One thing worth briefly noting: Protein is not good nor bad. It is important and needed in the proper proportions (and quality) for the body to work well.
Protein is made up of various combinations of the 20 common amino acids. They are divided into 2 groups, essential and non-essential. The essential ones are those that are essential to get from food because your body doesn’t make them. The non-essential amino acids are able to be made in your body from other raw materials. Protein makes up a great deal of components in your body ranging from the external skin, hair and nails to the more internal hormones, enzymes and antibodies (just to name a few).
It seems that nearly everyone is convinced that they need more protein. Whatever the problem, protein is the (supposed) answer. I used to own a health food store and always had people coming in wanting the latest magical protein powder to fix whatever they were struggling with. A few of these people were doing intense exercise, but most were not. Not one of them had been diagnosed with a protein deficiency, but yet they were all convinced that protein would help their weight, pain, sleep, headaches or anything else.
The RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for protein is .36 grams/lb. This is the amount that you need to maintain (not lose) muscle mass. This number is not customized for an individual’s needs.1 However, the general point is that if you weigh 150 lbs, you need about 54 grams of protein. Protein needs can vary to some degree but most people do not need to add extra protein to their diet.
What happens if you don’t get enough protein?
With even a standard American diet (SAD), protein is rarely deficient as even the SAD diet is usually at least 15% protein.2 Of course, the quality of the protein can be an issue, but few people are truly suffering from a significant lack of protein. That said, not getting enough protein is possible and has many ill effects, including:
- Fighting infections. A lack of protein hinders the immune system and makes you more susceptible to illness and also makes it more difficult to fight illness when it comes.3
- Issues with hair. Hair loss or a lack of strength in the hair can result when protein is low.4
- Impaired mental health. Protein intake that is too low can invoke mental health issues ranging from moodiness and sadness to major depression.5 This issue is present in adults but even more of a concern for children and adolescents.
What happens if you get too much protein?
This is a more common problem in the US. Too much protein can cause many issues. However, as with anything, it’s important to note the quality of protein consumed. There is a big difference to the body when comparing fried chicken with organic beans or lentils. That said, protein excess has many ill effects, a few of them being:
- Weight gain and obesity. Many studies concur that too much protein makes it difficult to reach or maintain ideal bodyweight.6, 7
- Burden on the kidneys and liver. Excessively high protein diets make some of the body’s main detox organs work extra hard to process all the added protein.8 Kidney disease can even result from this diet over time.9
- Increased risk of many diseases. In addition to kidney disease, those on a high protein diet are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer.10, 11, 12
The takeaway is that balance is key.
A deficiency in good quality protein leaves your body lacking what it needs to continue basic metabolic and other functions. On the other hand, when it comes to protein “too much of a good thing” becomes harmful and thus counterproductive.
If you are interested in learning more about how your incredible body works and the best ways to nourish it, be sure to check out New Hope Health on social media or reach out to the clinic if you’d like to schedule a consult: 269-204-6525.
1. Carbone JW, Pasiakos SM. Dietary protein and muscle mass: Translating science to application and health benefit. Nutrients. 2019. doi:10.3390/nu11051136
2. Stipanuk MH, Caudill MA. Biochemical, Physiological and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition. Fourth. Elsevier; 2019.
3. Li P, Yin YL, Li D, Kim WS, Wu G. Amino acids and immune function. Br J Nutr. 2007. doi:10.1017/S000711450769936X
4. Guo EL, Katta R. Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatol Pract Concept. 2017. doi:10.5826/dpc.0701a01
5. Khan A. Health complication caused by protein deficiency. J Food Sci Nutr. 2017. doi:10.35841/food-science.1000101
6. Hernández-Alonso P, Salas-Salvadó J, Ruiz-Canela M, et al. High dietary protein intake is associated with an increased body weight and total death risk. Clin Nutr. 2016. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2015.03.016
7. Smith GI, Yoshino J, Kelly SC, et al. High-Protein Intake during Weight Loss Therapy Eliminates the Weight-Loss-Induced Improvement in Insulin Action in Obese Postmenopausal Women. Cell Rep. 2016. doi:10.1016/j.celrep.2016.09.047
8. Delimaris I. Adverse Effects Associated with Protein Intake above the Recommended Dietary Allowance for Adults. ISRN Nutr. 2013. doi:10.5402/2013/126929
9. Kalantar-Zadeh K, Kramer HM, Fouque D. High-protein diet is bad for kidney health: unleashing the taboo. Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2020. doi:10.1093/ndt/gfz216
10. Virtanen HEK, Voutilainen S, Koskinen TT, Mursu J, Tuomainen T-P, Virtanen JK. Intake of Different Dietary Proteins and Risk of Heart Failure in Men. Circ Hear Fail. 2018. doi:10.1161/circheartfailure.117.004531
11. Fontana L, Klein S, Holloszy JO. Long-term low-protein, low-calorie diet and endurance exercise modulate metabolic factors associated with cancer risk. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006. doi:10.1093/ajcn/84.6.1456
12. Sourbeer KN, Howard LE, Andriole GL, Moreira DM, Freedland SJ, Vidal AC. PD31-01 METABOLIC SYNDROME COMPONENTS AND PROSTATE CANCER RISK: RESULTS FROM THE REDUCE STUDY. J Urol. 2014. doi:10.1016/j.juro.2014.02.2260
Nothing said or implied in this post is intended to treat, cure, diagnose or prevent any disease. It does not take the place of a qualified health care practitioner and is intended for educational purposes only.