Protein Deficiency: How Does It Happen?

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Protein is one of the essential nutrients. Because of its importance in the body, it should be a regular part of your diet.

When we do not get enough of the nutrients we need, our bodies do not work as efficiently as they should. Deficiency can cause a myriad of health effects, ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness.

Protein deficiency can be very detrimental. But how does it happen? To recognize and prevent protein deficiency, you must understand how protein works in the body.

What is Protein?

Protein is a nutrient found in various food products we consume and inside of our bodies.

On the molecular level, protein is made up of essential amino acids or building blocks that are arranged in specific sequences. Amino acids are typically packed together tightly, giving protein a sturdy but flexible structure.

There are thousands of types of proteins in our bodies that play different roles. Without enough protein intake, proteins in our bodies cannot effectively synthesize or perform their duties.

The Role of Protein in the Body

Proteins are involved in many body functions and processes, ranging in importance and breadth. The following are some of its major roles in the body.

DNA Regulation

One of the forms protein takes in the body is as an enzyme. Enzymes are located inside of cells, in which they create chemical reactions necessary for cell function.

One of these chemical reactions keeps DNA regulated in the nucleus and helps make copies of DNA when cell division occurs.

Because DNA provides instructions for every cell in our bodies, without protein, our cells, and therefore all of our body systems, would not function.

Body Growth and Support

Protein is one of the building blocks of our organs, muscle mass, and body tissue. Without sufficient protein intake, these tissues would not grow, and our bodies would be weak.

Protein is also essential for the repair of damaged tissues, making it especially important for athletes.

Muscle Function

Our muscles are made out of specific kinds of proteins, called actins and myosins. These types of proteins allow them to contract and extend, as well as have flexibility in movement.

Without our muscles, we would not be able to move. We also would not have the strength to lift objects or even stand on our legs.

Message Transmission

Protein is responsible for chemical reactions between cells, including sending signals to and from different parts of the body.

Proteins also make up certain hormones and neurotransmitters, which regulate different body systems. These hormones include melatonin, which regulates sleep and circadian rhythms, dopamine, and serotonin.

Other Responsibilities

Some other roles protein has in the body include:

  • Helps antibody formulation
  • Helps move molecules through the bloodstream
  • Contributes to digestive processes
  • Boosts metabolism and regulates appetite and food cravings
  • Aids the body in using energy efficiently

Protein Deficiency

Protein deficiency, or hypoproteinemia, occurs when the body does not get enough protein. While protein deficiency is uncommon in developed countries, it can have many different causes, such as:

  • An unbalanced diet that does not center essential nutrients and does not meet the daily allowance of protein
  • Not eating enough calories
  • Veganism lacking in high protein food
  • Liver problems because the liver processes protein in the body
  • Kidney issues, which may lead to protein being leaked into the urine

Because some of the causes of protein deficiency can be serious, it is essential to speak with a doctor if you suspect any problems. Some of the most common symptoms of protein deficiency include:

  • Edema, or swelling and puffy skin
  • Weakness of skin, hair, and nails
  • Stunted growth in children
  • Loss of muscle
  • Increased appetite
  • Weakened immune system

You must be aware of the signs and causes and make sure you consume enough protein to avoid detrimental effects.

Increasing Protein Intake

The average adult should consume around 50 to 70 grams of protein a day, depending on age, pounds of body weight, and physical activity. To avoid protein deficiency, the best thing to do is make protein-rich foods a part of a healthy and balanced diet.

Here are some high protein foods that deliver a punch:

  • Lean red meat contains about 30 grams of protein per serving.
  • Seafood and poultry like chicken are great sources of protein. They also do not have as much saturated fat as red meat, making them healthier options.
  • Legumes are great plant-based alternatives to meat. They include lentils, beans, peas, soybeans, products made from soy (such as tofu), and peanuts.
  • Nuts and seeds make for delicious and portable healthy snacks that are high in protein. They include almonds, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds.
  • Whole grains, depending on their type, can also boost your daily protein intake. A few whole grains to focus on are quinoa, rice, and oats.
  • Animal products like eggs and dairy contain significant amounts of protein. This includes milk, cottage cheese, and greek yogurt. But because dairy can be high in saturated fats, make sure to be wary of how much you are consuming. Non-dairy milk and cheese alternatives can also contain protein based on their type.

While most plant-based food products, namely fruits and vegetables, do not contain much protein, it is essential to make them a part of your diet, even if you are experiencing protein deficiency.

A balanced diet that incorporates all of the essential nutrients is key to making sure your body can function at full capacity and ensuring all the nutrients you are consuming are efficiently absorbed and utilized.


While protein deficiency is uncommon, its effects can be very detrimental to the body. To stay healthy, make sure you are consuming enough protein daily.

Protein deficiency can be caused by simply not eating enough or by a more severe health problem such as liver and kidney malfunction, in which case you should consult your physician or a registered dietitian.

If you are experiencing symptoms of protein deficiency, it is best to discuss with a doctor to rule out any serious health problems as the cause.


What are Proteins, and What is Their Function in the Body? | EUFIC

What are proteins, and what do they do? | Medline Plus

Hypoproteinemia: Symptoms, Causes, and treatment | Medical News Today

Protein | TheNutritionSource | Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

Healthy Directions Staff Editor