I’m sure by now in this day and age, you have heard about the importance of protein. Did you know not all proteins are equal as far as health benefits and disease risks? For the next few blogs, I’d like to discuss protein and make you aware of some significant issues that can affect your health. 

What you don’t know can harm you.

In this blog, we are going to start with an overview of protein. 

The Importance of Protein

Proteins in the human body have many jobs. For example, a protein called rhodopsin in our eyes helps us see light. Hemoglobin in red cells carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s cells and takes away their harmful waste product, carbon dioxide. A series of chemical reactions involving proteins makes the blood clot. Additionally, proteins give the body structure, help regulate body processes, defend against disease, maintain the body’s internal environment, and give us energy.

Protein repairs health damage from stress.

Stress is one of the largest factors today, impacting health. 78% of adults in 2015 report experiencing at least one symptom of stress. Individuals report physical and mental health-related symptoms, such as headaches or feeling anxious or depressed. They also report changes in their behaviors due to stress, such as yelling at their loved ones, constant worrying, anger, ignoring responsibilities and canceling social plans. 39% of adults report overeating or eating unhealthy foods. 31% of adults admit to skipping a meal.  Adults also are more likely to report changes in sleeping habits, and an inability to concentrate.

Stress causes tissues to break down, and protein repairs damaged tissues. Protein also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, which in turn helps stabilize mood and emotions.

For those people experiencing daily stress, protein is a very important component for stress management, recovery and repair.

Protein improves the functioning of your brain.

Proteins provide the amino acids that make up our neurotransmitters. Most neurotransmitters are about the size of a single amino acid, however, some may be the size of larger proteins or peptides. Neurotransmitters act as biochemical messengers whose job is to carry signals from one brain cell to another.

These brain cells then transmit various signals to the different parts of the body to carry out their individual tasks, such as telling the heart to beat, lungs to breathe, digest food, and to produce & release hormones.

Neurotransmitters are responsible for brain performance, cognitive function, learning and memory. It is estimated that 86% of Americans have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels.  Stress, poor diet, neurotoxins, genetic predisposition, drugs (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine usage can cause these levels to be out of optimal range.  Clearly, the majority of Americans suffer from inadequate consumption of protein.

Proteins can have bizarre names.

Conservative estimates place the number of different proteins the human body can generate at 100,000, while upper limits place that number at 2 million. With so many proteins to identify, some have been given rather unique names.  For example, the protein Pikachurin is a retinal protein that was named after a Pokémon character Pikachu. The protein Sonic Hedgehog was named after Sonic the Hedgehog, and a blue protein is named Ranasmurfin, after the Smurfs.

Protein deficiency

Protein is in each of the trillions of cells in the human body. There could be no life without protein. The only other substance more plentiful in the body is water. Approximately 18-20% of the body is protein by weight.

The results of protein deficiency can show up in many, varied symptoms. For example, poor memory, learning disability, muscle weakness, poor growth and development, tiredness, slow wound healing, and more. Without a protein called Albumin, the entire human body would swell. Cataracts are caused by the denaturation of proteins in the lenses of the eyes.

Inadequate protein/amino acid intake can also affect the body in these areas:

•Bone cell creation/synthesis

•Red blood cell production

•Heart cell turnover rate

•Neurotransmitters & mood

•Immune function/antibodies

•Enzyme & hormone production

•Skin elasticity/muscle tone

•Organ function

•PH balance

•Mobility and joint integrity

 

Dangers of Excessive Protein

Just as inadequate protein has negative consequences, so does excessive dietary intake of protein.  The body can only absorb a small amount of protein at any given time. Proteins are digested at different rates depending on amino acid content and structure. Whey and soy are digested quickly, and rapidly increase blood amino acid levels, while Casein is slowly digested and causes a more moderate increase in blood amino acid levels. Excess protein can be stored as fat and it can lead to dangerously high nitrogen levels in the blood. The blood urea nitrogen (BUN) test checks kidney function by measuring how much urea nitrogen is in your blood. If you already have an issue with kidney health, too much may further increase kidney damage.

 

(Part 2 will continue this topic.)