Proteins are the basis of many tissues and participate in multiple physiological processes. A deficiency can result in various symptoms. Here are the people at risk and the signs that should alert you.
Our daily protein requirements average 0.8 g per kg per day. With the development of vegetarian or vegan diets, there is a risk of deficiency, especially since vegetable proteins are less well assimilated than animal proteins. The elderly and pregnant women are also at risk because of their higher needs. Here are six signs that may alert you to a possible deficiency.
Protein helps slow the release of sugars into the bloodstream, which helps regulate blood sugar levels. A lack of protein will therefore lead to a spike in insulin with a drop in energy and a feeling of hunger. On the other hand, meals rich in proteins are more satiating than meals composed mainly of carbohydrates and fats because they take longer to digest.
Muscle weakness and ligament fragility
Muscle and ligament cells need protein to renew themselves. When the supply is insufficient, this results in pain and muscle weakness. When the deficiency is prolonged, the body will also draw on the muscles to produce energy.
Increased susceptibility to disease
The immune system relies heavily on immunoglobins (antibodies), proteins that recognize and neutralize pathogens. In case of insufficient protein supply, these proteins are not renewed quickly enough, which makes the body more sensitive to diseases and delays healing.
Loss of hair and ridged nails
Nails and hair are made up of 97% keratin, a fibrous protein synthesized by the body. If there is a lack of protein in the diet, the hair cannot renew itself properly, resulting in thinning hair. Similarly, the nails are streaked, dull and break easily.
Difficulty concentrating and sleep disorders
Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine or dopamine are synthesized from amino acids in proteins. A diet low in protein can therefore lead to mental fatigue, mood disorders, reduced alertness and ability to concentrate or difficulty falling asleep.
Albumin, which represents 50% of the total proteins in plasma, regulates blood oncotic pressure. When its level is too low, water leaks out of the vessels into the surrounding tissues, which causes edema, most often in the lower limbs.
Attention: it is not enough to eat just any protein to cover your needs, because you must also balance your intake of amino acids. Thus, a deficiency in a single amino acid is sufficient to prevent the synthesis of a protein. This balance is sometimes difficult to find when following a vegan diet, because plants are less complete in amino acids than meat or fish. In addition, certain minerals such as zinc and sulfur help stabilize the structure of the protein.
Severe forms of protein deficiency (kwashiorkor) are however very rare and mainly affect young children in poor countries. They result in delayed or arrested growth, weight loss, loss of muscle mass, swelling of the belly, and digestive and mental disorders.