Proteins have always been called the building blocks of the human body. These, along with other nutrients provide the energy for the human body to function and are essential in muscle development. They also keep the skin healthy, and promote healthy growth of hair and nails. A lack of proteins in the body can lead to a lot of problems, and if not taken care of, can become severe diseases caused due to protein deficiency. Severe protein deficiency is very common in parts of third world countries where there is immense lack of food and nourishment. However, in other countries too people may experience a deficiency of proteins, albeit not one that is very serious, due to consumption of junk foods that are rich in fats, a poor lifestyle. Also, those affected by poverty may experience this condition. As mentioned above, it can cause some serious diseases particularly in children.
Types of Protein Deficiency Diseases
Protein deficiency is mainly a result of malnutrition. The amino acids in proteins enable the growth and function of the human body. When the body does not receive enough proteins from the foods consumed and the protein reserved in the body is depleted, it can result in two major protein deficiency diseases in children. Both the conditions mentioned below occur when infants and toddlers are weaned away from breast milk prematurely, which is more prevalent in parts of developing countries, where families tend to have several children in a short span of time. Children born too close together are unable to get enough protein from breast milk that has to be shared between all the children. Thus, protein deficiency becomes common resulting in the following diseases.
When infants below one year of age are weaned from breast milk and their diet is replaced with less nutritive food, they may develop a condition called Marasmus. This is signified by a sudden, massive reduction in body weight. Further, the body tissues begin to waste away, the brain weight reduces, the ribs become visible through the skin, and digestion is affected resulting in the growth of the belly. Hair and skin are affected. The skin becomes shriveled, the body becomes frail and weak, the face looks gaunt and the eyes appear sunken. The development of the brain is affected and this condition may result in mental retardation.
Due to the cause mentioned above, a child aged 1-3 years may develop this condition known as Kwashiorkor. This is evident in signs such as irritability, and patchy, cracked and scaly skin. It results in stunted growth of the child, thinning of the body, curving of the legs, and is also marked by bulging eyes.
To avoid this, it is first important to ensure that the lactating mother should receive adequate proteins for her body. Then, a child should be breast fed until an appropriate age. These diseases (depending on their severity) can be overcome by having the child consume some protein-rich foods such as jaggery, peanuts, wheat, corn, and gram in appropriate amounts. Apart from these severe diseases, protein deficiency may also be visible in the form of certain symptoms that can affect adults too.
Signs and Symptoms of Protein Deficiency
The various symptoms start showing themselves in a subtle manner and then may get serious over time. Here are the symptoms that may be noticed:
- Hair Loss
- Lethargy and weakness
- Skin rashes
- Weight loss
- Trouble falling asleep
- Delayed wound healing leading to protein deficiency infections
- Muscle cramps
- Brittle nails
- Ridges in finger and toenails
- Skin ulcers
- Headache and nausea
- Edema (water retention in legs, feet, hands, etc.)
- Mood swings
- Depression and anxiety
In order to overcome this condition and prevent the associated diseases, it is essential to consume high-protein foods. However, do not increase the intake without the consultation of a doctor or a nutritionist as excess proteins can also cause trouble to the body. Depending on the amount your body requires, a doctor may also prescribe some protein supplements to you. For the healthy functioning of the body, not only do you require sufficient proteins, but also other nutrients in adequate amounts. This can be achieved only by consuming a healthy, balanced diet that takes care of all the body's requirements and prevents it from the development of various diseases.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.