What are the signs & symptoms of low protein?

Updated April 17, 2017

Low protein is a serious,worldwide problem caused by the lack or inaccessibility of diets rich in protein. The effects associated with low protein can have serious consequences. Little or no protein in the diet can lead to major diseases and affect other health and development problems. There are various and common signs and symptoms associated with low protein, many of which signal more serious health problems.


Protein is important in the healthy maintenance of the body. It helps the immune system to function properly; maintains healthy skin, hair, and nails; and helps to produce important enzymes in the body. Someone who is affected by low protein will likely suffer from symptoms that will attack these various functions in the body.

Common Signs and Symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms of low protein can include shrinkage in the muscle tissues and oedema, or fluid retention, in the feet and ankles. Weight loss and anaemia are other common signs and symptoms.

Serious Health Signs and Symptoms

Other symptoms of low protein can lead to serious health risks. One of the more serious symptoms is a diminished immune system, leaving the victim vulnerable to infections. Children who are affected by low protein will show signs of slow growth and development. Other symptoms can include the weakening and failure of the heart and respiratory systems. Low protein, if left untreated, can also lead to death.

Signs of Diseases Associated With Low Protein

Because low protein can attack the immune system, those who suffer from little or no protein are vulnerable to contracting diseases such as kwashiorkor and marasmus. These diseases are more common in regions where protein is inaccessible. Children under the age of 4 are likely victims of kwashiorkor. This is caused through diets that are high in carbohydrates, and low or nonexistent in proteins. Kwashiorkor symptoms include signs that are common with low protein, such as muscle shrinkage and low growth development, but also include an enlarged and fatty liver, and the preservation of visible fat storage. Marasmus is caused by semistarvation and affects all ages, though it is most common in children who ingest diluted infant formula. Symptoms for marasmus include common low-protein symptoms, along with the loss of visible fat stores.

Recommended Dietary Allowance

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein includes a minimum daily intake of 0.36 gm per pound, or 0.8 gm per kilogram, of body weight. Anything twice that amount is considered excessive. Developing children, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly, and persons suffering from injury, medical traumas, disease or disabilities need more protein than what is suggested by the RDA.

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