Protein Deficiency Signs & Symptoms

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How This Helps

Do you feel sick, low in energy, and battle with insomnia related problems? Then you may probably suffer from protein deficiency. Proteins make the building block of our cells in the body. It serves various metabolic functions in the body and serves one of the most important nutritional needs.

Dietary protein helps meet the metabolic demands of the body and promotes the renewal of body proteins by delivering an indispensable amount of nitrogen and amino acids to the body. However, it has been found through various researches that plant protein sources contain a limited amount of protein. Also, protein-containing cereals tend to have lower lysine content and slightly poorer digestibility when compared to animal protein. This has given rise to concerns that vegan individuals who are predominantly dependant on plant protein might lead to inadequate intake of protein.

What is protein deficiency?

Protein deficiency is simply defined when you do not get enough protein in your diet. It is estimated that a billion people globally suffer from protein deficiency, though the majority of the cases are in South Asia and Central Africa. In such countries, up to 30 percent of kids are not getting enough protein.

What causes protein deficiency?

Protein deficiency is due to not eating enough protein every day to maintain normal body functioning. Though protein deficiency is very uncommon in developed countries, some of us aren’t hitting daily protein requirements. And with time, a protein-poor diet may cause changes in the body, such as muscle loss. In severe cases, a protein deficiency disease named Kwashiorkor can happen. Kwashiorkor is a special form of protein deficiency which frequently occurs in children found in developing nations plagued by famine. (5)(6)

Signs & symptoms of protein deficiency

Some common symptoms and conditions which may occur due to the deficiency of protein are listed below: 

1. Edema: If an individual lacks enough protein in their diet, it may result in edema. When the blood protein called albumin gets too low in the body, fluid is retained in the tissues causing edema. It may also result in hypertension and solid joints. Edema in feet, ankles, lower legs, stomach, and hands can be seen. Sometimes stained skin is also observed.1.

2. Organ failure: Protein is essential for the growth and maintenance of various body functions. It serves as a catalyst in serving various enzymatic reactions in the body to maintain the proper functioning of the body. Hypoproteinemia or low levels of protein can lead to improper functioning of body organs and may also cause organ failure.1.

3. Kwashiorkor: Kwashiorkor is also referred to as ‘edematous malnutrition’ and occurs due to protein inadequacy. This disease usually influences youngsters. It also manifests other conditions like a swollen midriff, a liver in expanded form, swollen feet are also known as pedal edema, aggravation of skin, depigmentation of skin, diminishing of the hair and tooth misfortune. Kwashiorkor can suppress the physical as well as mental advancement of children.1.

4. Impaired mental health: Protein deficiency through inadequate protein in the diet for the long term may influence the basic psychological well-being of an individual. This can cause mental problems like stress, tension, sorrow, surliness, and crankiness in an individual.3.

5. Marasmus: Marasmus is found to affect young children and babies. It occurs due to starvation and protein inadequacy. Marasmus disease is characterized by weakness, the squandering of muscle, decreased levels of vitality, and reduction in weight.1. 

6. Shrinkage of muscle tissues: Protein makes our muscle mass when an individual lacks sufficient protein in their body, the requirement of the body is fulfilled from other sources of muscles. This causes shrinkage of muscles due to the insufficiency of protein.2. A reduction of muscle mass is frequently one of the first indications of insufficient protein intake. This results when the body is running low on dietary protein. It has a tendency to take protein from our skeletal muscles. Over time, this contributes to muscle loss. It’s vital that you try and get the protein you will need to build healthy muscle. Researchers have proven that increasing your protein intake can help slow down muscle degeneration, which occurs with older age. 

7. Weaker Immune System: Antibodies that protect our body from various infections are also made up of protein. When our body doesn’t meet up the daily requirement of protein and lacks protein for the long term, it becomes difficult for the body to prepare antibodies. This makes an individual more defenseless and prone to various diseases.1.

8. Skin, Hair, and Problems of Nail: Our skin, nails, and hair consist of a protein called keratin protein. Protein deficiency may affect the health of our skin and hair, making it look dry and dead. Kwashiorkor disease results due to protein inadequacy and affect many children.  It is characterized by flaky or splitting skin, redness, and patches of depigmented skin on the body. Hair problems like thinning of hair, faded hair color, loss of hair (known as alopecia), and brittle nails are also observed as common symptoms of protein deficiency.3.

9.  Greater Risk of Bone Fractures: Not only are the muscles affected by the lack of protein in the diet, but also the bones are at higher risk of fractures. Studies have shown that dietary protein deprivation may result in slower growth of bone due to a reduction in urinary calcium excretion.4.

10.  Greater Appetite and Calorie Intake: Severe deficiency of protein may result in increased appetite and craving for protein. When protein intake is inadequate in the body, the body starts to restore the available protein by increasing the appetite and encouraging it to find something to eat. Protein inadequacy may enhance the appetite of people for savory foods, which are usually lower in protein content. Consuming such foods like junk foods often contains less energy, high-fat content, and calories, which risks an individual to become obese.5,7.

11. Aches: If you are feeling more sore than normal after workouts, you probably are not eating as much protein as you need to. Muscle pains and achy joints are among the first indications of a protein shortage. Whey protein is a good source you can take after a workout.

12. Sleeping problems: It might have to do with how much protein you are ingesting. Scientists have linked low protein consumption (which is less than 16 percent of energy from protein) with difficulty falling asleep. Casein protein- which comes from milk- is a slow-digesting protein. It is especially great to consume before bedtime as it keeps you stocked up while you are sleeping, releasing to your body slower than other proteins. 

13. Fatigue: Feeling weaker and more exhausted than normal? It’s important to consume protein-rich foods to prevent fatigue and to combat fatigue naturally. If you have lacked protein in your diet for a while, you’ve probably lost muscle mass, which then cuts your stamina and makes you feel helpless. It can also result in anemia as soon as your cells do not get enough oxygen, making you tired. Studies have shown increasing your protein at breakfast can help keep your energy levels balanced during the day.

14. Headaches: Eating enough protein is vital to preventing headaches and migraines at bay. Studies have demonstrated that headaches are a symptom of protein deficiency, and it is a symptom that is seen in women more than in men. 

15. Swellings: If you feel swelling in your legs, feet, hands, or stomach, you may be extremely low on protein and might be suffering a deficiency. This swelling due to a lack of protein is called edema. This is caused by small amounts of protein in the blood is what causes the swelling illness. Excess intake of protein can also cause another problem – bloating. So taking the right amount is key.

16. Mood swings: A lack of protein can cause you to be moody and lead to varied effects on your body’s energy balance. If you’re feeling out of whack emotionally, it can have to do with your protein consumption. New mothers and pregnant women can be vulnerable to their protein consumption affecting their moods and stress levels. 

17. Sluggish metabolism: Feel like your digestion process is moving slower than normal and you have gained weight for this? It may be because you are not eating enough protein. Whenever you don’t get enough protein, your body loses muscle mass. Subsequently, your daily resting energy expenditure will return since it’s directly related to how much muscle mass you have. 

Protein deficiency natural treatments

How much protein do you need? For protein, The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) f is 50 grams every day. However, some experts think that this is too general and that lots of people should be eating considerably more than that. The right protein amount for you depends upon many factors, together with two of the most important being your lifestyle and weight. Additionally, it depends upon your age. By way of instance, as women and men grow older, their daily protein requirements increase. A good guideline is to aim to eat between 10-35 % percent of your total caloric consumption. 

Protein deficiency treatment: Many can find the recommended amount of daily protein and without using protein supplements. But if you find it tough to eat right after a tough workout, protein powders and supplements are an exceptional option for convenience.

What if you’re vegetarian? You can get all of the protein that you need from a diet. Studies have shown that vegetarians ⁠(and vegans) want to create more of an effort than their carnivore counterparts at absorbing a range of different fresh, plant-based proteins. Protein is not only found in meat. You can also get loads of protein from seeds and nuts. Vegetarians will need to concentrate on getting their amino acids by eating a variety of healthful, plant-based protein foods every day. If well-planned out, you can hit all of your nutritional needs on a vegetarian or vegan diet — such as your daily protein requirement. 


A consistently low protein consumption over time can lead to a number of the symptoms associated with protein deficiency. For optimum health, try to eat protein-rich foods daily. Every individual has a certain need for protein. Protein deficiency affects almost all the major aspects of the body function in an individual. Some of those basic symptoms may start occurring even when their protein deficiency level is marginal. So it’s essential to maintain our protein levels to an optimum level by consuming foods that are rich in protein like legumes, cereals, red meat, eggs, and fish.