Protein deficiency occurs when your diet lacks protein, and you do not meet your body’s demands. If you have a deficiency, your body will show some warning signs that you should never ignore. This deficiency can lead to multiple health problems. Protein can be found in various foods like soybean, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, almonds, chicken, oats, cottage cheese, quinoa, broccoli, tuna, lentils, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, peanuts, fish (all types), sunflower seeds, shrimp, brussel sprouts, and more.
Crores of people around the world suffer from protein deficiency, and it is more prevalent in Central Africa and South Asia. Kwashiorkor, severe protein deficiency, occurs commonly in children living in developing countries because of famine. People living in developed countries are also at risk, mainly due to an imbalanced diet and hospitalization due to chronic illnesses. As protein deficiency can affect all body functions, it results in various symptoms. The following are some typical symptoms of protein deficiency.
1. Skin, Hair, and Nail Problems
Protein deficiency can affect your skin, hair, and nails, all of which are primarily made up of protein. You may notice redness on the skin, brittle nails, thin hair, faded hair color, etc., which are all symptoms of protein deficiency. Flaky skin, spots or depigmented skin, and redness are common kwashiorkor symptoms seen in children. Severe protein deficiency may cause hair thinning, hair loss (alopecia), faded hair color, and brittle nails.
2. Muscle Wasting
Your muscles are mostly composed of protein, and if you have a protein deficiency, you tend to start losing muscle mass. Muscle atrophy or loss is one of the first signs of low protein intake. As muscles are the largest reservoir of protein in the body, it absorbs protein from the skeletal muscles to preserve essential tissues and vital functions when there is a deficiency. This leads to muscle wasting, which is more commonly seen in older individuals, even in the case of moderate deficiency. This muscle degeneration can be reduced by increased intake of protein-rich food.
3. Frequent Fractures
Protein maintains the strength and density of your bones. A diet that lacks protein can make your bones weak, which increases the risk of fractures. So if you are prone to fractures, it is time you check your protein and calcium levels.
4. Increased Appetite
Sufficient protein consumption may keep you full for a more extended period, thereby preventing hunger pangs. However, low protein intake may leave you craving food, resulting in a high-calorie intake. Protein deficiency can lead to obesity and weight gain (protein leverage hypothesis). So in case you want to lose weight, increase your protein intake after consulting a doctor.
5. Frequent Infections
Severe protein deficiency can affect your immune system. An impaired immune system can increase the severity or risk of infections due to the body’s inability to fight infections.
Edema or puffy skin is the characteristic sign of kwashiorkor. Low serum albumin (a type of protein found in the blood) prevents excess fluid from getting collected in the body. As protein deficiency results in low albumin levels, fluid gets accumulated in tissues and causes edema and swelling. Fluid can also accumulate in the abdominal cavity, resulting in another characteristic sign of kwashiorkor – a bloated belly.