Many American meals revolve around some form of protein. From Big Macs to cheese-and-pepperoni-laden pizzas, some Americans consume between three and five times more protein than they need on a daily basis. On top of that others take protein supplements.

A healthy protein intake consists of one-half gram of protein for each pound of lean body mass, preferably without the carbs and fats many of us ingest. In other words, a person weighing 150 pounds needs around 75 grams of protein a day for optimal health. But, many of us do not get an adequate amount of protein on a daily basis, and protein deficiency can lead to serious health problems.

 Athletes, in particular, need an increased amount of daily protein as they challenge their muscles in strength sports. The American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics of the Dieticians of Canada recommend an intake of protein for athletes that is spaced during the day and after workouts of between 1.2 and 2.0 grams for every kilogram of body weight.

The part proteins play in your body

The main part of our hair and nails is protein. Protein is also a very necessary part of building healthy bones, cartilage, muscles, skin, digestive enzymes, organs, hormones, blood sugar functions and blood components. Proteins are the fuel that keeps our bodies running efficiently. The human body does not store protein, so protein needs to be part of our daily intake in order for us to function optimally.

Among other things, protein deficiency can cause a loss in muscle mass, a weakened immune system, and hair loss. Protein supplementation potentially aids all people, but especially cancer patients, dialysis patients, persons who have had gastric bypass surgery, and the elderly.

An adequate daily supply of protein also retards the aging process. Dr. Jan van Deursen, a Mayo Clinic researcher, found that mice who were deficient in a specific protein aged four to five times faster than their counterparts. From his study with mice, Dr. van Deursen theorized that a deficiency of the BubR1 protein causes faster aging in the human body also, resulting in heart problems, cataracts, and atrophying of muscles.

Problems we can have when we are protein deficient

A protein deficiency can also lead to:

  • Immunodeficiency
  • Difficulty concentrating and learning
  • Fatigue and lower energy levels
  • Weight retention
  • Mood alteration
  • Pain in muscles, bones and joints.

If you have any of these symptoms or the following indicators and suspect a protein deficiency, consider asking your doctor to do a serum protein test to determine your protein status.

People who have a protein deficiency also often experience the following health issues:

  1. High cholesterol, especially if you tend to substitute protein foods with sugary snacks and packaged convenience foods, can be a side effect of protein deficiency.
  2. Problems exercising often derive from a protein deficiency, as an adequate supply of protein is needed for energy.
  3. Sleep disorder can often result from a protein deficiency that causes unsteady blood sugar levels, elevated cortisol, and less serotonin production, all of which negatively impact the ability to get sound, restful sleep.
  4. Brain fog, resulting in a reduced ability to concentrate and difficulty integrating new information, can be a result of protein deficiency, since the neurotransmitters needed for these functions are processed in the brain using the amino acids that protein supplies.
  5. Gassiness without being able to go to the bathroom can result from protein deficiency as it causes a depletion of the enzymes and muscle contractions needed in your digestive tract.
  6. A tendency to overeat can be caused by inadequate protein intake.
  7. Menstrual problems such as irregular periods and infertility often result from inadequate protein ingestion along with high-carbohydrate and high-sugar meals.

Determining your protein status and addressing any deficiency you may find will go a long way toward improving your health status.