Can lack of protein affect brain function and overall well-being? Here’s what you need to know about the link between protein and the brain.
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Effects of Lack of Protein on the Brain and Overall Health
Protein and the Brain
The brain is composed of mostly water and fatty acids. It relies on a steady stream of glucose for energy, burning through a large amount of this simple sugar each day.
The brain is a finicky eater, liking mainly glucose or nothing. It can sometimes lean on short fat compounds though when glucose supplies dwindle for any reason.
There’s relatively little protein within the brain, but none of this means that proteins aren’t important to how your gray matter functions.
In fact, the neurons in the brain communicate with each other through proteins. Amino acid neurotransmitters help the brain complete its job in keeping the body working properly and smoothly.
This means brain health and the rest of the body’s functions become greatly affected when there’s protein deficiency. Here are the different effects of lack of protein on the brain and one’s health:
1. Promotes Brain Growth in Babies During Early Development
Protein is a vital part of brain growth during early development.
Neurons may be mostly fat and fueled by glucose, but they use proteins to communicate with one another and control what happens throughout the body.
The enzymes, neurotransmitters, and hormones that carry signals and help accomplish the tasks the brain dictates are made from protein.
According to a study, protein is an important nutrient for fetal and postnatal brain development of babies. Malnutrition of protein results in smaller brains with fewer neurons, lesser RNA and DNA content, and fewer neurotransmitter concentrations.
2. Affects the Mood, Appetite, and Energy Levels
What you eat does affect the brain, alter mood, and change emotions. Protein deficiencies slow down development and lower cognitive function.
A lack of proteins depletes the chemicals in the brain that control mood, appetite, and energy levels. Protein deficiencies have also been linked to depression, anxiety, ADHD, epilepsy, and a certain type of autism.
3. Produces a Neurotransmitter That Makes the Body Feel Tired
A dense meal of carbohydrates can leave you feeling sluggish and tired as it increases the levels of tryptophan in the brain.
The amino acid tryptophan encourages the production of serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter associated with appetite, blood pressure, learning, and sleep patterns.
On the other hand, a protein-rich meal can leave you feeling alert and energetic as levels of the amino acid tyrosine rise. Tyrosine promotes the creation of norepinephrine and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that boost activity, alertness, and energy.
Eating too much protein, though, can lead to an imbalance which causes other problems in the body. Your brain may stay alert with protein, but it also needs carbohydrates for energy.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the RDA (recommended daily intake) for adult men and women is 0.8 grams of protein for every 2 pounds of body weight.
Also, consuming too much alcohol, processed sugar, and caffeine may affect the activities of neurotransmitters.
4. Lacks Production of Hormones
Many hormones are formed from fat, but some are made of protein. Hormones are a slower form of communication than neurotransmitters, but they are still very important in maintaining your health.
You need the essential amino acids our bodies can’t create to manufacture many of these hormones. These only come from food.
5. Causes the Inability of Enzymes to Work at Fullest Capacity
Enzymes are made from protein.
Protein has unique abilities to bend, twist, and shape itself into the structures that allow enzymes to work. These little industrious workers are vital to brain health.
They aid digestion so the brain gets the nutrients it needs, but they also work inside the brain too, breaking down plaque, creating neurotransmitters, and much more.
Get the best kind of enzymes in raw vegetables and fruits.
Should You Eat Protein Only?
This doesn’t mean to cut out carbs and eat nothing but protein to stay young, healthy, and alert during your workday. Your body and your brain still need a mix of carbohydrates, protein, good fats, and plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to keep functioning at an optimum level.
Most Americans actually eat way more protein than they need anyway. Most Americans eat too many carbs, too, especially the processed carbs that interfere with blood sugar and can damage the brain.
Going on protein diets which cuts out carbs entirely may cause more harm than good to the body. Balance is what the body needs, and healthy sources of all the macronutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
Best Sources of Protein
Too much animal protein can put some strain on the kidneys and deliver much more fat than you want or need. What other protein sources are there?
Plants are not devoid of protein. Plant-based protein also reduces the strain on kidneys.
Nuts, seeds, legumes, lentils, beans, and some whole grains are good sources of healthy proteins. These protein sources also contain good fats.
Carbohydrates are also important but should come from fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole foods as often as possible; not from candy, soft drinks, and processed foods.
Plant-based protein powders, like Sunwarrior Warrior Blend and Collagen Building Protein Peptides, supplement the body’s need for this macronutrient without using dairy products or other animal-based protein.
Mix Things Up Your Protein Sources
Variety is important when it comes to nutrition. Your body needs a combination of essential amino acids to create muscle, connective tissue, hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters.
Plant protein comes with different amino acid profiles. Our bodies don’t store proteins like it does fat, but it does keep protein circulating through your bloodstream for several days.
Mix up your sources throughout the week to get each essential amino acid you need in the right amount. You don’t have to mix and match proteins with each meal like people once believed, but variety often is still a good idea.
The brain and body take care of themselves if you give them the right materials to build from.
Avoid Stress As Much As You Can
Going on a plant-based diet isn’t the only means to balance protein in the body. How you take care of your physical, mental well-being, and emotional state also contributes to brain health.
Stress can also deplete neurotransmitters even when you are getting enough of the right amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to create them.
Work on reducing stress and getting enough sleep. Although we still need the hormone cortisol to function properly, too much of it can affect the body’s well-being.
Try to avoid stress-inducing factors in your life. Then again, if you can’t get rid of the things that cause you stress, find activities that help you release it.
Some people start a hobby or two to stay away from stress and create balance in their life. Others choose to exercise to keep themselves active.
Pick up yoga, tai chi, meditation, kickboxing, running, biking, or even breathing exercises to keep yourself happy, alert, and energetic when you need to be while tired and sleepy at the appropriate times, too.
Drink a Sunwarrior Classic Blend smoothie to keep you active and build muscle mass when you exercise.
Learn more about plant-based protein in this video from Sunwarrior:
The brain controls all of the body’s functions and it’s important to keep it healthy and alert. One of the best ways to do so requires people to keep the macronutrients balanced.
Lack of protein can cause damaging effects not just to the brain but to the rest of the body.
What are your favorite go-to protein sources? Share them in the comments section below!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on September 8, 2014, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.