What Are The Symptoms Of Protein Deficiency

What Exactly Is Protein And Why Is It So Important

Protein Deficiency Symptoms

Protein is one of the three key macronutrients alongside fats and carbohydrates. âIt is particularly important because it does most of the work in our cells, and is required for the structure and function of our tissues, organs, and glands,â says Dr. Bill Cole, DC, a cellular health specialist and functional medicine expert. âProtein is vital for building, repairing, and oxygenating the body as well as playing a key role in making enzymes that digest our food. It’s also an important part of the production and regulation of our hormones.â

The basic building blocks of proteins are amino acids. âThere are 22 different amino acids, nine of which are known as essential amino acids. This means they must be consumed in the food we eat because they canât be manufactured by the body.â

Is My Hair Loss Down To Protein Deficiency

They say that proteins are the building blocks of the body – and for good reason. Our muscles, arteries, fingernails, heart, brain, liver and kidneys are all built of tissue that comes from protein. The hair on our head is made up almost exclusively of a protein called keratin so naturally, if youre suffering from a protein deficiency, you might start to see changes to your crowning glory.

Have you noticed that your hair has started to become brittle, or even started shedding more than usual after a change in diet? Maybe its time to address your protein intake.

How Much Protein Do I Need

The recommended daily allowance for each pound of body weight is 0.4 grams . Scientists estimate that for most people, this should be enough. For a person weighing 165 pounds , should take 66 grams of protein per day. For athletes, the American College of Sports Medicine advises a daily protein consumption of 0.5 to 0.6 gram per pound of body weight , which should be enough for muscle maintenance and training recovery .

However, scientists disagree on how much is sufficient. Athletes should consume 0.9 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily . Just like athletes, older people appear to have higher protein requirements. While the RDA for elderly and young adults is currently the same, research show that it is underestimated and should be increased to 0.5 to 0.7 gram per pound of body weight for older people , .

For a normal person, weighing 165 pounds should consume 66 grams of protein per day. The recommended daily requirement for each pound of body weight is 0.4 grams . Athletes and older people appear to have increased protein requirements.

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So What Are The Signals That Your Body Could Benefit From Eating More Protein

True protein deficiency is rare in the United States given food availability. In fact, all experts consulted for this story agreed that Americans are typically meeting their daily recommended intake of protein. âAn exception would be a protein deficiency caused by malabsorption syndrome,â says Dr. Cole. âMalabsorption syndrome is where a person is consuming enough protein, but not digesting and absorbing it well. This is often caused by a deficiency of digestive enzymes like pepsin and a deficiency of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, as both are necessary for the digestion of protein. Age and/or poor diets that are high in processed foods are common causes. In addition, the rampant use of antacids in modern society will also lower HCL levels, compromising protein digestion.â

If you are concerned you may be deficient, Susan Greeley, RD, a registered dietitian nutritionist and chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, highlights 11 protein deficiency symptoms that may be your body’s way of telling you that you could use more protein in your diet.

Experiencing Edema And Swelling

8 Signs You Have A Protein Deficiency

Protein is responsible for the regulation of fluid and electrolyte balance in our body. If you are not getting enough protein from your diet, it can result in an imbalance, causing fluid to accumulate in the tissues and cavities of the body. Edema and swelling caused by excess fluid usually occurs in the abdomen, hands, arms, ankles, legs and feet6.

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Signs That You Could Be Suffering From Protein Deficiency


Protein is one of the most crucial nutrients required for the healthy functioning of our bodies. The role of protein is commonly misunderstood and is usually associated with muscle gain. Protein has multiple benefits, ranging from metabolism to muscle synthesis. This building block of our body should be an essential part of our diet and should be considered in order to lead a healthier lifestyle.

We all have different protein requirements based on our lifestyles and health factors. For example, a regular, active gym-goer would require more protein per day than your average sedentary man. Pallav Bihani, founder of Boldfit, shares major symptoms of protein deficiency:

You cant seem to lose the fat: Have you been working out relentlessly, eating clean and still not seeing a visible difference in your fat loss journey? You need protein. When you dont consume enough protein, your body cannot repair the muscles properly, which eventually leads to the loss of those hard-earned muscles instead of burning fat.

Low protein intake can also dip your energy levels marginally, so make sure you are loaded up!

Unstable mood: Low protein intake is also linked with unstable moods, irritability and brain fog. Protein is crucial for synthesising a variety of hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for our mood. Such as serotonin, the hormone which makes one feel safe and happy. Missing out on protein can therefore cause fluctuations in ones mood.

Brittle Hair And Nails

Protein is the building block of many parts of your body, including the skin, hair, and nails. If you are noticing that they look unhealthy, you might want to look at your protein intake. The most common sign starts with the appearance of your hair. With a protein deficiency, you might notice hair loss, faded hair color, or thinning hair. Brittle nails are also common in those experiencing low protein intake. In children, red patches, flaky skin, or depigmented skin are other telltale signs of a protein deficiency. If you are noticing these signs, you will want to see a medical professional right away. These symptoms do not appear unless you are experiencing a severe protein deficiency.

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The Importance Of Amino Acids

Mia Syn, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a master of science in human nutrition. She is also the host of Good Food Friday on ABC News 4.

Protein deficiency, or hypoproteinemia, refers to low levels of protein in your blood. This deficiency can occur if you don’t have enough protein in your diet to meet your body’s needs, such as when following a diet that severely restricts protein consumption.

You may also become deficient if your body isn’t able to effectively digest and absorb the proteins within the foods you eat due to another medical condition.

Most Americans consume enough protein to meet generalized nutrition guidelines.

Poor Sleep Or Insomnia

10 Protein Deficiency Symptoms

âAgain related to the amino acid tryptophanâstudies have shown that increasing tryptophan intake improved sleep in adults with sleep disturbances.â

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How Much Protein Do We Actually Need To Avoid Protein Deficiency

While itâs true that the body needs a constant supply of protein, there are particular times of growthâsuch as childhood, adolescence, pregnancy, and in older age âthat may require extra. It’s important to keep in mind that protein needs depend primarily on individual variations like gender, weight, health, and activity level.

That said, in general, the recommended daily allowance is determined using the following equation: 0.36 grams of protein multiplied by pounds of body weight. As an example, a 130 pound person needs roughly 47 grams of protein per day. Itâs key to note that research suggests that we should spread our protein intake across the day rather than having lots of protein at once. âThis makes it easier for our muscles to optimize their protein synthesis,â says Tamara Willner, ANutr, a registered nutritionist at Second Nature.

What Are Some Of The Key Signs Of Protein Deficiency

“Protein deficiency is rare in the U.S. population,” says Smithson. “Individuals in developing countries are at greatest risk.”

The most extreme type of protein deficiency is kwashiorkor, symptoms of which include a bloated abdomen, fatty liver, and a compromised immune system.

That being said, there are certain groups of people who might not be consuming enough protein each day. These may include vegetarians, vegans, those who have eating disorders, and those who have undiagnosed Chron’s disease.

These are the symptoms that could indicate insufficient protein intake:

  • Edema. “Swelling or edema in legs, feet, and hands may be a sign you’re not getting enough protein,” says Smithson.
  • Issues with hair, skin, and nails. All of these rely on protein to stay healthy. Skin can become dry or scaly while the hair may thin and nails can become brittle.
  • Feeling like you are always hungry. “Protein helps to keep you feeling full, so if you’re always hungry, you may not be including enough protein in meals to tide you over to the next meal,” she says.
  • Weakened immune system. A deficit in protein can cause impaired immune function, making you more susceptible to infection.
  • Loss of muscle mass. If not enough dietary protein is consumed regularly, muscle mass can begin to deplete. This can especially occur in elderly populations, as muscle mass is already inherently on the decline. Smithson says, “After middle age, adults lose an average of about 3 percent of muscle every year.”

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Risk Of Bone Fractures

Muscle tissues are not the only thing that is affected by protein deficiency. The bones are also at risk. Not eating enough protein can weaken your bones and increase bone fracture risks , , . One study found a higher intake of the protein can lower risk of hip fractures . The study associate high protein diet with a reduced risk of fracture by 69%, and the highest outcomes were linked to the animal-protein sources. Another study of hip fractures in postmenopausal women found that taking 20 grams of protein supplements per day for half a year reduced bone loss by 2.3% .

Taking 20g of protein supplements per day for half a year prevented bone loss by 2.3% in postmenopausal women. Ingesting animal protein sources can reduce the incidence of bone fracture by 69%.

Feeling Tired And Fatigued

6 Signs of Protein Deficiency in Your Body

Constant fatigue is one of the biggest symptoms of protein deficiency. Tiredness and fatigue can be an outcome of poor muscle health and after the age of 30, most adults begin to experience muscle loss5. If you feel tired all the time even after eating healthy food and exercising regularly, chances are your body might be asking for more protein. Anxiety and mood swings are also symptoms of a possible protein deficiency. Erratic sleeping patterns, insomnia and constantly feeling run-down can be pointing at the lack of essential amino acids that your body needs in order to function normally.

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What Does Protein Do

Protein is a complex macronutrient found in certain foods, such as animal products and legumes. In its most basic form, a protein is a string of amino acids that create the building blocks for the physical parts of your body, including muscles, bones, skin, hair, nails, and organs.

Protein deficiency, also called hypoproteinemia, is usually tied to overall low protein intake. The condition affects about 1 billion people worldwide but is rare in the US. Overall, Americans tend to eat the recommended amount of protein needed.

However, protein deficiency is more prevalent in Americans over the age of 70, according to a 2019 study. This is because older Americans tend to eat less, which can result in nutritional deficiencies, says Stacie Stephenson, a certified nutrition specialist and board member for the American Nutritional Association.

Stunted Growth In Children

Protein not only helps maintain muscle and bone mass, but its also essential for body growth.

Thus, deficiency or insufficiency is especially harmful to children whose growing bodies require a steady supply.

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

27 ).

Even marginally low protein intake may impair immune function. One small study in older women showed following a low-protein diet for nine weeks significantly reduced their immune response .

Summary: Eating too little protein may impair your bodys ability to fight infections, such as the common cold.

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Which Disease Is Caused By A Deficiency Of Protein

Protein deficiency is the main cause behind death in children who are less than five years old. Lack of this nutrient in your daily diet leads to swelling, skin issues, extreme tiredness, irritability, skin issues, muscle loss, and infection. In cases when the infection is severe, it can even lead to the death of the person.

Unhealthy Hair Nails And Skin

Hidden Signs of Protein Deficiency | John Douillard’s LifeSpa

A diet lacking in protein may lead to visible changes in the health of hair, nails, and skin.

Studies show that inadequate protein consumption can

  • Cause raised ridges and white lines to appear on nails
  • Lead to the appearance of cutaneous skin lesions in severe protein deficiency
  • Result in changes to hair color

Although there are no specific studies on this, many people claim that excessively low-protein diets can lead to dull looking skin and hair.

Key Point:

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What Foods Are High In Protein

High-protein foods include meats, poultry, and fish, and dairy products, tofu, grains, other vegetables and fruits, eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Eating a variety of protein foods will increase the intake of nutrients. Some healthy sources of protein are lean and low-fat poultry and food. For vegetarians, there are choices such as lentils, peas, beans, nuts, grains, and refined soy products.

Health Consequences Of Too Much Protein In The Diet

An explicit definition of a high-protein diet has not yet been developed by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine , but typically diets high in protein are considered as those that derive more than 30 percent of calories from protein. Many people follow high-protein diets because marketers tout proteins ability to stimulate weight loss. It is true that following high-protein diets increases weight loss in some people. However, the number of individuals that remain on this type of diet is low and many people who try the diet and stop regain the weight they had lost. Additionally, there is a scientific hypothesis that there may be health consequences of remaining on high-protein diets for the long-term, but clinical trials are ongoing or scheduled to examine this hypothesis further. As the high-protein diet trend arose so did the intensely debated issue of whether there are any health consequences of eating too much protein. Observational studies conducted in the general population suggest diets high in animal protein, specifically those in which the primary protein source is red meat, are linked to a higher risk for kidney stones, kidney disease, liver malfunction, colorectal cancer, and osteoporosis. However, diets that include lots of red meat are also high in saturated fat and cholesterol and sometimes linked to unhealthy lifestyles, so it is difficult to conclude that the high protein content is the culprit.

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Negative Side Effects Of Not Getting Enough Protein

    Heres the hard truth: Most of us dont get enough protein. Alternatively, some guys think the more protein, the better, and over-consume it when they do sit down to eat, chomping down a 30g protein bar and washing it down with a protein shake thats got upwards of 50g, says Jordan Mazur, M.S., R.D., director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley.

    To put it bluntly: Both are bad.

    Everyone has a protein intake ceiling. It varies with your height and weight, but most people can absorb at most 30-42g per meal. Any more, and your body cant use it to build and repair muscleso the surplus is stored as fat. But getting the right amount of protein depends on many factors, including your activity levels, age, muscle mass, and current state of health, Mazur says. Make sure to consult with a sports registered dietician to find out the right amount for you, he recommends.

    If your diet is low in protein, you might not exhibit any symptoms, and you probably function just fine on a day-to-day basis, Mazur notes. But if youre under-consuming protein consistently over time, it can result in a range of negative health effects.

    Here are the 13 major red flags that youre not getting enough protein.

    Skin Hair And Nail Problems

    Protein Deficiency: 7 Signs You

    Protein deficiency does often leave its mark on the skin, hair as well as nails, which are largely made of protein.

    Kwashiorkor in children is distinguished by flaky or splitting skin, redness, and patches of de-pigmented skin. It leads to thinning, faded hair color, hair loss , and brittle nails. These are health problems of severe protein deficiency.

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