Protein is the major structural component in all cells of the body and is necessary for growth and maintenance. Protein rich foods include meats, fish, eggs, milk and vegetables, and protein deficiency can be a problem in vegetarians who must source most of their proteins from vegetables depending on the specifics of their dietary regiment. For body builders, extra protein is consumed to help build body muscle mass and replace what is used in the process.
Although protein deficiency is rare in healthy individuals, it can be an indication of poor dietary habits, poverty, restrictive dieting, or lack of knowledge of nutritional needs. Often times protein deficiency symptoms are not always apparent immediately as the body will utilize protein stored in the tissues if the diet is lacking.
Symptoms of protein deficiency are:
- Brittle nails and hair splitting and falling out. This is often the first indication of protein deficiency.
- Reduced pigmentation of hair.
- Deep ridges in the toenails and fingernails.
- Fatigue, low energy, sleeping too much, and feelings of heaviness and sluggishness. But also difficulty sleeping can be an indication.
- Irregularity and frequent bouts of constipation could be an indication.
- Soreness, cramping and weakness in the muscles.
- Cuts, scrapes and wounds heal more slowly than usual.
- Irritability, anxiety, moodiness or severe depression.
- Edema in the hands, feet and abdomen.
- Decreased muscle mass and weight loss.
- Skin dryness, flakiness, rashes and ulcers.
- Stomach pain and nausea.
- Severe headaches.
Severe protein deficiency is not common in North America, but is a leading cause of death in developing countries where malnutrition is rampant. However if you feel you may be suffering from a deficiency it should be dealt with immediately as failure to treat can lead to severe consequences. These are progressively the worst case scenarios of severe protein deficiency: arthritis, gallstones, muscle deterioration, heart disease, organ failure and ultimately death.
Kwashiorkor is a disease common in developing countries and is marked by the distended stomach of children and adults afflicted. Protein deficiency plays a key role in this disease.
Also, if you are showing some of the above protein deficiency symptoms you might want to look at our other articles on iron deficiency symptoms and B12 deficiency symptoms because they are quite related and can overlap so you might have another one of these deficiencies or even more than one.
Knowing your body, your nutritional needs and shortcomings will help you make wise choices in your diet to avoid protein deficiency symptoms. If you eat a healthy diet, you likely don’t need to worry. If you are a vegetarian, there are alternative choices for foods high in protein to substitute.