Proteins are the foundation of many tissues and are involved in many physiological processes. Deficiencies can cause a variety of symptoms.
On average, our daily protein requirement is 0.8 g per kilogram per day. Vegetarian and vegan diets pose a risk of deficiency, especially since plant proteins are less absorbable than animal proteins. The elderly and pregnant women are also at risk because their needs are greater. In this article, we will discuss some common signs that may alert you to a possible protein deficiency.
Constant cravings for food
Protein helps slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream, thus helping to regulate blood sugar levels. Protein deficiency, therefore, leads to increased insulin levels, along with decreased energy and feelings of hunger. On the other hand, protein-rich foods are more satiating than foods composed primarily of carbohydrates and fats because they take longer to digest.
Muscle weakness and ligament fragility
Muscle and connective tissues need protein to renew themselves. If the supply is inadequate, this causes pain and muscle weakness. If the deficiency is chronic, the body will start to uses muscles for energy.
Increased susceptibility to disease
The immune system relies heavily on immunoglobins (antibodies), proteins that recognize and neutralize pathogens. When protein stores are inadequate, they don’t recover quickly enough, making the body more susceptible to disease and slowing recovery.
Hair loss and Ridges in nails
Nails and hair are made up of 97% keratin, a fibrous protein synthesized by the body. When there is a protein deficiency in the diet, hair can no longer regenerate properly, resulting in thinning hair. Nails can start to grow with ridges, become dull and break easily.
Difficulty concentrating and sleep problems
Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine are synthesized from amino acids in proteins. A diet low in protein can therefore lead to mental fatigue, mood disorders, reduced alertness and concentration, and difficulty falling asleep.
Albumin, which makes up 50% of total plasma protein, regulates oncotic pressure in the blood. When it is too low, water leaks out of the blood vessels into surrounding tissues, causing edema, most commonly in the lower extremities.
Beware: it’s not enough to eat just any protein to cover your needs, because you also need to balance your amino acid intake. So a deficiency of just one amino acid is enough to prevent protein synthesis. Sometimes it is difficult to find this balance when following a vegan diet because plants are less complete than meat or fish in terms of amino acids. In addition, certain minerals, such as zinc and sulfur, are involved in stabilizing protein structure.
A severe form of protein deficiency known as kwashiorkor is very rare in developed countries and mainly affects young children in poor countries. In sufferers, kwashiorkor can result in stunted or stagnant growth, weight loss, loss of muscle mass, abdominal distension, and gastrointestinal and mental disorders.