Effects of Protein Deficiency on Your Body

Nahida Wankhade

August 15, 2022

Protein is an essential macronutrient that is involved in a variety of body functions. It is the building block of our body. They involve multiple functions like carrying cellular processes, transporting various substances to body parts, and physical movements.

They are also involved in protein hormone synthesis, so it is crucial to regularly incorporate protein into the diet or else it will lead your body to protein deficiency.

Protein is a substance that has one or more long chains of amino acids that are an essential part of all living organisms. It is also a component of muscle, hair, and other body tissues.

Proteins serve a crucial role in various biological processes. They are majorly known as body building blocks and are vital for growth and development. Therefore, a deficiency of protein can lead to various diseases that result in nervous system defects, metabolic problems, organ failure, and sometimes even death.

According to studies, the recommended dietary allowance, RDA for a healthy adult with minimal physical activity, is 0.8 grams per kg body weight per day. 

Structural and Kinetic Functions

Proteins serve as the structural elements of cells and tissues. It helps us move from one place to another and helps in cellular transport along with the movement of fluids and semi-solids such as blood circulation and peristalsis. 

Proteins as Enzymes

According to research, enzymes are proteins that act as biological catalysts. A catalyst generally lowers the amount of time and energy required for chemical reactions to happen.

Our body is a powerhouse for more than a hundred chemical reactions in each cell, which require enzymes to function correctly. 

Proteins as Hormones

Proteins have a vital role in hormone synthesis. Hormones are chemical messengers used to communicate between organs and tissues.

They help regulate various physiological functions, including digestion, respiration, sleep development, movement, reproduction, mood, and metabolism. Listed below are a few peptide-derived hormones that have multiple effects on the body. 


According to studies, oxytocin is a peptide hormone released by the posterior pituitary. It stimulates uterine contractions, which speed up the process of childbirth.

It also helps in the production of milk during lactation. Therefore, a lack of protein will cause a lack of oxytocin, preventing milk-ejection reflex and affecting breastfeeding. 


According to research, insulin is a peptide hormone that regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Therefore, lack of protein will cause insulin deficiency, and lack of insulin causes diabetes mellitus. 


A Study suggests melatonin is a hormone derived from amino acid tryptophan that synchronises circadian rhythm, sleep-wake timing, and blood pressure regulation. Melatonin deficiency causes insomnia and sleep problems. 


According to studies, thyroid hormone is another amino acid hormone. Therefore, protein deficiency does not create enough thyroid hormones that slow down metabolism.

Fluid and Electrolyte Balance

Proteins help maintain the fluid and electrolyte balance in our bodies. Osmosis is a process by which water moves from an area of high concentration to a place of lower concentration. As a result, water moves towards regions that have higher protein concentrations. It helps to distribute the fluid evenly and prevents oedema. Transport proteins also help maintain the balance of electrolytes like sodium and potassium. 

Proteins and Transport

According to research, proteins play a vital role in nutrient transportation. Every cell usually gets covered by a membrane that doesn’t allow the passage of large molecules. These larger molecules have to be transported by membrane transport proteins. Membrane transport proteins are vital as they catalyse the translocation of solutes, including ions, neurotransmitters, solutes, drugs, etc. 

Proteins and Immunity

Our immune system defends our body by the use of immunoglobulins. Immunoglobulins are primarily made of protein and recognise harmful bacteria and viruses due to the presence of antigens. These antibodies bind to the antigen and destroy it. A deficiency of protein weakens the immune system. 

Proteins in Wound Healing

Proteins are involved in all aspects of wound healing; the process of wound healing takes place in three steps: inflammation, proliferation, and remodelling. Wound healing mainly occurs through collagen fibres made from amino acids. Protein insufficiency leads to delayed wound healing. 

The HealthifyMe Note

Protein is an essential macronutrient required in various bodily processes. Protein deficiency leads to decreasing muscle mass and overall impaired body functions. It also affects bone and calcium homeostasis, reduces immune system response, fluid and electrolyte imbalance, and decreases hormone synthesis. 

Effects of Protein Deficiency 

Proteins are helpful in the growth and maintenance of tissues. They are the building blocks of our body; not eating enough proteins can lead to loss of muscle mass, further leading to generalised weakness and inability to perform day-to-day tasks. 


The human body gets divided into intracellular and extracellular spaces. The fluid balance is maintained with the help of albumin. Decreased albumin levels lead to the accumulation of fluids in the extracellular compartment, known as oedema.

Complications of Oedema

  • Oedema causes stiffness and difficulty in walking.
  • Higher risk of infection in the swollen area
  • Risk of pruritus and scarring. 
  • Decreased blood circulation in the affected areas


Keratin is a protein that is the basic building block of hair. For example, KeratinK31 is a chief component of the hair cortex, contributing to the hair shaft’s strength. Lack of protein leads to decreased keratin production, which causes increased hair fall.

Decreased Immunity

Immunoglobulins, or antibodies, are made of glycoproteins. Immunoglobulins are responsible for killing bacteria and fighting off other foreign bacteria.

According to research, decreased protein may lead to recurrent bacterial infections like pneumonia, meningitis otitis, and osteomyelitis. It is no secret that a reduced protein intake impairs immune functions. 


Adequate protein is essential for insulin production. Insulin balances glucose levels in the bloodstream. If the glucose levels are not regulated, it will get stored as adipose tissue in muscles or liver, resulting in weight gain and diabetes

Diseases Caused by Protein Deficiency 

There are two primary clinical forms of protein deficiency, marasmus and kwashiorkor.


According to data, Kwashiorkor is a form of acute malnutrition that occurs due to protein deficiency especially in children. It is most common in developing regions where children do not get enough protein or other essential nutrients in their diet.

Symptoms of Kwashiorkor 

  • The patient typically develops abdominal and peripheral pitting oedema.
  • There is an increase in muscle wasting due to the lack of protein. 
  • Patients are generally moon-faced, that is, round faces with prominent cheeks.
  • They have dry and hypopigmented hair, which falls out easily due to lacking keratin-building proteins. 
  • They have thin, dry, and peeling skin with hyperpigmentation.  
  • They have severe growth retardation and are sometimes prone to skin lesions and dermatitis.
  • Kwashiorkor leads to many complications like hepatomegaly and an enlargement of the liver.
  • It often leads to the collapse of the cardiovascular system. 
  • The immune function gets lost due to the absence of immunoglobulins primarily needed from proteins.


While kwashiorkor is the state of pure protein deficiency, marasmus occurs due to the lack of both carbohydrates and proteins. Marasmus often leads to the loss of both fat and muscle. It usually shows in children of poverty. According to a study, the symptoms of marasmus are as follows:

Symptoms of Marasmus 

  • Infections of the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems are more likely.
  • Generalised fat loss, which is more noticeable in the groin and buttock region, the general appearance is shrunken and wasted due to reduced levels of fat.
  • Marasmus leads to an older man’s appearance due to wasting fat on the face.
  • The child will experience stunted growth.
  • Marasmus is frequently associated with symptoms of anaemia and rickets. Rickets (in children) is a disease that affects the bone and weakens them. 
  • With the progression of marasmus, cardiovascular function is affected, leading to hypotension and decreased blood pressure.

Top Sources of Protein


According to the USDA, the protein concentration in 100g of eggs is about 12.6 grams. It is an excellent source of lipids, vitamins, and minerals. Moreover, an egg is a superfood as it is a complete protein source. It has all nine essential amino acids.

The yolk is also an excellent source of low-density lipoproteins. It is rich and contains all vitamins like A, D, E, K, and B except C. Egg is also rich in phosphorus and calcium, essential for bone health. 


Fresh meat has high protein content. However, according to research, red meats have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.

As a result, choose white meat over red meat. Lean chicken is an excellent source of quality protein. According to the USDA, 100 grams of lean chicken provides 23.2 grams of protein. 


Dairy milk contains high-quality protein and is also high in vitamins and minerals like vitamin B2, calcium, and phosphorus. According to the USDA, 100 grams of dairy milk provides 3.28 grams of protein; however, it is vital to know that many people are lactose intolerant.

It means they lack the enzyme lactase, responsible for the breakdown of lactose, the primary sugar in milk. Hence, non-dairy milk alternatives like soy, cashew, and almond milk can get used. However, the protein content is lower than dairy milk. 


Fish is an excellent source of protein and is associated with a lower risk of many chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Fishes like salmon, tuna, and cod are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are helpful in cardiovascular disease and hypertriglyceridemia, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. The prime mechanism of action is to lower the low-density cholesterol and increase the high-density cholesterol. 

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is high in protein. According to the USDA data, 100 grams of cottage cheese provides 8.33 grams of protein. It also has various other essential micronutrients and serves immense health benefits. It is made by acidifying milk, resulting in milk curds that get separated from the whey. 

Greek Yoghurt

Eating Greek yoghurt every day provides various immunity-boosting nutrients. In addition, it contains healthy bacteria that support gut health. According to the USDA, it has 9 grams of protein per 100 grams. Therefore, it is an excellent source of protein. 


Lentils are a good source of plant protein. They are a great source of antioxidants that have potential cancer prevention abilities. Lentils are also known to be cardioprotective. According to the USDA, 100 grams of lentils contain 24.6 grams of protein. 


Peanuts are a great source of protein; they are also rich in folate, magnesium, and vitamin E. According to the USDA, 100 grams of peanut contains 25.8 grams of protein. However, peanut allergies are relatively common; therefore, one must be aware before consuming them. 


According to the USDA, soybean contains 36.5 grams of protein per 100 grams. It is the richest source of plant protein. It also includes various other micro and micronutrients beneficial for health. 

The HealthifyMe Note

Eggs, milk, fish, meat, soybean, peanuts, lentil, greek yoghurt, and cottage cheese are the top sources of good quality protein. Other high-protein foods include avocados, sunflower and chia seeds, almonds, oats, pistachio, lima beans, black beans, sesame seeds, tofu, ragi, and quinoa. 


Protein insufficiency results from inadequate protein intake. Proteins are the building blocks of life. Hence, a protein deficiency can cause a variety of symptoms.

A severe protein deficiency can hinder children’s growth, contribute to fatty liver and skin, induce oedema, and worsen infections. Kwashiorkor and marasmus are two major protein deficiency diseases.

Proteins are also responsible for the synthesis of enzymes and various hormones. True deficiency is uncommon in urban areas, although a low intake can lead to muscular atrophy and an increased risk of fractures. Therefore, it is vital to include protein daily for optimum well-being. 

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

Q. What happens when your body is low in protein? 

A. Protein deficiency can slow your metabolism, build up fatigue, cause weakness, and make you lose muscle mass. There is also an increased risk of infections and diseases due to a weak immune system as antibodies mainly consist of immunoglobulins, a type of protein. 

Q. What are the symptoms of protein deficiency? 

A. Some noticeable symptoms include loss of muscle mass, increased appetite, thinning of hair, hair loss, and brittle nails. Kwashiorkor and marasmus are also very common in rural areas showing severe protein deficiency.  

Q. Which disease is caused by a deficiency of proteins? 

A. Diseases like kwashiorkor and marasmus are caused by protein deficiency. These diseases are more common in children. Some symptoms of kwashiorkor include the inability to gain weight, stomach bulging, and oedema. Some signs of marasmus include severe weight loss, diarrhoea, and dehydration. 

Q. How can I increase my protein fast?

A.Including foods rich in protein in your daily diet will help provide suitable amounts of protein. For example, soya beans, milk, eggs, lentils, lean chicken, etc., are a few rich protein sources that you can include in the diet. 

Q. How much protein do I need a day? 

A. The daily protein requirement ranges from 0.8 to 1.5 grams per day per kg body weight. The protein intake depends on conditions like pregnancy, lactation, bodybuilding, heavy work, sedentary lifestyle diseases, etc. However, 0.8 grams of protein per body weight is generally considered safe. 

Q. What is the reason for low protein? 

A. Protein deficiency is caused due to poor dietary choices and inadequate protein intake. It is the chief cause of low protein in people. Consuming good quality protein will prevent diseases and infections caused by low protein levels. 

Q. How is protein deficiency diagnosed? 

A. There are various tests to detect low protein levels. A blood test (total protein, albumin, and albumin/globulin A/G ratio) reveals a person’s protein levels. Moreover, phenotypic diseases can show significant symptoms of protein deficiency. 

Q. What foods are the highest in protein? 

A.Some of the highest protein food sources include eggs, milk, lean meats, lentils, soybeans, almonds, walnuts, fish, cottage cheese, peanuts, curd, avocado, Greek yoghurt, prawns, mussels, oats, crabs, tofu, etc.

Q. What are some good foods for protein? 

A. Some good protein-rich foods are eggs, milk, lean chicken, cottage cheese, almonds, peanuts, avocados, soybean, lentils, oats, greek yoghurt, pistachio, walnuts, lamb, pork, turkey, chia seeds, sunflower and flax seeds, etc. 

Q. Are potatoes a good source of protein? 

A. Potatoes are high in carbs and calories. According to USDA, 100 grams of potato contains 1.68 grams of protein. Therefore, potatoes are poor sources of protein. 

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