Protein deficiency is rare in the United States, but it can affect seniors the most. The reason is people in their 70s and beyond tend to eat less than they did when they were younger, so a byproduct of that is not taking in enough protein.

Making sure you or a loved one is getting an adequate amount of protein daily can help ward off some serious health problems.

Beth Abraham Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing looks at the signs of protein deficiency and how you can make sure that it doesn’t become an issue for you or an elderly friend or family member.

Who Is Susceptible to Protein Deficiency?

Along with seniors, those with digestive issues like Celiac or Crohn’s disease are at risk as are vegans and vegetarians if they don’t get enough protein from non-meat sources.

Signs of Protein Deficiency

Protein helps build and maintain muscle, so early signs include weakness and fatigue. Moderate protein deficiency becomes more worrisome, as muscles can atrophy, hair can thin, and nails can become brittle. Once a severe deficiency sets in, serious problems like stomach bloating, liver failure, and thinning bones can develop.

How to Avoid It

It’s simple: eat more protein! It’s recommended that generally healthy people have around 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, so someone weighing 150 pounds should have 54 grams per day.

If a deficiency is present, doctors will typically instruct patients to eat more protein and see if symptoms improve. Great sources include lean meat like chicken or poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, eggs, dairy products, and whole grains like quinoa.


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