Protein Deficiency Symptoms

Beth Asaff
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Headache

Protein deficiency symptoms are the first signs that your diet may be lacking in complete proteins. When your body isn't getting the nutrition it needs to function well, it gives you signals that something is wrong. Pay attention to these symptoms and seek medical advice if you experience them.

Common Protein Deficiency Symptoms

Even with a wide variety of protein sources available, some people experience protein deficiency symptoms due to a lack of protein intake. Severely restrictive diets, lack of knowledge about nutrients, and even poverty can contribute to protein deficiency. Protein deficiency is nothing to fool around with either; deficiency can lead to gallstones, arthritis, and muscle deterioration, as well as heart problems. Here are some of the most common symptoms.

Edema

Edema is a collection of fluid under the skin, which most commonly affects the legs, feet, and ankles but can occur anywhere on the body. Protein is essential for maintaining a balance of water in your body; without it, you may store water improperly.

Weight Loss

Severe weight loss is one symptom of a protein deficiency. It may be attributed to muscle wastage, as your body breaks down your muscles in an attempt to get protein from them.

Thinning or Brittle Hair

Hair loss and thinning or brittle hair can also be caused by a protein deficiency. Hair is made up of protein, so a deficiency may lead your hair to lack the amount of protein it needs to stay healthy. If you become deficient enough, your hair will even begin to fall out.

Ridges in Nails

Ridges or white lines in both finger and toe nails can be caused by a lack of protein the diet. Ridges that run from top to bottom on the nail can indicate an ongoing protein deficiency, while a ridge that runs transverse may indicate a deficiency that has now passed.

Pale Skin

Skin that loses pigment and burns more easily in the sun can be caused by a lack of iron, as well as protein. Frequently, foods that are rich in iron also contain protein, and protein is necessary for the body to utilize iron properly. Anemia or lack of iron may result in pale skin.

Skin Rashes

Skin rashes, which may be accompanied by dry or flaking skin are a symptom of a protein deficiency. These rashes are caused by extreme protein deficiency and may resemble eczema or other dry skin rashes.

General Weakness

Weakness and lethargy may be caused by a lack of protein in the diet. Over time, as your stores of protein are depleted, your body will begin to break down muscle tissue, which can lead to a feeling of general weakness or lethargy.

Slow Healing

Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are crucial in wound healing. When your body heals itself, it needs to repair or produce tissues. These tissues use amino acids in the repairs, and a lack of protein can lead to a slower building process.

Difficulty Sleeping

Difficulty in sleeping could be caused by a serotonin deficiency, which is caused by a lack of certain amino acids. These amino acids are produced when protein is broken down, and a diet with insufficient protein could lead to difficulty in sleeping.

Headache

Headaches can be caused by many things, including a protein deficiency. A lack of protein may lead to headaches in one of a couple ways:

  • By causing anemia
  • By causing low blood sugar

Fainting

Fainting and general weakness may be caused by a protein deficiency as well. This may be attributed to low blood sugar or to your body's need to break down muscle tissue to get the nutrients it needs.

Other Symptoms

Not all of the symptoms of protein deficiency are physical. Some are emotional or mental, and include the following:

  • Crankiness, moodiness
  • Problems with conflict resolution
  • Severe depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of energy, no desire to do things

Treatment

If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, make an appointment to see your primary doctor as soon as possible. It only takes a simple blood test to determine if protein deficiency is the culprit. Make sure you tell your doctor what types of proteins you currently eat, and in what amounts. Treatment for protein deficiency is easy, but the lack of protein first must be properly diagnosed by your doctor. If you suspect that you may have a protein deficiency, don't wait to seek help.

Protein Deficiency Symptoms