Protein is a crucial macronutrient and building block of our muscles, enzymes, tissues, hair, nails and hormones. For our body to work efficiently, we must ensure adequate protein intake.
Protein deficiency occurs when we are unable to meet our daily protein requirements. As per Protein Consumption in Diet of Adult Indians: A General Consumer Survey (PRODIGY) conducted in 2017, the protein intake of nine out of ten people is inadequate. According to ICMR 2020, an adult needs around 45-55 grams of protein per day and approx. 10-15% of daily calories must come from protein. Several studies indicate that 70% of Indians are protein deficient.
Protein deficiency can affect almost all the processes in the body and exhibit associated symptoms. Before we talk about the symptoms, let us discuss some protein deficiency causes.
What causes protein deficiency?
- Inadequate protein intake: Protein deficiency can occur if the diet does not include enough protein sources. Hence, one must include protein-rich foods in the diet like eggs, pulses, legumes, chicken, spirulina, seafood, nuts, milk and milk products.
- Renal disorders: People suffering from kidney problems are advised to consume a restricted protein diet because the kidneys cannot metabolize protein completely. As a result, they may leak protein into the urine.
- Liver diseases: Liver function is affected during conditions like hepatitis or liver cirrhosis. The body may not get enough protein to carry out its vital functions.
- Digestive issues: The food we eat gets absorbed in the small intestine. During digestive disorders like Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or celiac disease, the small intestine gets damaged, affecting the breakdown and absorption of food, thereby causing a deficiency.
Protein deficiency symptoms
The deficiency of protein causes a wide range of symptoms that may vary depending on the severity.
- Muscle loss: Lack of protein results in loss of muscle mass, and it can affect anyone, including older adults. Chronic protein deficiency results in muscle wasting and degeneration with time.
- Dry and scaly skin: Healthy skin demands proper protein intake, which otherwise can result in flaky or scaly skin, redness and depigmented skin.
- Hair and nail issues: Keratin is a protein that provides strength and nourishment to hair and nails. If you commonly experience issues like hair fall, hair thinning and brittle nails, it may be due to severe protein deficiency.
- Oedema: Chronic protein deficiency leads to a condition – kwashiorkor, during which there is an accumulation of fluid inside the abdominal cavity due to low serum albumin levels. It results in water retention; swollen and puffy skin.
- Fatty liver: Protein deficiency affects the synthesis of fat-transporting proteins and increases the risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Weak immune health: Protein deficiency disease also takes a toll on our immune system. Lack of protein affects antibodies synthesis making us highly susceptible to infections.
- Increased risk of bone fractures: Adequate protein is required to keep our bones strong. Not consuming enough protein may keep us at risk, weaken our bones and increase the risk of fractures.
- Low energy levels and fatigue: Inadequate protein intake slows down our metabolic rate and reduces muscle strength, making us feel tired all the time.
How to prevent protein deficiency?
Here are some quick tips to prevent or treat protein deficiency.
- Include good quality sources of protein in the diet containing all essential amino acids like eggs, fish, chicken, whey protein and dairy products. Vegans can have plant-based sources like soybean, green peas, broccoli, peanut butter, spirulina, legumes, pulses and plant protein powders.
- People with celiac disease must eliminate gluten-containing foods from the diet, which will help improve the absorption of nutrients, including protein.
- People with digestive issues can opt for pre and probiotics to improve gut health and minimize indigestion issues.
- People with health problems related to kidney and liver must seek medical advice to understand their protein requirement and plan the diet accordingly.
To sum up, protein is critically essential for our body to function correctly. Therefore, consuming a protein-rich diet is best to avoid protein deficiency. One should eat a well-balanced diet focussing on protein from varied sources rather than on any single protein type.