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Malnutrition: Protein Deficiency

Unlike the other mainstream medical articles I've written (and have yet to write), this is one of the topics that will be hard to select "proper" medical references for - amusingly, because they are TOO specific, and not general enough. "Protein A deficiency", "Protein C Deficiency", "Long-Chain Acyl CoA Dehydrogenase Deficiency" and other, uncommon or more obscure things. This article is intended to cover more of a collective/general dietary protein deficiency that MOST people will either be exposed to, or be experiencing themselves, and likely as a result of poor dietary choices or poor circumstances. As a result of this, many of the more informative references cited for this article will be more consumer, nutritional and dietitian oriented sites instead the usual collection of conventional medical materials.

Deficiencies of specific individual proteins are typically the result of more complex disease processes and thus are outside the scope of this article.


Protein deficiency is a state of malnutrition due to lack of sufficient protein in the diet. Besides various other nutritional compounds, protein contains amino acids - all of which work together to create and maintain healthy bones, muscles, organs and other soft tissues. Name the body structure, and it quite likely has at least some protein in it. Nine (9) of these amino acids are referred to as "essential" or "indispensable", meaning they MUST be consumed via the diet because the body cannot create them on it's own. The rest are nonessential, and can either be consumed via the diet, or created from other building blocks within the body. Protein is also used by the body to produce hemoglobin in the red blood cells (which carry oxygen to various parts of the body), and is needed by the lungs and the immune system in order to function properly. To summarize:

1. Protein is required in the building and repairing of body tissues.
2. Protein is also a source of energy.
3. Protein is needed for the formation of enzymes and hormones.
4. Protein is an important part of nutrient transport, water balance, and muscle contraction to name a few.
5. Protein keeps our skin, nails and hair healthy.
6. Protein is needed to keep our immune system going [Builds our resistance to diseases].


There is one base cause: Malnutrition.

However, malnutrition can be a result of many other processes, either voluntary or involuntary, so the cause BEHIND the malnutrition won't be the same - but it's the malnutrition process itself that leads to the general protein deficiency.

Generally speaking, malnutrition can be a result of:

  • Deliberate dieting ("crash dieting", "fad/popular dieting", or other extreme weight loss measures)
  • Disease process (chronic wasting from diseases like AIDS, Cancer, etc.)
  • Environmental (in a location where there's very little available food.)
  • Financial status (being poor/in poverty and unable to afford adequate/quality protein)
  • Malabsorption (inflammation, irritable bowel, diarrhea, ulcer medications, parasites, etc.)
  • Recovering from surgery, trauma or illness (increased protein needs for body repair)

Protein deficiency acts as a signal for the body to enter what is often termed as "starvation mode" - this is the stage at which the body will attempt to compensate by pulling protein out of other areas of the body for use for immediate needs. The first source is usually the muscles, which leads to muscle wasting and weakness - in fact, this weakness and decreasing muscle mass is quite often one of the FIRST symptoms of protein deficiency, before any other symptoms become clinically evident.


Protein deficiency has to be pretty bad - or very chronic (such as in cancer cases) - before it actually shows clinical signs, and the doctor - quite often - has to be LOOKING for an issue with the pertinent line items, otherwise they may be ignored completely in favor of a different diagnosis. Therefore, you will see actual symptoms - either physical, mental or both - long before there is clinical evidence on bloodwork tests.

There are two common serum-protein related items on a typical complete metabolic panel, and these are:

  • Albumin (a steady drop over time ALWAYS indicates a chronic process such as cancer, even with normally adequate protein)
  • Globulin


Mental symptoms may include any combination of the following:

  • Apathy
  • Anxiety / Depression
  • Decrease in mental alertness/comprehension/concentration
  • Irritability / Moodiness
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Thoughts focused on eating / weight / hunger

Physical symptoms may include any combination of the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia
  • Cardiac disorders (the heart requires protein too!)
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Diarrhea/constipation/irregularity
  • Edema - primarily legs, feet and ankles, but can happen anywhere
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Elevated uric acid levels
  • Extreme fatigue
  • "Feeling heavy"
  • Gallstones
  • Gouty arthritis
  • Heart rate abnormalities
  • Headache
  • Hypothyroid
  • Loss of lean tissue
  • Low blood pressure (Hypotension)
  • Moon-shaped face (likely due to edema in the facial structures)
  • Muscle cramps/soreness
  • Muscle weakness/wasting
  • Nausea
  • Skin: Decreased pigmentation/rashes/dryness
  • Sleeping too much
  • Splitting nails
  • Thinning or brittle hair, hair loss
  • Thyroid abnormalities other than hypothyroid

Most commonly seen is any combination of the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Edema / fluid retention
  • Fainting
  • General weakness and fatigue
  • Hair: Thinning / more brittle / hair loss
  • Hair: Reduced hair pigmentation / Graying hair
  • Moodiness
  • More prone to bed sores / skin ulcers
  • Muscle weakness / cramps / soreness
  • Nausea / stomach pain
  • Ridges in the nails
  • Severe depression
  • Slow healing of cuts / bruises / other wounds
  • Weight loss


Medication-Caused Malabsorption:
Any medication that effects the level of acid in the stomach (Tums, Rolaids, Tagamet, Pepcid, etc.), either by decreasing the secretion of, or neutralizing the stomach acid what's already there. (By the way, reducing or neutralizing the stomach acid will negatively impact ANY nutritional absorption, not just protein.) Steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Prednisone can also cause muscle wasting and protein deficiency. Estrogen therapy and oral contraceptives will also decrease available protein levels. Patients *should* be advised to increase their protein intake while on these medications, but many doctors don't seem to be aware of this, or often forget this.

Any disease that affects the digestive tract - and any autoimmune condition - that has the risk of other nutrient deficiencies via malabsorption, will also carry the risk of protein deficiency for the same reason. Such disease types will include GI tract conditions (Diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, etc.), malabsorption conditions (Chron's Disease, Celiac Syndrome, etc.), systemic autoimmune conditions (Lupus, Guillain-Barre syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.) as well as localized autoimmune diseases (thyroiditis, diabetes type 1, autoimmune hepatitis, Multiple Sclerosis, etc.)

(There is some debate in the medical community on whether Multiple Sclerosis qualifies as an autoimmune condition. Its primary symptom is the destruction ("Demyelination") of the coatings ("Myelin sheath") surrounding the nerves; the final determination will depend on the CAUSE of the primary symptom - and that's not always easy to determine.)


Various proteins bind and carry certain vitamins and minerals including iron, copper, calcium, vitamin A, Zinc and vitamin D. As a result, inadequate protein intake may impair the function and absorption of these additional nutrients.


General Food Sources:

  • Excellent sources include: tuna, shrimp, and cod.
  • Very good sources include: snapper, venison, halibut, salmon, scallops, turkey, chicken, lamb, beef, calf's liver, spinach, tofu, mustard greens, crimini mushrooms, soybeans, and mozzarella cheese.
  • Good sources of protein: eggs, milk, collard greens, cauliflower and many legumes including lentils, split peas, kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans and garbanzo beans.

When discussing food sources of protein, many nutritionists often speak in terms of "complete" and "incomplete" proteins. Foods that provide complete protein are those that include all of the essential amino acids, while foods that provide some or none of the essential amino acids are said to be incomplete.

  • Eggs, dairy foods, meat, fish and poultry are typically considered to be complete proteins.
  • Vegetarian sources of complete proteins include: bananas, tomatoes, dates, almonds, coconuts, filberts (they're a kind of nut), sunflower seeds, walnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, alfalfa sprouts, bean sprouts, carrots, eggplants, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, corn, okra, and squash.

Heat will destroy much of the nutritional content, including proteins. Therefore, ANY protein source is *nutritionally* at its best in the raw state, even if it's not practical for health or other reasons. If you have your protein source "well done" (such as steaks that are hot and brown in the middle) then you cannot count on having adequate nutritional stores of protein!

Remember to keep some real fats in the diet as well. Use real butter, not margarine, for example, even if it's more expensive. Cook with bacon grease (if your faith path allows pork products) instead of vegetable oil, and DO store it in the refrigerator so it doesn't go rancid. (Bacon grease seems to keep forever in the fridge, but it's not so good kept out on the counter for long periods...)


Treatment essentially consists of increasing the level of protein in the patient's diet. This requires having at least a rough idea of how much protein should BE in the diet in the first place, based on the person's weight. One calculation I've seen is .8 grams of protein per 1kg/2.2 pounds, which means that someone who weights 220 will need roughly 80 grams of protein by this ratio, assuming perfect health. This will equate to roughly 1/3 of a pound or so, daily.

Quite a few places will suggest that women need less protein than men. Personally, I disagree - women get a lot of discriminatory attitudes from the medical profession all the time ("You're fat", "You're lazy", "It's all in your head", "Oh, you're just sick because you picked up something from the kids", etc.) so it would not surprise me to find out that protein requirements for women are grossly underestimated as well.

It is important to remember that the calculation above is for the near-impossible statistic: Perfectly healthy people who aren't the least bit overweight.

You need more if you are:

  • Sick
  • Have any kind of chronic ailment
  • Have a (disease or medication caused) malabsorption problem
  • Active outdoors
  • Have a physically active job (nursing, construction worker, on your feet all shift...)
  • Pregnant and/or breastfeeding
  • Overweight (if only to keep up with the mass you're carrying)

Infants (because of how fast they're growing) should have an intake of roughly 2 grams per pound.

Children (they're still growing, just not as fast as infants) should have an intake of roughly 1 gram per 2 pounds.


There are many symptoms cited by real vampires as part of their experience that overlap with symptoms of protein deficiency. Therefore, while protein deficiency does not have anything specifically to do with vamprism, it is VERY prudent to rule this (and any other medical conditions) out when contemplating whether or not you are a real vampire.

Such overlapping symptoms may include the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Decrease in mental alertness
  • Depression
  • Fatigue, especially extreme fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps / soreness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Sleeping too much

~SphynxCatVP, June 2010


This site contains articles on various medical topics; however, no warranty whatsoever is made that any of the articles are accurate - and even if a statement made about medical matters is accurate, it may not apply to you or your symptoms. These medical articles are provided on a general informational basis only - nothing on this site should be construed as an attempt to offer or render a medical opinion or otherwise engage in the practice of medicine.

Even though the authors may be capable of doing extensive research, it must be understood that neither SphynxCatVP, nor the rest of the contributors, are doctors, despite the presence of any books of the medical profession in the personal libraries of any of the authors. Any such articles are thusly written, in part or in whole, by nonprofessionals. Consequently, there is absolutely no guarantee that any statement contained or cited in an article touching on medical matters is true, precise, or up-to-date.

At best, you can use the article to strike up a conversation with your doctor or other medical professional ABOUT your symptoms, and share any concerns you may have for them to investigate. The medical information provided by this site is of a general nature and CANNOT legally be considered a substitute for the advice of a medical professional.

Consumer Information

   Diagnose Me: Protein Deficiency
   eZine Articles: Protein Deficiency
   eHow: How to Spot Signs of Protein Deficiency
   Live Strong: 4 Ways to Spot Protein Deficiency
   Net Nutritionist: Protein Deficiency for Vegetarians
   Net Wellness: Protein Deficiency Related to Gall Bladder
   Raw Food Explained: Protein & Optimum (Life Science) Diet
   Seduce Your Tastebuds: Protein Part 1 - What is Protein?
   Seduce Your Tastebuds: Protein Part 2 - Biological Value
   Seduce Your Tastebuds: Protein Part 3 - Functions of Proteins
   Seduce Your Tastebuds: Protein Part 4 - Protein Deficiency
   Wisegeek: What is Protein Deficiency?
   World's Healthiest Foods: Protein

Conventional Medical Information

   AJCN: Treatment of Severe Protein Deficiency in Children PDF
   Arthritis Research: (Protein Deficiency Promotes Arthritis)
   eMedicine: Anorexia Nervosa
   eMedicine: Wound Care Treatment
   Journal of Nutrition: Protein and Metabolism of Thyroid Hormone...PDF
   Journal of Nutrition: Severe Protein Deficiency Alters Body & Brain Composition PDF
   Medline Plus: Protein in Diet
   PubMed: Effect of Severe Protein Deficiency on Serum Zinc...
   PubMed: Malabsorption in Marfan's Syndrome
   PubMed: Optimal Protein Intake Estimated by Resistance to Strep Infection...
   PubMed: Sekletal-Muscle Growth & Protein Turnover
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