9 Serious Signs of Protein Deficiency & How to Begin Healing Today

This article was originally published by our friend Dr. Axe

Today, I want to talk about the importance of protein. How protein benefits your overall health in physical performance is crucial to understand. So whether you’re a weekend warrior, you’re trying to lose weight fast or you are an athlete, protein is important for everybody — and just about everyone is deficient in quality protein in their diet.

I’m going to go over how to get more protein in your diet, the benefits of eating more protein foods and how much you should consume. So starting off here, let’s talk about protein and what it does.


Why Protein Is So Important

Protein is the building block of yourself. It’s the building block of your muscles and also is present in the foods that are going to boost your metabolism and fat-burning potential. Nothing is more important than protein. It really is the fuel that motivates and really supports your body in building healthy tissues and cells.

What exactly are proteins? Proteins are considered long chains of amino acids, which are the important molecules we get from our diet. Amino acids can be found in many different types of foods, even vegetables, but the highest sources are those that come from animals – like meat, dairy, eggs and fish – plus to a lesser extent certain plant foods like beans and seeds.

Proteins are used every day to keep the body going. Because they’re used to develop, grow and maintain just about every part of our bodies — from our skin and hair to our digestive enzymes and immune system antibodies — they’re constantly being broken down and must be replaced.

Vital organs, muscles, tissues and even some hormones of the body are made from proteins. Additionally, proteins create hemoglobin and important antibodies. Proteins are involved in just about every body function from controlling blood sugar levels to healing wounds and fighting off bacteria.

Simply put, without proteins life would not exist.

The average person probably needs half his or her body weight in protein a day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you need at least around 75 grams of protein a day if you’re trying to burn fat and build muscle the right way. And for many athletes, more than that is going to be essential as well.


Do You Have a Protein Deficiency?

Mayo clinic researcher Jan van Deursen, Ph.D., set out to study the cause of cancer, but soon his research took him in a different direction — what impacts aging? His research revealed that certain proteins play an important, even critical, role in aging.

In his investigation, van Deursen and his team created genetically modified mice that had a protein deficiency in one specific type of protein, BubR1. They discovered that the mice deficient in this vital protein aged four to five times faster than the control group of normal mice.

This naturally occurring protein declines as we age and, in this study, were found to be at deficient levels in the mice’s muscles, heart, brain, spleen, testis and ovaries. The study theorizes that this holds true in the human body, too, with a protein deficiency leading to cataracts, heart problems, kyphosis or muscle atrophy — all somewhat common in the elderly. 

Eating too little protein can result in these symptoms as well:

  • A sluggish metabolism
  • Trouble losing weight
  • Trouble building muscle mass
  • Low energy levels and fatigue
  • Poor concentration and trouble learning
  • Moodiness and mood swings
  • Muscle, bone and joint pain
  • Blood sugar changes that can lead to diabetes
  • Slow wound healing
  • Low immunity

9 Signs that Your Body Isn’t Getting Enough Protein

1. You have high cholesterol

High cholesterol and triglycerides are not just caused by eating fatty foods — they are also a result of increased inflammation, hormonal imbalances and high-processed/high-sugar diets. If you tend to replace protein foods with sugary snacks, refined carbs and packaged convenient goods, your cholesterol can start to rise as your liver and cells process fats less efficiently. Some studies have even found an inverse relationship exists between protein intake and risk of heart disease.

2. You’re feeling more anxious and moody

Amino acids are the building blocks for neurotransmitters which control your mood. Proteins help the brain synthesize hormones like dopamine and serotonin that help bring on positive feelings like calm, excitement and positivity.

3. Your workouts are suffering

You’re probably already aware that protein is needed to build new muscle mass, but it’s also important for sustaining your energy and motivation. A low protein diet can result in muscle wasting (or muscle atrophy), fatigue and even fat gain — it can also be behind female athlete triad. In fact, you can workout more, but see less results if your diet isn’t adequate to support tissue repair or your energy needs.

4. You aren’t sleeping well

Poor sleep and insomnia can sometimes be linked to unstable blood sugar levels, a rise in cortisol and a decrease in serotonin production. Blood sugar swings during the day carry over through the night. Carbohydrates require much more insulin than fat or protein does. Eating foods with protein before bed can help with tryptophan and serotonin production, and they have a minimal effect on blood glucose levels; in fact, protein slows down the absorption of sugar during a meal.

5. You have “brain fog”

Protein is needed to support many aspects of healthy neurological functioning. Brain fog, poor concentration, lack of motivation and trouble learning new information can be signs that you’re low in neurotransmitters you need to focus including dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Neurotransmitters are synthesized in the brain using amino acids, and studies show that balanced diets with enough protein can boost work performance, learning and motor skills.

6. You’re gassy and can’t go to the bathroom

Many metabolic and digestive functions depend on amino acid intake. If your body feels fatigued and run down in general due to protein deficiency, enzyme production, muscle contractions in your GI tract and digestion in general will suffer.

7. Your pants are feeling tighter

Although sometimes higher in calories than carbs, high-protein foods cause increased satiety to a greater extent than carbohydrates or fats do, so they can prevent overeating and snacking. They also help stabilize your blood sugar, allow you to retain more muscle which burns more calories all day, and can reduce cravings.

8. Your menstrual cycle is irregular

One of the most common reasons women suffer from irregular periods and infertility is the condition known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Two major risk factors for PCOS are obesity and pre-diabetes or diabetes — in fact, insulin resistance affects 50–70 percent of all women with PCOS. Low-protein, high-sugar/high-carb diets can contribute to insulin resistance, fatigue, inflammation and weight gain that disrupts the delicate balance of female hormones (including that of estrogen, progesterone and DHEA) needed to sustain a regular cycle.

9. You’ve been getting injured more often and are slow to heal

A low protein diet can raise your risk for muscle loss, falling, slow bone healing, bone weakness, fractures and even osteoporosis. Protein is needed for calcium absorption and helping with bone metabolism. Studies show that older adults with the greatest bone losses are those with a low protein intake of about 16–50 grams per day. Research also shows that a diet high in amino acids can help treat muscle loss due to aging (sarcopenia).


How Much Protein Do We Need, Exactly? 

Each person is unique in terms of their exact protein needs; your body weight, gender, age, and level of activity or exercise all determine how much protein is best for you, and your needs likely vary a bit day to day.

  • According to the USDA, the recommended daily minimum intake of protein for adults who are at an average weight and activity level is: 56 grams per day for men, and 46 grams per day for women.
  • However these are considered minimum amounts, so they might be too low if you’re very active, pregnant or ill.
  • These amounts are equal to eating about 0.36 grams of protein for every pound that you weigh, however some people find that they feel better when they increase their protein intake and aim to eat about 0.5 grams of protein for every pound.
  • This higher recommendation would translate to a woman who weighs 150 pounds eating about 75 grams of protein daily, and a man who weighs 180 pounds eating about 90 grams.
  • If all the math seems confusing, remember that most experts recommend consuming about 20–30 percent of your overall calories from protein foods.

The Top Protein Foods

Knowing what to eat, how much, and when can be overwhelming for many. It seems today in order to stay healthy and keep your family healthy you need a degree in nutrition – and even with that there all seems to be conflicting evidence and studies. I want to help to simplify this sometimes confusing topic for you.

When it comes to protein there are a few basic guidelines to follow; first you must understand that you (and your loved ones) need to consume protein on a regular basis; secondly, you must eat the right kinds of protein for it to have the desired, positive impact on your health.

Overall, eating a mix of plant-based and animal-based options is the best approach to getting enough protein. Some call this approach the flexitarian dietWhile animal products have more protein per calorie than most plants do, eating too much meat, dairy, fish or eggs everyday isn’t the best idea and has its own drawbacks (such as being less environmentally sustainable, more expensive and more acidic).

Vegetarian proteins often double as a great way to get more fiber, antioxidants, electrolytes and other nutrients, so try including them in your meals often in place of meat.

  • Vegetarian and vegan protein options that still provide a good deal of amino acids include: all types of beans and legumes, especially adzuki beans, mung beans and lentils; nuts and seeds such as almonds, flax, chia and hemp; unprocessed/ancient grains like oats, buckwheat, amaranth, farro or quinoa. It’s an added bonus if you consume sprouted nuts, legumes and grains since this helps make their amino acids more absorbable once eaten.
  • Even some vegetables have a fairly high concentration of protein, especially considering how low in calories they are. Veggies which help boost your protein intake include: spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and mushrooms.
  • When it comes to using protein powders, several new and noteworthy types have recently hit the market. These include pea protein, cricket protein (yes, made from ground-up bugs!) and also bone broth protein. There are many benefits to consuming these types or powders since they offer much more than simply protein – for example, bone broth protein also supplies collagen and glucosamine which are great for your GI tract, joints and skin.
  • For meats, the best forms of protein you can be getting are going to be things like grass-fed beef, organic chicken and turkey, and wild-caught salmon.

Protein Health Benefits

Getting protein in your diet is greatly beneficial, and the biggest benefits of protein include fat burning, helping muscle recovery and helping heal cuts in the wound. And if you have any sort of injury, protein is essential. It’s also essential for:

There is study after study showing that protein is essential for your body.

And last but not least, it’s important for muscle recovery. So if you’re trying to recover from an injury and also want to improve your overall energy, getting more protein in your diet is essential.

When buying protein, make sure it’s from organic, natural sources. One of the issues we run into today is all of our conventional restaurants, our conventional grocery stores, they’re not selling grass-fed organic protein. And if you’re eating conventional protein, it’s loaded with hormones, antibiotics, steroids and other chemicals that will actually destroy your health.

So get more protein in your diet. I’d even recommend keeping a food journal; write down what you’ve eaten the past three days, and then add up the grams of protein you’ve actually gotten in your system.

You also can go to the website nutritiondata.com and actually look up the amount of protein in the amount of food you’ve consumed, or else do it for the next three days and see how much protein you’re actually getting in your diet.


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