Hypoproteinemia refers to a condition characterized by abnormally low levels of protein in the body than what is required for normal functioning. Proteins are extremely vital and are present in the muscles, skin, and the bones of the body. It forms a part of literally every organ of the body. How protein is important to the body has been studied and published extensively. Apart from the proteins that the body gets from the diet, there is plenty of it within the body itself which is used in cases of medical illnesses or other emergency situations. The protein present in the food is metabolized by the digestive enzymes during the digestion process.
The protein is broken down into amino acids and peptides before it is finally absorbed by the intestines. In cases of a medical condition, the digestion process does not work the way it should resulting in it not being able to maintain the same levels of proteins required. In cases of burns or drainage of abscesses there is rapid loss of plasma which further depletes the level of protein from the body. This results in the symptoms characteristic of Hypoproteinemia which include always feeling fatigued and lethargic. The individual will also be prone to frequent bouts of infections. Hair loss, brittle nails, and dry skin are also some of the features that are seen in people with Hypoproteinemia. The symptoms onset is rather quick and as of now there is no standardized way of managing this condition even though there are several approaches available.
Hypoproteinemia is quite rare in developed countries where people eat more or less a healthy and a balanced diet. However, certain medical condition may affect the levels of protein in the body and cause Hypoproteinemia. This article highlights some of the potential causes and treatment options for Hypoproteinemia.
How Much Protein Is Required By The Body?
To better understand Hypoproteinemia, it is important to have knowledge about how much exactly is required by the body for smooth functioning. The Dietary Guidelines of Americans states that majority of the people in the United States eat a diet that is equal to the amount of protein required by the body. This is based on the data analyzed by them from the period of 2010-2015 and not many variations have been observed since.
If an individual for some reason is slightly below the required level of protein intake on a daily basis then it does not mean in any way that he or she will develop Hypoproteinemia. The recommended daily intake of proteins is stated to be 0.8 g/kg of body weight. This means that if an individual weighs 80 kg then the recommended daily protein intake for that individual would be approximately 64 g.
Thus for an average sized individual it calculates to around 50 g of proteins a day for males and around 45 g for females. Nutritionists suggest that approximately 10% of the daily diet should contain protein on a daily basis. For people who are actively involved in sports, are pregnant, or are into competitive bodybuilding more amount of protein is required than the stated target.
What Causes Hypoproteinemia?
Hypoproteinemia is primarily caused by medical conditions that affect the digestive process of the body or affect the ability of the body to absorb proteins from the food. In some cases, eating less than the recommended daily intake of food or severe restrictions of diet can also cause an individual to develop Hypoproteinemia. Some of the common causes of Hypoproteinemia include:
Malnutrition: It is quite clear that diet plays a vital role in the development of Hypoproteinemia, especially if the individual consumes significantly low calories and there is severe diet restriction eliminating many proteinaceous foods. Hypoproteinemia caused due to lack of proper food is mainly due to financial constraints where the individual does not have enough finances to support foods rich in proteins every day.
It may also occur in pregnant females in whom the demand for proteins is much higher than a normal individual. Some people are sensitive to sources or supplements that contain proteins resulting in nausea and vomiting. In such cases again the individual can have Hypoproteinemia. People having conditions like anorexia nervosa also are at an increased risk for Hypoproteinemia due to a significant reduction in the diet, including diet rich in proteins.
Liver Dysfunction: An individual with liver disorders is also at risk for Hypoproteinemia. This is because liver has an important role to play in the processing of proteins by the body. Thus if the liver does not function normally then the absorption of proteins gets affected. This ultimately leads to Hypoproteinemia. Hepatitis and cirrhosis are the most common liver disorders that cause Hypoproteinemia.
Renal Dysfunction: Similar to liver dysfunction, kidney problems also can lead to Hypoproteinemia. A normally functioning kidney will eliminate all toxins from the body but allows the proteins to stay in the blood. However, if the kidneys do not function normally some proteins may be filtered out of the kidneys and be eliminated from the body through urine. An individual with chronic hypertension, diabetes, and renal dysfunction are most at risk for developing Hypoproteinemia.
Celiac Disease: This is an autoimmune disorder in which the body becomes sensitive to gluten triggering off an immune response. It is the small intestine which gets attacked by the immune system of the body. The damage caused to the small intestine due to this disorder affects the process of digestion causing problems with absorption of proteins resulting in Hypoproteinemia.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease: This is a medical condition that causes inflammation in the small intestine resulting in dysfunction in the process of digestion which ultimately results in Hypoproteinemia.
How is Hypoproteinemia Treated?
Coming to the treatments for Hypoproteinemia, the treatments options are variable and depends on the diet of an individual, overall health status, age, and history of any medical illnesses. To determine the cause, it is essential for the patient to give a detailed history, have a thorough physical examination done, and undergo various laboratory investigations to come up with a diagnosis.
Once a cause is identified then the best suitable treatment plan can be for the patient. In case if Hypoproteinemia is caused due to anorexia nervosa then psychological counseling along with a healthy and balanced diet can be effective to treat the low levels of protein in the body. For people with celiac disease, avoiding the trigger is a safe option to allow adequate absorption of protein by the small intestine.
Aggressive treatments are required for kidney and liver dysfunctions and will require diligent followup by the patient. People with hepatitis and cirrhosis will require medications on a long term basis for correction of the problem. Till the time the condition is completely cured, the patient will be put on an extremely restricted diet plan and will have to completely abstain from any alcoholic products as they put heavy strain on the liver. For pregnant females with Hypoproteinemia, the physicians may offer various forms of treatment to calm down the symptoms of nausea and vomiting and allow the patient to eat a regular balanced diet.
In conclusion, Hypoproteinemia is quite an uncommon condition especially in developed countries where the protein level of an individual is abnormally low. This may result in a variety of symptoms including fatigue, brittle nails, and hair loss. Aside from dietary restrictions, certain medical conditions are the primary reasons for this condition. These include eating disorders, liver dysfunction, kidney problems, and celiac disease.[1, 2]
Treatment of Hypoproteinemia depends on the underlying cause of the condition. While eating disorders like anorexia nervosa may require psychological counseling and eating a balanced and healthy diet, conditions like celiac disease may have to be treated by avoiding food products with gluten.
Avoiding gluten will allow the proteins to be absorbed by the small intestine normally thus getting the levels of the proteins back to normal. Kidney and liver problems tend to be attended to aggressively by the physicians and will require long term treatment and diligent followups to get the levels of the proteins back to normal and manage Hypoproteinemia.[1, 2]