Protein Deficiency – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Protein deficiency

It is well known that too much protein can lead to health problems. However, what about the reverse case? Is a protein deficiency also problematic?

What is protein deficiency?

Proteins are among the most important components of the body. It is understandable that a protein deficiency can have serious consequences. One speaks of a protein deficiency when the body has fewer proteins than it needs.

This can happen through an inadequate diet as well as an enzyme deficiency, due to certain diseases ( e.g. sprue , celiac disease , thyroid diseases) and increased consumption (e.g. fever).

The so-called albumins are most likely to be affected by a protein deficiency. They are indispensable for the human organism and ensure the necessary pressure in all cells. For this reason, there is always a risk of death if there is a prolonged and clearly pronounced protein deficiency.


Protein deficiency is often due to insufficient intake from food. This occurs particularly in young children in developing countries. In addition, there are diseases such as tuberculosis or AIDS , which also promote a protein deficiency.

In industrialized nations, protein intake is usually covered by food. If a protein deficiency occurs despite this, other diseases (e.g. of the liver , kidneys , skin or heart ) play a role. The absorption of protein is prevented by the primary disease. Damaged liver tissue can no longer produce a sufficient amount of protein.

People who eat a vegan diet also have an increased risk of protein deficiency. In some cases, altered genetic information is the cause of a protein deficiency. If such a change occurs, certain hereditary diseases occur, depending on which protein is no longer produced.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Diagnosis & History

Protein deficiency in European countries is relatively rare. A doctor should always be consulted if a protein deficiency is suspected. Self-diagnosis is strongly discouraged.

The reason: a serious illness can be behind a protein deficiency. The doctor treating you can make the diagnosis by examining the blood . Further examinations determine whether the patient may be suffering from another disease that could impede the absorption of proteins.

This can be cancer as well as disorders of the gastrointestinal tract or diseases of the thyroid gland. If a protein deficiency is not treated, the body will break down more and more bodily functions over time. Ultimately, collapse is inevitable.


If a protein deficiency is not treated in time, it will inevitably lead to serious complications. First of all, a lack of protein causes visual changes such as the edges of the eyes, the formation of wrinkles or hair loss. In the later course of the disease, protruding bones and sunken cheeks as well as conspicuous skin changes appear.

In addition, with prolonged persistence, there is a sharp loss of weight and a decrease in muscle mass. The lack of protein causes muscle weakness, which is associated with restricted mobility. This often causes general dissatisfaction and sometimes severe mood swings and mental illness.

Edema and wound healing disorders can also occur, which in turn can lead to severe inflammation and infections. If there is no treatment by then at the latest, the bodily functions decrease more and more. This inevitably leads to circulatory collapse and ultimately to the death of the patient.

If too much protein is supplied to the organism too quickly during treatment, this can cause severe kidney damage and acidification of the body, among other things. There is also a risk of allergies and intolerances. Due to the severity of the possible complications, a doctor should be consulted immediately if a protein deficiency is suspected.

When should you go to the doctor?

Before anyone can speak of protein deficiency, the question must first be asked: how much protein does a person actually need? On this question alone, opinions differ. Justifiably so, because the actual amount depends on a multitude of factors. Be it size, age, gender, external circumstances, physical activity and a multitude of other things.

A defect, if there is one, is usually noticeable and relatively easy to identify. This can be identified, for example, by muscle weakness. If the body gets too little protein from the diet, it has to break down the existing mass, in this case the muscles, in order to ensure its well-being.

Dry and brittle hair can also be a result of not having enough protein. Nails are very similar in this regard. A chain reaction triggered by muscle breakdown can also be a symptom of fatigue and a weak immune system, which gradually becomes noticeable.

If you have these symptoms, you should definitely see your doctor . This usually knows advice. If not, he will mediate further.

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment of a protein deficiency always depends on its cause. If there is a poor diet, an adequate protein intake must be ensured in the future. However, this should be done slowly and under medical supervision.

The reason: complications caused by excessive protein intake should be avoided. It is better to take multiple servings throughout the day. Anyone who has been vegan until now should now occasionally include fish, eggs, milk and lean meat on their menu. If a certain disease is responsible for the protein deficiency, it is important to treat this disease. Until healing occurs or if this is not possible, the increased protein requirement must be met through food.

If the protein deficiency persists over a longer period of time, this can lead to a failure of all important functions in the body. If left untreated, a protein deficiency can lead to death. Since the feeling of hunger decreases with age, special attention should be paid to the elderly. A friendly atmosphere and eating with friends can help.

Outlook & Forecast

The prognosis of a protein deficiency is good. With adequate medical care or a change in diet, those affected by a protein deficiency usually have a good chance of recovery within a few weeks or months. If the necessary protein requirement is balanced and maintained over a longer period of time, the symptoms will alleviate and the deficiency will disappear.

In many cases, a healthy and balanced diet is enough to improve health. If the deficiency is not very pronounced and there are no other diseases, drug treatment is not absolutely necessary. The change in diet is enough. Despite the good prognosis, a relapse can occur at any time. Regular checks are therefore advisable.

In the case of existing illnesses or an unhealthy diet, an undersupply sets in. If there is no supply of sufficient protein, in the long term there will be numerous complaints and a physical collapse.

Therefore, timely action in the case of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, genetic defects, thyroid diseases and cancer or a vegan diet is life-saving for a good prognosis. At the first sign of a protein deficiency, such as weight loss , hair loss or unusual wrinkling, a blood count should be taken to get an overview of the missing nutrients in the blood.


Protein deficiency can be prevented very well through diet. A combination of animal and vegetable protein should be considered. So yoghurt can be eaten with nuts and meat with peas. Also suitable dishes are potatoes with quark and all kinds of legumes. After that comes lean meat and fish. It is known that the production of gastric acid decreases after the age of 40. This can also promote a protein deficiency. This is where taking a protein concentrate can help.

You can do that yourself

A severe protein deficiency is extremely rare in western industrialized nations. Nevertheless, this deficiency can occur under certain conditions. Individuals who suspect they may be suffering from this disorder should definitely consult a doctor. It is essential to refrain from pure self-diagnosis and self-treatment. In the worst case, a protein deficiency that is not treated or treated incorrectly can lead to death.

Those affected should first have the cause clarified by a doctor. If the protein deficiency is due to an underlying disease, those affected may be able to help to cure it. For example, severe liver damage can be responsible for the organ no longer producing enough protein. Such liver damage can result from continued alcohol or drug abuse. In this case, the person concerned should immediately go into rehab and start therapy to avoid a relapse into drug addiction .

If, after clarification by the doctor, it is clear that it is a question of a nutrition-related deficiency, the person concerned should seek professional help. In the case of an eating disorder, psychotherapy is advisable. If the lack of protein is only due to an unbalanced diet, the patient can consult a nutritionist and have a nutrition plan drawn up that meets their needs and ensures an adequate supply of protein.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.