Protein is an essential nutrient required for brain cell function, building muscle and bone, hormone regulation, enzyme production, liver detoxification, growth and repair. It is a key structural component of all human cells, our muscles, hair, skin, nails, eyes, and internal organs, especially the heart and brain.
Amino acids found in protein foods serve as precursors for hormones, metabolism, vitamins, neurotransmitters, healthy thyroid function and strong immunity, especially for the formation of antibodies that help fight infections.
Amino acids from protein foods are essential to balance hormones naturally, stabilize blood sugar, improve mood, and act as a natural remedy for anxiety.
Signs and Symptoms of Protein Deficiency
- slower metabolism
- adrenal insufficiency
- anxiety, depression, mood swings
- inability to focus or concentrate
- muscle and joint pain
- skin laxity, capillary fragility
- loss of integrity of connective tissue and muscle tissue
- reduced immunity
- insulin resistance, metabolic problems, blood sugar imbalances
- slower healing
- accelerated aging
- increased occurrence of bone fractures
- hair loss, breaking hair, brittle hair
- impaired thyroid function
Protein deficiency is common in vegans and vegetarians. People who eat a strictly plant-based diet may suffer from subclinical protein malnutrition. When all animal foods are eliminated from the diet, there is an increased risk of several mineral and nutritional deficiencies, specifically vitamin B12, vitamin D, zinc, iron, omega-3 DHA, carnitine, carnosine, taurine, and various amino acids.
There is evidence that consuming a moderate amount of protein per meal (25-35 grams) is essential to:
- Improve mood, a natural anti-anxiety remedy
- Stimulate muscle synthesis, preserve lean body mass and maintain strong bones
- Reduce sarcopenia, dynapenia and functional decline
- Promote satiety, reduce cravings, and help to manage weight
- Stabilize blood sugar
- Balance hormones naturally
- Improve concentration, focus, cognition and immune function
- Reduce brain fog and increase energy
Thyroid Health. Protein is required for transporting thyroid hormone through the bloodstream to all your tissues. Protein deficiency is a common cause of hypothyroidism. When too little protein or the wrong kind of protein is eaten, there is a stress reaction with thyroid suppression.
Adequate protein intake (and consuming protein at breakfast) within an hour of waking has a significant role in preventing self-destruction or deregulated autophagy in trichology (hair and scalp problems) and cosmetic dermatology, and may prevent various autoimmune, inflammatory, and metabolic diseases. [Indian Dermatol Online J 2019;10:115-24]
A significant number of subjects (68.4%) were consuming less than half of the recommended daily allowance of protein and experienced problems like hair loss, acne, pigmentation, vitiligo, hirsutism, melasma, and premature aging. Those who skipped breakfast were found to have hypothyroidism, diffuse hair fall (hair loss), autoimmune disorders (vitiligo, lichen planus, and alopecia areata).
Biochemical individuality. Because each person is metabolically, genetically and biochemically unique, the protein requirements for one person can be quite different than the requirements of another.
Protein requirements increase with the following conditions
- Age 60 and older
- Pregnancy, breastfeeding, preterm infants
- Strenuous exercise
- Psychological stress
- Adrenal insufficiency
- Recovery from surgery, injuries, burns and illnesses
- Extreme environmental conditions
- Bariatric surgery, especially gastric bypass may reduce protein absorption and induce protein deficiency.
- Undermethylation. Those who are poor methylators do not function well on diets that are deficient or exclude animal protein.
Depression, PMS, menopause symptoms, adrenal insufficiency and chronic fatigue can disappear with sufficient protein intake.
Protein and Healthy Aging
We all need protein to maintain our health, but it’s especially important as we age. Adequate protein intake can help improve problems like fatigue, atrophy, muscle wasting, hair and skin problems, and a weakened immune system.
There is evidence that consuming a moderate amount of protein (25-35 gms, which is equivalent to the size of your palm or the size of a deck of cards) during each meal promotes muscle health, which plays a critical role in preserving lean body mass as we age.
The quantity, source and amino acid composition of proteins are more strongly associated with longevity and metabolic health than calorie restriction. [Aging Cell Journal]
Older adults may need up to two times more protein compared to younger adults to maintain muscle for strength, energy and activities of daily living. One study found that those age 65 and older who got more than 20% of their calories from protein reduced their risk of dying from any disease by 28%, while their risk of dying from cancer went down by 60%.
Those age 50 and older need enough protein to combat sarcopenia, dynapenia, frailty, functional decline, and to keep muscles and bones strong. [Cell Metabolism]
Sarcopenia = age-related loss of muscle or muscle wasting
Dynapenia = age-related loss of muscular strength
Several clinical studies have also shown that branch chained amino acid (BCAA) supplements reduce sarcopenia in elderly people and exert beneficial effects on body fat and glucose metabolism by increasing mitochondrial biogenesis and muscle function. Protein and BCAA supplementation along with resistance-strength training exercise is an effective strategy to improve muscle mass and physical performance, and decrease frailty by preventing sarcopenia.
Another study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, randomly selected 96 participants over the age of 65 that consumed more than one gram of protein for every kg of body weight for six months. After six months, they had lost an average of 18 pounds with 87% of fat loss coming from the stomach, hips, thighs and rear without losing muscle mass.
Protein, Blood Pressure and Stroke. A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that participants consuming the highest amount of protein (an average of 100g protein/day) had a 40% lower risk of having high blood pressure. Another study published in the journal Neurology found that those with diets higher in protein were 20% less likely to develop a stroke.
Quality Matters! It’s crucial to emphasize only high-quality, organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, non-GMO, wild, sustainable sources of meat, poultry, eggs, shellfish, seafood, fish, organ meats and other protein sources.
You eat what the animal ate. Conventional, factory-farmed protein is loaded with hormones, steroids, antibiotics, glyphosate, pesticide contaminants, genetically modified corn and soy, plastic pellets and other chemical additives that will cause hormonal havoc, increased estrogen, a disrupted microbiome, digestive problems, increased inflammation, and compromised health.
Studies have suggested that a high intake (more than 200gm/day) of factory-farmed animal protein, red meat and processed meats (sausages, luncheon meat and cold cuts) significantly increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease mortality and diabetes.
Sources of Protein
Animal Protein: beef, lamb, wild game, organ meats, liver, fish, seafood, sardines in water, cheese, whey, collagen, organic, grass-fed, pastured full fat plain yogurt, poultry, eggs
Vegan and Vegetarian Sources of Protein: peas, lentils, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, hemp protein, non-GMO organic pea protein. Vegetarians generally consume a lot of grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, which contain lectins. Lectins can be problematic and inflammatory for some people, especially those with digestive problems, leaky gut, celiac disease, IBS, colitis, hormonal imbalances, Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune disorders. Soaking, rinsing and cooking will deactivate some of the anti-nutrients making them easier to digest.
Protein, Hydrochloric Acid and Digestion. Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is essential to protein digestion. HCl is also required for assimilation of vitamin B12, folate and 15 minerals, and to destroy any microorganisms that might be in the food. Poor protein digestion increases undesirable intestinal flora resulting in putrification and auto-toxicity. Lack of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) production known as hypochlorhydria is more common than not. Supplementation with Digestzymes or Hydrozyme in the middle of the meal may be beneficial for you.
I can personally attest that a balanced intake of protein (and, sufficient stomach acid to breakdown the protein) in my clientele has made a huge difference in their mood, energy, body composition, immunity, thyroid function, and their overall health and well-being.