10 Basic Signs and Symptoms of Protein Deficiency You Should Know

Signs and Symptoms of Protein Deficiency | Important of Protein | Effect of Protein Deficiency | Sources of Protein | Disease Cause by Lack of Protein | Functions of Protein to the Body | Protein Rich-foods | Vegetarian Sources of Protein | Protein Deficiency Symptoms and Disease

Signs and symptoms of Protein Deficiency. Proteins are important to the body since are used every day to keep the body going. Proteins help to develop, grow and maintain almost every part of our bodies. Proteins create haemoglobin, important antibodies, fight off bacteria, controls blood sugar levels and heal wounds etc.

This article discusses what is protein and protein deficiency, signs and symptoms that show you are protein deficient, Important of protein to the body, sources of protein( i.e protein-rich foods that your body needs), and how much protein does your body needs, what are the side effects of lack of protein, what causes low protein levels in your blood, which disease is caused due to deficiency of protein, Is there such a thing as protein deficiency, How long can you go without eating protein, what disease is caused by lack of protein, what does it mean when you have low levels of protein in your blood, negative effect of lack of protein in your body, what are the effect of protein deficiency?

What is Protein Deficiency

Protein deficiency is also called protein malnutrition. Protein deficiency is when there is lacks or shortage of protein in the body. People who are protein deficient always have Kwashiorkor.

There are a few rare cases of true protein deficiency in developed nations but it is common in underdeveloped countries, especially in Africa and Asia.

Proteins and Amino Acids

Protein is like a long chain of amino acids that form the basis of all life.

Protein is made up of amino acids, and the amino acid is a constituent of protein. There are about 20 amino acids which can be arranged in different ways to create millions of different protein with each of these proteins having specific functions in the body.

The 20 amino acids are listed here, Alanine, arginine, asparagines, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine – histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, proline, serine, threonine, tryptophan, tyrosine, and valine.

One of the important function of the amino acid is that it synthesizes protein and other very important compounds such as the peptide, creatine hormones and some neurotransmitters.

Main Functions/Importance of Protein

Protein functions as a bodybuilder. It also strengthens, and repair or replace worn out tissues in the body.

Protein can be hormonal, like insulin, or carriers like the haemoglobin in the blood, they can be structured like the collagen, or they can just be enzymes, such as amylase. All the afore-mentioned are still protein.

Just as Collagen which provides support for connective tissues, Keratin is also a structural protein, a function is to strengthen protective covering such as the hair.

Sources of Protein

As already stated, Protein is one of the essential nutrients in the human diet, but not all the protein in the foods we eat converts into protein in our body. Eating food that contains amino acids make it possible for the body to synthesize protein. If there is a low intake of amino acids, the body will not synthesize enough protein for the body to the body to function properly.

There are also nine essential amino acids that the human body does not synthesize, so they must come from the diet. Leucine, histidine, methionine, isoleucine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, valine, threonine and lysine are the nine essential amino acids which are not synthesized by the body. Some of the food we eat contains these nine essential acids in roughly equal proportions, They are known as complete proteins. Complete proteins are found mainly in animal sources, such as milk, meat, and eggs. It can also be found in vegetable sources such as soy and quinoa. Combining red beans with whole grain rice provides complete protein. Research showed that the body does not need all the imperative amino acids at each meal, this is because amino acids from recent meals are exploited to form complete proteins. So, the recommended nutrient is protein, but what the body really needs is amino acids.

Vegetarian Sources of Protein

Protein-rich Food for Vegetarians
  • Beans
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Lentils
  • Whole grains: quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, wheat, rice, corn, oats.
  • Sweet potato
  • Soy
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Potato

Non-Vegetarian Protein Sources:

Protein-rich Food for non-vegetarians
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Dairy and a host of the vegetarian protein sources

Signs and Symptoms of Protein Deficiency in the Body

Deficiency means lack or shortage. As related to the Context Protein deficiency is when the intake of Protein is not sufficient to meet the body’s need.

Lack of protein in the body leads to several health problems. If a person lacks protein, he experiences a wider lack of nutrients and energy which may be due to low food intake. This may be as a result of illness or poverty.  Research has shown that over one billion people all over the world suffer from insufficient protein intake. The most severe form of protein deficiency is known to be kwashiorkor. It is often common in children in less-developed countries where war, famine and imbalanced diets are common.

Protein deficiency affects almost all aspects of body function. As a result, it leads to many symptoms. Some of the signs and symptoms associated with deficiency of protein in the body are;

1. Stunted Growth in Children

Protein does not only helps to maintain muscle and bone mass, it is also essential for body growth.

Thus, insufficient protein is most harmful to children because growing bodies require a constant supply.

In fact, stunted growth is one of the most common signs of childhood malnutrition. An estimated 161 million children suffer from stunted growth as shown by UNICEF.

Observational studies show a strong association between low protein intake and impaired growth.

When a child has kwashiorkor, stunted growth is liable to occur.

2. Skin, Hair and Nail Problems

Protein deficiency is often noticed on the skin, nails and hair, because are largely made of protein.

For example, kwashiorkor in children is easily identified by splitting or flaky skin, redness and patches of depigmented skin.

Frail-nails, dwindled hair colour, hair thinning, hair loss (alopecia) are also common symptoms.

3. Fatty Liver

A common symptom of kwashiorkor is a fatty liver, it occurs when fat accumulates in the liver cells. If this condition is not properly handled, it may develop into a more serious problem known as the fatty liver disease, which causes inflammation, liver scarring and even liver failure.

Fatty liver is very common in people suffering from obesity, and also those that take in excess alcohol.

A fatty Liver has not been identified why it occurs in cases of protein deficiency, but recent studies have revealed that impaired synthesis of fat transporting protein which is known as lipoproteins, may contribute to this condition.

4. Loss of Muscle Mass

The muscle is the body’s largest reservoir of protein.

Extremely poor diet can lead to loss of muscle mass as your body breaks down the muscles for energy.

When the protein in a diet is limited, the body tends to use protein from skeletal muscles to conserve the more important tissues and body functions. The deficiency of protein leads to muscle wasting over time.

Even when protein is moderate in supply, it may still cause muscle wasting especially in elderly people

Studies in elderly men and women show that muscle loss was greater among those who consumed the lowest amounts of protein.

This report has been confirmed by other studies showing that taking too much protein may slow the muscle decadence that comes with old age.

Loss of muscle mass may be associated with these common symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Poor function
  • Fevers
  • Chills
  • Night Sweats
  • Loss of sensation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Frequent urination
  • Poor or increased appetite

5. Oedema

Oedema one of the Basic Signs and Symptoms of Protein Deficiency

Oedema is fluid retention. Oedema, which is characterized by swollen and puffy skin, is a classic symptom of kwashiorkor. It used to be called dropsy. Oedema can be mostly seen around the ankles after you’ve been standing (peripheral oedema).

Scientific studies have shown 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.

The albumin’s main function is to maintain oncotic pressure — a force needed to draws fluid into the blood circulation. In this way, albumin does not allow excessive amounts of fluid to accumulate in tissues or other body compartments.

Because of decreased human serum albumin stratum, severe protein deficiency causes a lower oncotic pressure. This could cause fluids to accumulate in the tissue, causing swelling.

Abdominal cavity defect is caused by protein deficiency. And this happens when fluid builds up in the abdominal cavity

As already stated, oedema is a symptom of severe protein deficiency, which is very likely to occur in underdeveloped countries.

6. Greater Risk of Bone Fracture

Bone Fracture one of the Symptoms of Protein Deficiency

Muscles are not the only tissue that is affected by low protein intake.

The bones are also at risk. When one does not consume enough protein it may weaken the bones and increase the risk of fractures.

Studies in menopausal women have shown that a higher intake of protein was associated with lesser risk of hip fractures. The highest intake of protein was linked to a 69% reduced risk. As already stated in this article, animal-source protein appeared to have the greatest benefit that is why it is called complete protein.

Studies on postmenopausal women having hip fractures have shown that having 20 grams of protein supplements per day for half a year can reduce bone loss by 2.3%.

7. Increased Severity of Infections

Shortage of protein can also take its toll on the immune system.

Eating meagre measure of protein may debilitate the body’s ability to feud diseases, such as the common cold.

An impaired immune function can increase the prospect or severity of infections, a common symptom of severe protein deficiency.

For instance, one study in mice showed that following a diet consisting of only 2% protein was associated with a more severe influenza infection, compared to a diet providing 18% protein.

Even marginally low protein intake may impair immune function. A small study in older women has shown that following a low-protein diet for nine weeks undoubtedly reduced their immune feedback.

8. Poor Wound Healing

Protein is essential for wound healing. For a wound to heal faster it is dependent on proper nutrition, this includes protein intake. Research has shown that insufficient protein in the body contributes to low wound healing rates and reduced collagen formation. Not consuming enough protein will not allow the wound to heal faster.

9. Poor Sleep


Poor sleep at night can be as a  result of protein deficiency in your body. When your body lacks protein, it tends to depend on sugar for energy. Since carbs and sugar burn quickly, it increases and decreases your energy levels. Your body requires you to sleep up to 8 or 9 hours at night before your body can function well. For you to sleep this number of hours your body must have enough fat to burn- a long-lasting fuel, rather than sugar.

If your body lack protein or cannot burn fat, but can only burn carbs and sugar, it will burn it within 2-3 hours and wakes up looking for its next meal.

When your body has enough fat and can burn it, it will be calm and more able to sleep through the night. It is advisable to get enough protein at each meal to help stabilize your blood sugar and freeing up the body to learn how to burn its fat.

10. Greater Appetite and Calorie Intake

A poor appetite showcases serious symptom of protein deficiency, however, the opposite is true for the lenient forms of deficiency.

When there is an insufficient intake of protein, the body finds a way to restore the body’s protein status by increasing the appetite, thus, encouraging you to eat something.

But a protein defect doesn’t aimlessly drive the urge to eat, at least not for everyone. It may selectively increase people’s appetite for savoury foods, which tend to be high in protein.

Food with high calorie comes with its own benefits in times of food shortage, but the problem is that the modern society offers absolute access to appetizing, high-calorie meal

Many of these luxurious foods contain some protein. Nonetheless, the content of protein in some of these foods is often very low when compared to the number of calories they add.

Resultantly, taking a low amount of protein intake leads to weight gain and obesity, this is known as the protein leverage hypothesis  “the protein leverage hypothesis (PLH) predicts that humans prioritize protein when regulating food intake.”.

Not all studies support this hypothesis, but protein is clearly more overdose than fats and carb.

This is one of the reasons why increasing the intake of protein can reduce overall calorie intake and even encourage weight loss.

How Much Protein Do You Need

As already mentioned in this article, Proteins are the most essential building blocks of the body, used to make muscles, tendons, skin and organs, as well as hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters and some tiny molecules that provides many important functions.

Without protein, life would not be possible as it is now.  Proteins come from smaller molecules called amino acids.

Most of these amino acids can be formed by the body, while others are gotten through the diet. The latter are called essential amino acids. It is not just about the quantity of protein intake but the quality is of utmost importance too.

As already explained, animal protein gives all necessary amino acids in the right proportion for the body to make use of them. This goes off well, as animal tissues are similar to our own tissues.

If you eat animal products like meat, eggs, fish, or dairy every day, you are on the right track protein-wise already.

Nonetheless, if one doesn’t eat animal foods, getting all the protein and essential amino acids the body needs is a bit more challenging. Not a lot of people really need protein supplements, but it can be useful for bodybuilders and athletes.

The amount of protein required by a person depends on some factors such as physical activity, age, body weight and muscles.

Agreeably, body weight is the most vital determinant of protein requirements. Because of this, recommendations are usually given as grams for each pound or kilogram of body weight.

Scientists have suggested that the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for each pound of body weight (0.8 grams per kg) is 0.4 grams. This is equal to 66 grams of protein each day for an adult weighing 165 pounds (75 kg).

The College of Sports Medicine upholds a daily protein intake roaming from 0.5 to 0.6 grams for each pound of body weight (1.2–1.4 grams per kg) for athletes. That should be enough for muscle maintenance and training recovery.

Older adults seem to have higher protein requirements just like adults

While the RDA is still the same for some old and young adults, studies have shown that it is underestimated and should be raised to 0.5 to 0.7 grams per pound of body weight (1.2–1.5 grams per kg) for older people.

In a lay man’s understanding, if one is older or physically active, the daily protein requirements are probably higher than the current RDA of 0.4 grams per pound of body weight (0.8 grams per kg).

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

The Main Ideas

The fact is protein is found everywhere in the body, the hair, bone, skin and blood are made largely of protein.

Because of this, protein deficiency has a wide range of symptoms.

Severe protein shortage can cause fatty liver, swelling, skin degeneration, increase the austerity of infections and stunted growth in little children.

While natural deficiency is sparse in developed countries, low consumption may cause an increase in the risk of bone fractures and muscle wasting.

Some data even suggest that getting meagre protein may increase appetite and promote overeating and obesity.

For gilt-edge health, make sure protein-rich foods is included in every meal.

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