12 Noticeable Signs & Symptoms of Protein Deficiency

Alarming Protein Deficiency Symptoms You Mustn’t Get Unattended

Protein is a macronutrient and our body needs it in large amounts to function properly. Our body needs protein for the growth and maintenance of tissues in the body. It is the building block of all the muscles, hormones, enzymes and skin in our body. Most foods contain some amount of protein so you will rarely encounter protein deficiency in a developed country. However, protein deficiency can cause health problems. In this article, we will discuss the effects of protein deficiency in the body.

What Is Protein Deficiency?

When your protein intake is less than the required amount of protein in your body, it is known as protein deficiency. Vegans and vegetarians are at a higher risk of having protein deficiency than meat-eaters due to an imbalanced diet structure. A severe deficiency of protein, known as kwashiorkor is noticed in children of developing countries. A small amount of deficiency can cause many issues in the body.

What Are the Symptoms of Protein Deficiency?

The signs of a protein deficiency are noticeable even if there is a marginal difference in the intake and requirement. Let us look at the symptoms that can alert you of a potential protein deficiency in your body.

1. Oedema

If you notice swelling or puffiness in your skin, it is more likely to be oedema. It is a classic symptom of Kwashiorkor. Serum Albumin is a protein that is found in abundance in the blood or blood plasma. A deficiency of this protein in the human body is responsible for Kwashiorkor. Albumin’s main function is to maintain oncotic pressure which prevents an excess amount of fluid getting accumulated in the tissues or other organs of the body.


2. Weakness of Muscles

Muscles are considered to be the largest storage house of protein in the body. A lack of protein will make the body draw it’s protein requirement from the muscles to keep the other organs functioning. Over some time this causes muscle weakness and a condition known as muscle wasting.

3. Fatty Liver

A fatty liver is another symptom of protein deficiency. Although this condition can be caused due to obesity, it is primarily a symptom of protein deficiency. Due to protein deficiency, fat gets accumulated in the liver cells and can lead to liver scarring or potential liver failure if left untreated.

4. Skin, Nails, and Hair Problems

Skin, Nails and Hair are made of proteins. A deficiency in protein can lead to flaky skin and redness. In some cases, it can cause depigmentation of skin also. Brittle nails, faded hair colour, hair loss and hair thinning are also few symptoms of protein deficiency.

Brittle nails

5. Risk of Fractures

Low consumption of protein may lead to increased chances of the weakening of the bones and risk of a fracture.

6. Stunted Growth in Children

Protein is not only important for tissues and bones, but they also play a vital role in the growth of children. A lower intake of protein causes stunted growth in children. Children need a steady supply of protein to help them in their growing years.

7. Recurrent Infections

Protein deficiency leads to frequent infections as the immune system of the body is compromised. A marginal reduction in the protein levels in your body can lead to an impaired immune system.

8. Anaemia

A protein deficiency leads to a lack of Vitamin B-12 and folate which can cause the body to slow down the production of red blood cells. This condition is also known as anaemia.

Anaemic woman

9. Increased Appetite

A severe protein deficiency symptom is that your urge to eat food reduces. However, if the deficiency is marginal, then your body may try to encourage you to eat more food to meet your body’s protein requirement. This may make you indulge in junk food or savouries which have protein in them but are also rich in calories. Binge eating will make you overweight or obese.

10. Inadequate Nutrient Absorption

A protein deficiency can also make it difficult for your body to absorb nutrients like zinc, iron niacin, and calcium from other foods.

11. Low Blood Pressure

A protein deficiency can cause low blood pressure problems and also a low heart rate. The classic symptoms are dizziness, breathing difficulty, and in some cases fainting.

12. Muscle and Joint Pain

Muscle and joint pain also indicate a protein deficiency in the body. The muscles and joints in your body are breaking down to supplement the calories instead of using up your protein reserve from the body.

How Much Protein Should You Take?

Protein requirement for the body is determined based on the body weight, your age, muscle mass and the amount of physical activity you undertake. The recommended intake (RDA) is 0.8 grams for each kg of your body weight.

How to Manage Protein Deficiency

If you think you are plagued with protein deficiency check out the below points to build up your protein reserve.

1. Reduce your intake of processed food

Stop eating junk food and sugar-laden cookies and eat healthy foods rich in protein like eggs, meat, Greek yoghurt, fruits, whole grains and vegetables, etc.

2. Include alternative sources of protein in your diet

Try introducing plant-based proteins in your diet like whole grains, nuts and seeds, and lentils.

3. Use protein powder supplements

If you want to increase your protein intake, you can consider soups made from eggs, soy, peas, rice or whey.

Whey protein

4. Consult your doctor

Despite your best efforts if you find that your problem of protein deficiency is not getting solved, consult a doctor to check if you have low stomach acid condition. Low stomach acid prevents nutrients from getting absorbed in the body.

5. Make changes in your food consumption

If you eat cereals for your breakfast, change it to eggs. They will keep you full for a longer duration and boost your protein requirements.

6. Eat protein-rich foods in the beginning

Protein intake just at the beginning of your meal will keep you full and reduce the urge of snacking hours later.


1. How Much Protein Do You Need While Pregnant?

Usually, 70g to a 100g daily intake of protein is considered ideal for a pregnant woman. However, it depends on your body requirements.

2. How Much Protein Do I Need in a Day While Breastfeeding?

As a breastfeeding mother you should try to include a protein component in each of your meals to meet your body’s requirement of protein and provide nourishment to your baby.

3. How Much Protein Should a Child Get and Why?

A child should get 1gm of protein for every kg he weighs. Protein is not only required to maintain the tissues and other organs of the body, but it also helps in the physical growth of the child.

4. Which Diseases Are Caused Due to Lack of Proteins in Children?

A severe lack of protein causes in the dreadful disease Kwashiorkor and also protein-energy malnutrition. Apart from this, brittle nails, hair loss, and skin patchiness are signs of protein deficiency in nails, skin, and hair that is commonly evident among children.

Protein deficiency is treatable. If you think you suffer from any or most of the above symptoms, speak to your doctor for proper treatment. Eat nutritious food and stay healthy!

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