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Protein Poisoning: Could You Avoid It?

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Protein is a macronutrient that is essential for optimum health, but if taken in excess, it could lead to protein poisoning and may harm health.

Our body can get enough calories from proteins but it may lead to malnourishment because of scarce nutrients like fats and carbohydrates.

People suffer from an issue known as, Protein Poisoning or Rabbit Starvation when their intake has an excess amount of protein and lacks other nutrients like carbs and fats.

It may also lead to an increase in ammonia and urea. They may feel hungry even after eating.

This article gives a brief view of protein poisoning, symptoms, causes, effects, and treatment methods.

Symptoms Of Protein Poisoning

Following are the common[1] symptoms of protein poisoning –

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Mood Swings
  • Weakness
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Slow Heart Rate

If you have these symptoms, consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Effects Of Protein Poisoning

Protein Poisoning may cause several health problems which may include-

  1. Dehydration

    Excess protein will affect your kidneys. So you may face difficulties in passing urine. It will lead[2] to dehydration and also affects your health.

    Further, dehydration may cause problems like nausea, fatigue, and weakness.

    It will also overload and disturb the function of your liver. Eat more vegetables, fruits, and water to stay away from this issue.

  2. Calcium Loss

    Yes! Undoubtedly, protein benefits growth and boosts the development of bones.

    But excess protein can lead to some unnecessary consequences like calcium depletion.

    This may cause[3] osteoporosis, poor cartilage formation, weakened muscle coordination, and poor muscle health.

  3. Bad Breath

    Excess protein consumption has the risk of bad breath as intake of carbs is limited.

    When the body does not have sufficient carbohydrates, it has to use other sources for making energy.

    This will lead to the production of some chemicals(ketones), that give a stinky smell.

  4. Kidney Problems

    People who are taking diagnosis treatments for kidney problems are at risk[4] of suffering when they consume excessive amounts of protein.

    Proteins can make the urea nitrogen level of your body’s blood, abnormal.

    So kidneys have to work hard to flush the metabolic wastes and excess nitrogen from the body which could lead to the loss of precious minerals like potassium and magnesium.

  5. Weight Gain

    Excessive weight gain from consuming too much protein from red meat could not only cause weight issues but could also lead to[5] cardiovascular health problems too.

    When you consume excess protein, the consumed protein will be stored as fat and the surplus of amino acids will be expelled from your body and may lead to weight gain.

  6. High Cholesterol

    According to this info[6], cholesterol intake would not be more than 200 milligrams a day, but a roasted chicken breast alone contains 166 milligrams of cholesterol.

    Most protein-rich foods especially from animal sources are rich in cholesterol too.

    It may harden your arteries and cause serious and dangerous medical problems like stroke and heart attack.

  7. Bowel Problems

    Diets rich in protein and low in carbohydrates can cause unhealthy issues because you won’t get sufficient pre-biotics (a fiber that produces healthy bacteria).

    This may cause bowel problems[7] like diarrhea, and constipation. Additionally, you may also feel severe stomach cramps.

  8. Mental Problems

    Excess protein intake may lead[8] to an imbalance in the body which may result in various mental problems like anxiety, irritation, mood swings, stress, negative emotions, and depression, especially in women.

    As the levels of carbohydrates are low, it may lead to a decrease in serotonin levels in the brain.

    So you may feel low all day. If you are already in stress, that would be the worst ever day in your life.

  9. Others Effects

    Mostly athletes and bodybuilders consume more protein-rich foods like red meat and milk products to stay fit.

    But they may not know that excess protein consumption may lead to various diseases.

    Additionally, red meat could also increase[9] the production of trimethylamine, a chemical inside the guts. This may lead to angioplasty.

    Protein poisoning may also lead to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver injuries, kidney injuries, osteoporosis, and osteopenia.

    Our body gets energy from food using digestion. But these protein-rich foods are hard to digest, especially when they are rich in fat too.

    Thus protein poisoning also causes digestive problems too. Thus, it could be said that one should be mindful while consuming protein as part of meals. 

How Much Protein Can We Eat?

According to this study[10], a protein intake of 0.8 grams of your body weight will be sufficient.

Approximately, you could have 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of your weight. This would be enough for your basic body needs.

But this may slightly depend on the person’s height, weight, health status, and activities.

The protein intake range will be 1.2-2.0 g per kg of body weight.

People with kidney and liver problems, starvation, gout, and nutrient deficiency of glucose and folate-like nutrients for protein metabolism should be aware of their protein intake.

Additionally, activity levels could also decide[11] the daily protein intake of a person-

  • Physically more active people could have more protein.
  • Minimally active people could have 1 gram of protein per kilogram of their weight
  • Moderately active people could have 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of their weight
  • Highly active people could have 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of their weight

Old people should consume[12] more protein like 1.2-1.6 grams per kilogram of their body weight to prevent sarcopenia(involuntary loss of skeletal muscle strength mostly in old age) and age-related muscle problems.

How Can We Treat And Prevent It?

The treatment is quite simple. You may try to prevent excessive consumption of protein in the following ways-

  • Just decrease your protein intake, not to more than 2 grams of your weight, and add more fats, fibers, and carbohydrates to your meal.
  • If you are a vegetarian, reduce the overconsumption of soybeans, peas, and seeds which are sources of protein.
  • Avoid snacks made up of yogurt, cheese, and eggs which are rich sources of protein. Prepare a well-balanced diet plan that included all the essential nutrients.

Conclusion

Yes, protein poisoning is not a common disease. But you should be aware. You may doubt that diet plans like keto and paleo include excess protein intake, how is it safe?

Yes, they include excess protein intake but these diets constitute of carbs and fat, making them a complete meal.

Moreover, avoiding proteins entirely is not recommended as it may cause protein deficiency diseases.

Although protein is necessary for efficient functioning and good health, it is useless when other nutrients are not there.

So consume protein in  correct quantities based on your body and lifestyle or as directed by your certified nutritionist.

Sources/References

Working4Health prefers using primary and verified references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and our primary references include peer-reviewed research, academic, and medical institution studies.

  1. Ioannis Delimaris. Adverse Effects Associated with Protein Intake above the Recommended Dietary Allowance for Adults. ISRN Nutr. 2013; 2013: 126929. Published online 2013 Jul 18. doi: 10.5402/2013/126929
  2. Dehydration. Available from https://medlineplus.gov/dehydration.html
  3. What causes bone loss? Available from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000506.htm
  4. Gang-Jee Ko, Connie M Rhee , Kamyar Kalantar-Zadeh, et al. The Effects of High-Protein Diets on Kidney Health and Longevity. Review J Am Soc Nephrol. 2020 Aug;31(8):1667-1679. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2020010028. Epub 2020 Jul 15. Available from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32669325/
  5. Eating red meat daily triples heart disease-related chemical. Available from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/eating-red-meat-daily-triples-heart-disease-related-chemical
  6. Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC. Available from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/chol_tlc.pdf
  7. Valerie Nemeth; Nicholas Pfleghaar. Diarrhea. Last Update: November 29, 2021. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448082/
  8. T. S. Sathyanarayana Rao, M. R. Asha, B. N. Ramesh, et al. Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian J Psychiatry. 2008 Apr-Jun; 50(2): 77–82. doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.42391
  9. Red Meat-Heart Disease Link Involves Gut Microbes. Available from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/red-meat-heart-disease-link-involves-gut-microbes
  10. Guoyao Wu. Dietary protein intake and human health. Review Food Funct. 2016 Mar;7(3):1251-65. doi: 10.1039/c5fo01530h. Available from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26797090/
  11. Dominique S. M. ten Haaf, Ellen J. I. van Dongen, Malou A. H. Nuijten, et al. Protein Intake and Distribution in Relation to Physical Functioning and Quality of Life in Community-Dwelling Elderly People: Acknowledging the Role of Physical Activity. Nutrients. 2018 Apr; 10(4): 506. Published online 2018 Apr 19. doi: 10.3390/nu10040506
  12. Jeannette M Beasley, James M. Shikany, and Cynthia A. Thomson. The role of dietary protein intake in the prevention of sarcopenia of aging. Nutr Clin Pract. 2013 Dec; 28(6): 684–690. Published online 2013 Oct 25. doi: 10.1177/0884533613507607

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