8 Signs You Might Have a Protein Deficiency

Protein deficiency is when your intake is unable to meet your body’s requirements. An estimated one billion people worldwide suffer from inadequate protein intake.

The problem is especially severe in Central Africa and South Asia, where up to 30% of children get too little protein from their diet. Certain people in developed countries are also at risk. This includes vegetarians and vegans who follow an imbalanced diet, as well as institutionalized older people and hospitalized patients

1. Muscle Wasting

When the body isn’t getting enough protein from food sources, Healthline.com says “the body tends to take protein from skeletal muscles to preserve more important tissues and body functions.”

This condition is known as muscle wasting, which can lead to a loss of energy and strength and may make doing physical activities more challenging. The source adds that elderly people are especially susceptible, with “even moderate protein insufficiency” causing muscle degeneration.

2. Skin, Hair and Nail Problems

Protein deficiency often leaves its mark on the skin, hair and nails, which are largely made of protein. For instance, kwashiorkor in children is distinguished by flaky or splitting skin, redness and patches of depigmented skin.

Hair thinning, faded hair color, hair loss (alopecia) and brittle nails are also common symptoms. However, these symptoms are unlikely to appear unless you have a severe protein deficiency

3. Fatty liver

Fatty liver is one of the most common symptoms of a protein deficiency and if left untreated, can cause fatty liver disease, causing inflammation, liver scarring, and potential liver failure. This is a common condition in those who consume a lot of alcohol, obese people, and even kids.

4. Greater 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 may weaken your bones and increase the risk of fractures.

A study in postmenopausal women found that a higher protein intake was associated with a lower risk of hip fractures. The highest intake was linked to a 69% reduced risk, and animal-source protein appeared to have the greatest benefits.

5. Brain Fog

It is very important to get a proper intake of protein to support healthy brain function. If you experience lack of motivation, poor memory or trouble with learning anything new, it’s a sign that you are protein deficient. A study says that dopamine, epinephrine, and serotonin are neurotransmitters that your body needs in order to focus.

According to the USDA, the recommended minimum daily intake of protein for adults is 56 g per day for men, 46 g per day for women — and for kids, it varies from 19 g to 34 g depending on their age. This may vary if you are pregnant or ill.

6. Sugar Cravings

If you’re low on protein, you may find yourself battling constant cravings for snacks that are high in sugar. The reason for this is because protein helps to keep your blood sugar levels balanced, so if you’re not getting enough “your glucose levels will be all over the place, encouraging you to reach for a quick fix like candy,” says Women’s Health Magazine.

The problem is that carbohydrates digest quite rapidly, so after consuming these sugary snacks you’ll experience a spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash that causes you to reach for even more of them.

Adding more protein to your diet will help to slow down digestion to avoid this cyclical process.

7. Edema

Insufficient protein intake can also lead to a condition called edema, where the skin becomes swollen and puffy due to fluid retention. This is especially common in the body’s extremities, such as the feet and ankles.

Citing Harvard Health Publications, Reader’s Digest explains that this occurs because “proteins help to hold salt and water in blood vessels; without enough protein, these fluids can seep into surrounding tissues.” Edema is often characterized by skin that looks stretched and shiny, and “retains a fingerprint after being pressed for a moment.”

8. Sleep deprivation

If you have trouble sleeping or suffer from sleep deprivation, it is likely linked to a protein deficiency. Proteins from the food we eat act as building blocks for tryptophan, an amino acid that causes drowsiness. It indicates that we must eat protein-rich food near bedtime to get better sleep.

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