grams of protein per day for an adult who weighs 165 pounds (75 kg).


For athletes, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends a daily protein intake of 0.5 to 0.6 grams per pound of body weight (1.2 to 1.4 grams per kg), which should be sufficient for muscle maintenance and recovery of training ( 37).


However, scientists do not agree on how much is enough. The daily recommendation of the International Sports Nutrition Society is 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight (2 grams per kg) for athletes (38).


Like athletes, older adults also seem to have higher protein requirements.


Although the recommended daily dose is the same for older and younger adults, studies indicate that it is underestimated and should be increased to 0.5 to 0.7 grams per pound of body weight (1.2 to 1.5 grams per kg ) for the elderly (39, 40).


In short, if you are older or physically active, your daily protein requirements are probably higher than the recommended daily dose of 0.4 grams per pound of body weight (0.8 grams per kg).


The richest sources of protein include fish, meat, eggs, dairy products and legumes.


Summary: The recommended daily dose of protein is 0.4 grams per pound (0.8 grams per kg). However, studies show that the requirements may be higher for athletes and seniors. Exactly how much more is a matter of debate.


The bottom line


The protein is found everywhere in your body. Your muscles, skin, hair, bones and blood are mainly composed of proteins.


For this reason, protein deficiency has a wide range of symptoms.


A severe protein deficiency can cause swelling, fatty liver, degeneration of the skin, increase the severity of infections and the growth of the trick in children.


While true deficiency is rare in developed countries, low intakes can cause muscle loss and increase the risk of bone fractures.


Some evidence even suggests that consuming too little protein can increase appetite and promote overeating and obesity.


For optimal health, be sure to include high-protein foods in each meal.



Reference: https: //www.healthline.com/nutrition/protein-deficiency-symptoms






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