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Diet and Nutrition

Protein deficiency symptoms

03/24/2005

Question:

I suffer from fatigue, low energy, depression and sometimes a feeling of muscle weakness. A blood profile shows everything within normal range. I find it hard to consume enough protein as I just don’t enjoy the taste of animal protein. Could I be suffering from a protein deficiency, and if so, how much protein would a middle-aged 5’3" woman of average weight need to consume to rebuild protein levels?

Answer:

Thanks for your question.  The symptoms you describe can be from a number of different causes, which may, or may not be nutrition-related.

I cannot adequately assess your exact protein needs, but the RDA for women is ~60 grams per day.  In order to find out the exact number of grams of protein to consume each day, take your weight and divide it by 2.2.  This will give you your weight in kilograms.  Then multiply this number by .8.  The RDA for protein is .8 gm/kg per day.

As far as symptoms of protein deficiency, you may notice impaired wound healing (i.e. a cut or sore that just won't heal), edema (fluid collection) in your hands and feet or abdomen, decreased muscle mass, lethargy and fatigue.  Protein deficiency is extremely rare in healthy adults, but may be seen in situations of poverty or in hospitalized or nursing home patients.

Most Americans consume adequate protein, even if they do not consume animal products.  Although meat, eggs, fish, poultry and dairy products are the best sources of protein, dried beans, soy milk or tofu, vegetables and grains also contain some protein.  Peanuts and other nut butters are also a good source of protein.

If you do not consume any animal foods, be sure to take a multivitamin that contains the RDA for iron and vitamin B 12.  Deficiencies of either of these nutrients can lead to anemia, which could be causing your above symptoms.  Best of luck to you.

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Response by:

Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
Adjunct Faculty
University of Cincinnati