Nutrition Meets Food Science
Protein deficiency and Overuse

Protein deficiency and Overuse

Having understood so much about the chemistry of proteins, it is also important to understand its deficiency and overuse which is very common. Protein deficiency is often interchangeably used with protein depletion and protein-energy malnutrition. A protein deficient diet leads to loss of body protein and optimal body function. A diet can be deficient in protein when it is substituted by another nutrient which is present in excess amount without altering the total amount of diet offered. It can also occur in conditions like undernutrition or starvation caused due to various factors like socioeconomic factors, political or environmental factors like natural disasters, famine conditions or due to various disease conditions. It is commonly seen in both developing as well as industrialized nations. Protein deficiency can have detrimental effects on the body as follows:

1.Immune Health: Protein deficiency reduces the ability to synthesize some protein-rich components of blood like Neutrophils, Eosinophils, and T cells, all of which are involved in immunity functions of the body. Thus it could lead to immune compromised conditions and frequent infections.

2. Delayed wound healing: Adequate protein consumption replaces the damaged tissue and increases wound healing. In protein deficiency, this process is markedly slow.

3. Oedema : Not getting enough protein from the diet results in oedema and swelling in various parts of the body like feet and hands.Protein deficiency and Overuse

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  4. Changes in hair : hair is composed of a specialized protein: Keratin. With a mild or moderate deficiency in protein the hair becomes brittle and thinning of hair occurs. 

Protein deficiency and Overuse

      (Dr. ReetaRasaily, Scientist E Division of Reproductive and Child Health, ICMR;Impact of protein deficiency on performance and health.)

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5. Growth issues: Protein is responsible for tissue growth and development in all stages of life, including pregnancy and lactation. A deficiency in protein could lead to loss of lean body mass and other complications related to it.

6. Kwashiorkar : It is a condition caused due to sufficient calorie but insufficient protein intake in young children. Characterised by oedema, skin lesions, fatty liver, hair discoloration, mental changes, altered biochemical parameters and moon face (swollen face).

7. Marasmus: Caused due to severe protein-energy malnutrition in young children. Characterised by muscle and sub cutaneous fat loss, sunken eyes, dry skin, brittle hair, distended abdomen, tachypnea(abnormally rapid breathing) etc.



Protein Overuse

Protein intake above the recommended dietary allowance is gaining popularity recently. Though the incidences are less, indiscriminate use of protein supplements, without consulting a qualified dietitian leads to potential health dangers.

1. Calcium loss from the body: Diets rich in protein leads to increased urinary calcium excretion and resorption of calcium from the bones. On the contrary, a balance of vegetable and animal protein will decrease the risk of calcium loss from the body.

2. Renal calcium and uric acid stone formation: Studies have shown that consumption of high-protein diet for 6 weeks delivers a marked acid load to the kidney and increases the risk for stone formation.

Protein deficiency and Overuse


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3. Increased cancer risk: Recent studies have shown that diet rich in red meat or processed meat is associated with a higher incidence of colorectal cancer.

4. Liver disorders: Hyperalbuminemia and elevated transaminases have been associated with a high-protein diet. Individuals on high protein diets developed intermittent abdominal pain, transient elevations in transaminases, and hyperalbuminemia without there being any identifiable cause. The symptoms and abnormalities on the laboratory tests resolved after the high protein intake was discontinued

4. Increased risk of Coronary artery disease: Studies have proved that higher intakes of protein particularly animal protein ( containing saturated fats) , have hypercholesterolemic and atherogenic effects.

(IoannisDelimaris; Adverse Effects Associated with Protein Intake above the Recommended Dietary Allowance for Adults;ISRNNutr. 2013)












Shilpa Joshi

Mumbai Diet and Health Center
National Vice President, Indian Dietetic Association
Hon. Secretary All India Association for Advancing Research in Obesity

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