Protein deficiency; causes, symptoms and solutions

Protein deficiency; causes, symptoms and solutions

Proteins are perhaps the most important nutrients for your muscles. But they are also important for your skin, hormones and enzymes. Proteins are needed in all body tissues. Yet some people have a protein deficiency. Why is this and what are the symptoms of a protein deficiency? How can you supplement a protein deficiency?

What is a protein deficiency?

A protein deficiency can lead to various health problems. If you do not have a shortage yet, but do not take enough protein, this can also cause changes in your body in the long term. About a billion people in the world have a protein deficiency. It mainly occurs when there is not enough food available or no varied food is eaten, for example in poor parts of Asia and South Africa. But the Westerner can also have a protein deficiency. How is that possible? For that we will take a look at the causes of a protein deficiency.

What are the causes?

The cause is usually a little varied diet. This also occurs in poor countries, where there are few options for variation. But it can also occur in Europe and elsewhere. This is often the case with people on a diet, vegetarians or vegans or the elderly in a care home.

What are the symptoms of a protein deficiency?

You have both advanced forms of protein deficiency and less advanced ones. When the protein deficiency is very large, we speak of kwashiorkor. You can see this, for example, in a swollen abdomen and a swollen skin, which you often notice in children in developing countries. Other more common symptoms are:

1. Muscle breakdown

The functioning of your muscles is largely dependent on the proteins. If your body really has a shortage of proteins, then it will, among other things, start using the existing supply that is in your skeletal muscles. Ultimately, therefore, muscle breakdown occurs. You see this especially with older people.

2. Fatigue and sleep disorders

Because your body lives on its ‘reserves’ you will sooner be tired. Not enough new nutrients are coming in and there is a shortage. This creates a feeling of exhaustion. Furthermore, a protein deficiency can also cause sleep disturbances, making fatigue even greater.

3. Skin, hair and nail problems

The skin, hair and nails will look less healthy when there is a protein deficiency. With a severe protein deficiency in children you often see flaky skin with red spots or pigmentation. Moreover, the hair becomes dull and thin and the nails will become brittle.

4. Decreased resistance

Another important symptom is that your resistance is reduced. That means more chance of flu and other diseases.

5. More appetite or no appetite

When you have a beginning protein deficiency, you will notice that you get more hungry and take in more calories. It is therefore possible that you will have to deal with a weight gain. If the deficit has progressed further, the result will be the other way around: no appetite.

6. Edema

Edema is also one of the signs that you have too few proteins in your body. Edema is actually an accumulation of fluid. For example, it manifests itself in the legs and ankles, the lungs and the abdomen.

What are the consequences of a protein deficiency?

1. Fatty liver

Kwashiorkor can lead to fat deposits in the liver cells. This can ultimately lead to liver cirrhosis or liver failure. You often see it in people with obesity or people with an alcohol problem, but it can therefore also arise as a result of a protein deficiency.

2. More risk of infection

Because your resistance is lowered, you run a higher risk of infection. You are more susceptible to the flu because the immune system is weakened.

3. More chance of fractures

Not only your muscles suffer from a protein deficiency. Your bones also need enough protein. Your bones are weakened and the risk of fractures is therefore greater. Animal proteins are best for your bones.

How can you solve a protein deficiency?

Solving a protein deficiency is actually very simple: eat more proteins. If you opt for a varied diet, then you are already on the right track. How many proteins do you need? A healthy person needs an average of 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. Keep in mind that in the beginning you have a shortage that still needs to be topped up.

Which products contain proteins?

Do you want to supplement your protein deficiency? When you look at the solutions for a protein deficiency, you also want to know which products are best for you. We list a few for you:

  • Fish, such as a foodie
  • Meat, such as chicken fillet or steak
  • Dairy products, such as low-fat cottage cheese
  • Cheese
  • Egg
  • Nuts, such as almonds
  • Legumes such as lentils