I’ve said a thousand times that getting enough protein in your diet is not just important– it’s crucial! Yet, what happens when you don’t get enough, and what is the solution? A protein deficiency, while uncommon, can develop for various reasons, including certain health conditions and diets lacking in protein.1 The medical term for a protein deficiency is hypoproteinemia.  

Hypoproteinemia is a condition when you have deficient protein levels in your blood. A normal range is 6.0 to 8.3 grams per deciliter (g/dL), or 50 to 83 grams per liter.2 You don’t have to worry. As I mentioned, hypoproteinemia is not common in most people that eat a well-balanced diet of whole organic foods. 

I will tell you about the causes of hypoproteinemia, how to determine how much protein you should eat daily, and why animal protein is the best choice. First, let’s talk about the signs of hypoproteinemia. 

7 Signs of Hypoproteinemia 

Protein is found in cows’ dairy, plants, and animal meat. I recommend animal-based protein over plant-based because they provide more protein per serving and all nine essential amino acids. For example, one four-ounce serving of chicken breast contains 23.5 grams per serving, while a half-cup of chickpeas has just 7.25 grams of protein. Moreover, chickpeas are legumes and contain inflammatory chemicals. I’ll talk more about this later. 

You may not see any signs of hypoproteinemia right away. However, symptoms will be more noticeable over time if you don’t address a protein deficiency by eating adequate amounts of protein. Here are seven signs of a protein deficiency.

What is hypoproteinemia – infographic – Amy Myers MD®What is hypoproteinemia - infographic - Amy Myers MD® https://content.amymyersmd.com/article/what-is-hypoproteinemia/What is hypoproteinemia – infographic – Amy Myers MD®

1. Edema

One of the most common signs of hypoproteinemia is swelling and inflammation in your abdomen, legs, feet, and hands. This is also called edema. 

Edema occurs when your capillaries leak fluid, which builds up in your body’s tissues, causing swelling. The most abundant protein in your blood, albumin, prevents this leaking process. Albumin is necessary to circulate your blood throughout your body.3

When you have an albumin deficiency, fluid follows a gradient out of your bloodstream and collects in places such as your hands, feet, abdomen, and lungs. A simple blood test can check albumin levels in your blood. 

Some other causes of edema include sitting for too long, too much salt in your diet, premenstrual syndrome, and pregnancy.4 Some medications also cause edema, such as NSAIDs, steroids, and high blood pressure medications. 

2. Fatty Liver

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, also known as fatty liver disease, is the most common chronic liver disease globally. This condition occurs when excess fat accumulates in your liver, leading to inflammation, cirrhosis, and liver failure. 

Fatty liver disease is a metabolic condition caused by a diet high in processed foods, too much processed sugar, and high cholesterol. Studies show a high-protein diet is connected to reducing fat in the liver and improving liver disease. Conversely, a low-protein diet contributes to the worsening of fatty liver disease.5

Increasing protein consumption may help reduce liver fat content. Conversely, high-protein intake from processed foods is associated with increased fatty liver disease prevalence and severity.6

3. Skin, Hair, and Nail Problems

Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It provides structure to your hair, skin, and nails and accounts for one-third of your body’s protein. Collagen gives skin strength and elasticity, provides structure, and supports our muscles, tendons, bones, and blood vessels.

So, a protein deficiency would be visible in your hair, skin, and nails. When your body doesn’t have the essential amino acids needed to build collagen, keratin, and elastin, then you may experience hair thinning or more brittle nails. 

Adding Collagen Protein into your diet can promote more vibrant hair, skin, and nails. Collagen Protein contains all the amino acids needed to build collagen in your body. I recommend virtually everyone add a collagen powder to their diet. As you age, your body uses more collagen than it produces. By age 40, collagen begins to deplete faster than your body can make it. Moreover, over half of your body’s collagen has been depleted by age 60. 

4. Weakened Immune System

Do you remember when your grandma or mom gave you chicken soup when you were sick as a child? Chicken and beef bone broths contain gelatin and collagen, two proteins that support a healthy mucosal lining, proper digestion, and intestinal function. If you have a protein deficiency, your immune system cannot fight off foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. 

Your gut health and immune system are allies in the fight against foreign invaders. You cannot have a healthy immune system without a healthy gut. After all, nearly 80% of your body’s immune system lives in your gut. 

Microscopic folds, or “villi,” make up your intestinal wall and are actually built of collagen. These little compounds literally “seal the leak” in your intestinal lining by promoting tissue growth and cellular health, which helps support your immune system. 

I highly recommend supplementing your diet with plenty of this vital protein to get the full benefits of collagen. There are collagen-rich foods such as spinach, kale, tomatoes, beets, fish, and bone broth

5. A Slow Metabolism

Hypoproteinemia leads to muscle loss and, as a result, a slower metabolism. Muscle burns more calories than fat. For example, every pound of muscle burns about six calories per day at rest, whereas fat burns roughly two calories per day at rest.7 Your basal metabolic rate accounts for 60% of your body’s energy expenditure. I’ll talk more about this in just a second. 

Muscle mass decreases by 3 to 8% per decade after age 30, and this rate of decline is even higher after age 60. This involuntary loss of muscle mass, strength, and function is a fundamental cause of a slower metabolism in older people.  

6. Sugar Cravings

Dietary factors such as a low-protein diet or eating a lot of simple carbohydrates such as starches, sugar, and fiber, increase sugar cravings. Protein and healthy fats, such as olive oil, omega-3 fatty acids, or avocado oil, regulate the release of glucose in your bloodstream and, therefore, blood glucose levels. When you don’t have enough protein, it causes blood glucose levels to rise and fall and can lead to insulin resistance. This is why sugar cravings may be a sign of hypoproteinemia.

7. Weakness and Fatigue

If you are experiencing sugar cravings related to a protein deficiency, you likely will also experience weakness and fatigue. These two signs of hypoproteinemia are connected. Here’s how: 

Simple carbohydrates, such as a donut or cookie, enter the bloodstream fast, causing a spike in blood glucose levels. This response is great when you need a quick burst of energy. However, it’s not a long-term solution. 

When you cut out simple carbohydrates, your body begins to crave them. Relying on simple carbohydrates can lead to insulin resistance, which leads to fatigue and weakness. Moreover, when you don’t have enough protein in your diet, your muscles may begin breaking down for your body to access a readily available protein supply. 

This muscle catabolism, or breakdown, can cause you to feel tired. Not having enough protein can also impact your sleep quality and cognitive functioning, as both processes depend on protein.

Now that you understand the signs of hypoproteinemia let’s expand on the causes of a protein deficiency that I mentioned earlier. 

Causes of Hypoproteinemia

The obvious cause of a protein deficiency is a lack of protein in your diet, or maybe you’re not getting enough. For example, your body demands more protein to repair muscle tissue if you have an active lifestyle. 

Yet, there are times when hypoproteinemia has an underlying cause unrelated to your diet. For instance, Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, dairy intolerance, and cystic fibrosis can make it difficult for your body to absorb protein properly. 

Kidney disease also can impact your ability to absorb protein. If you have protein in your urine, that’s a sign your kidneys have become porous due to high blood pressure or diabetes. If this occurs, your kidneys literally spill protein into your urine. A urine test for protein can determine if this is what’s causing your protein deficiency. 

Low stomach acid and medications such as NSAIDs and laxatives can also interfere with protein absorption. 

With all this discussion about hypoproteinemia, or a protein deficiency, you’re probably wondering how much protein you need. It’s not as black and white as other nutrients. 

How Much Protein Should You Get?

The right amount of protein for you isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Several factors go into determining your protein needs, such as your age, sex, and activity level. Calculating your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is one way to determine your protein needs. This is the energy your body uses for basic functions such as sleeping, eating, and going to the bathroom. Remember, your BMR accounts for 60% of your daily energy expenditure. Use the following formula to determine your BMR: 

  • For an adult male: 66+(6.3 x body weight) + (12.9 x height in inches) – (6.8 x range in years) = BMR
  • For an adult female: 66+(4.3 x body weight) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x range in years) = BMR

Once you know your BMR, you can calculate the calories you need to maintain a healthy weight. To calculate your calorie needs, use one of the following formulas based on your activity level:

  • Sedentary (little to no exercise): BMR x 1.2 
  • Light activity (1-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375 
  • Moderate activity (3-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
  • Very active (6-7 days/week): BMR x 1.725

About 10% to 35% of your calories should come from protein. So if your needs are 2,000 calories, that’s 200–700 calories from protein or 50–175 grams. 

There are many benefits to getting more than the recommended amount of protein, such as maintaining weight, quicker muscle repair after exercise, and lowering your blood pressure. It also depends on the diet you choose

Now, let me tell you about the best way to boost your protein intake and reverse hypoproteinemia. 

What to Do About a Protein Deficiency

The easiest way to increase protein intake is by eating more protein-rich foods, and the source is of utmost importance. Regarding plant protein and animal protein, animal protein is the clear winner. 

Most plant proteins come from inflammatory foods such as soy or legumes, which are not allowed on an autoimmune diet. Also, as I mentioned earlier, animal protein has more protein content and contains all nine essential amino acids to build complete proteins in your body. 

The alarming statistic is that one-third of adults over 50 fail to meet their daily recommended allowance for protein intake. That’s frustrating because it’s easy to ensure you get enough protein through a high-quality protein powder. 

I know how hard it can be to find an excellent animal-based protein powder. I went five years without using a protein powder because I couldn’t find one that met my dietary needs. That’s why I formulated The Myers Way® Paleo Protein

While all protein powders tout health benefits, the hidden toxins and inflammatory ingredients in many protein powders, such as whey and casein (dairy), gluten, soy, legumes, and sugar, can be counterintuitive to feeling the full benefit of the protein. 

The Myers Way® Paleo Protein powders do not contain gluten, dairy, sugar or artificial sweeteners, additives, preservatives, dyes, or other toxic ingredients. They are sourced from non-GMO, hormone and antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef. These protein powders are an excellent source of essential and collagen-specific amino acids. 

I make a protein shake with a non-dairy milk substitute and The Myers Way® Paleo Protein every morning to start my day on the right foot.

The Final Word on Hypoproteinemia

Hypoproteinemia is preventable if you don’t have a medical condition affecting your protein absorption. You naturally lose muscle mass as you age, yet it doesn’t have to be that way. Getting the right amount of protein daily from an animal-sourced protein is vital in achieving optimal health and preventing hypoproteinemia. The Myers Way® Paleo Protein contains up to 23 grams of animal-based protein in each scoop. 

Article Sources

  1. What to know about hypoproteinemia. Jennifer Berry. Medical News Today. 2019.
  2. Total Protein. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. 2020.
  3. Albumin Blood Test. Medline Plus. 2022.
  4. Edema. Mayo Clinic. 2023.
  5. How protein protects against fatty liver. Science Daily. 2020.
  6. Protein and amino acids in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Domenico Tricò, Edoardo Biancalana, and Anna Solini. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2021.
  7. How much does strength training really increase metabolism. ACAP Health Works. 2022.