What are the consequences of protein deficiency?

This article deals with protein deficiency from a nutritional point of view. nutritional. It does not deal with congenital protein C or protein S deficiency, both inherited diseases that affect blood coagulation.

Protein deficiency or protein deficiency is a malnourished state caused by a insufficient protein intake. Its symptoms can become very serious and affect the entire body. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of death from malnutrition for millions of people in “Third World” countries, especially children. In developed countries, even with a wide variety of protein sources, people can also suffer from deficits, mainly due to restrictive crash diets, lack of knowledge about nutrients and, in general, unbalanced diets and poor eating habits.

Proteins are essential for our body, they form our muscles, immune system antibodies, digestive enzymes, hormones and transport oxygen in the blood among many other vital functions. They are made up of amino acids, some of which our body can make, given the right nutrients, and others that it cannot make and for which we depend on the diet as the only source (essential amino acids).

On average, an adult needs 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight per day, with higher needs in children and adolescents, pregnant women and other high-demand conditions (athletes, some medical situations). In addition to quantity, it is important to consume proteins that provide us with the essential amino acids that our body cannot obtain in any other way.

Main symptoms of protein deficiency

  1. Anemia: due to the participation of proteins in the transport of oxygen in the blood and the formation of red blood cells.
  2. hypoglycemia: it is due to the alteration of the balance between insulin, glucagon and other substances of a protein nature that intervene in the metabolism of carbohydrates
  3. Edema: accumulation of fluid under the skin. It mainly affects the lower extremities, although it can appear anywhere on the body.
  4. Weightloss: the proteins of the muscles are used by the body as a protein source to cover vital needs. Loss of muscle mass causes severe weight loss.
  5. very brittle hair: the hair becomes brittle due to lack of proteins to form it. You may experience severe hair loss.
  6. lines on the nails: white lines that run from top to bottom of the fingernails and toenails can be a sign that the body does not have the proteins it needs. Transverse lines may indicate past protein deficiency.
  7. Pale skin: the skin becomes pale due to anemia or lack of iron that often accompanies protein deficiency.
  8. Rashes: appear in severe deficits and may be accompanied by peeling and very dry skin.
  9. General weakness, fainting: loss of muscle mass and anemia can lead to a state of general weakness. Protein deficiency can also cause low blood sugar levels, which adds to this symptom, and can lead to fainting.
  10. Slow healing and recovery, weakened immune system: tissue repair needs amino acids for the process and their deficit makes tissue repair much slower. The immune system in general is greatly affected.
  11. Difficulty to sleep: the lack of some essential amino acids can lead to a deficiency of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in sleep.
  12. Headache: anemia, sugar levels, lack of sleep, and other consequences of protein deficiency often cause strong headaches.
  13. emotional symptoms: protein deficiency also causes some emotional symptoms. These include irritability, severe depression and anxiety.

In addition to these symptoms, the lack of protein has consequences that can be very serious. If it occurs in developmental stages, it can cause lack of growth and organ maturation. Maintained protein deficiency produces weakening of the respiratory system and weakening of the heart musculature. Associated with a deficit of other nutrients and conditions, it is the cause of fatal or very serious diseases, such as Marasmus or Kwashiorkor.

protein rich foods

The main treatment is the consumption of foods rich in protein that provide all the amino acids that our body needs within a balanced diet. In cases of severe deficiency, diets with high protein content, effective in the recovery of muscle mass, may be recommended.

  • animal source foods: meat, poultry, fish, egg, dairy products
  • plant foods: legumes (chickpeas, lentils, soybeans), whole grains (quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, rice, wheat), peas, potatoes, nuts, algae (especially spirulina).

The use of nutritional supplements is recommended in some cases, depending on the state of deficiency and severity of symptoms.

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