The Protein Mistake That Will Increase Your Risk Of Getting Sick

Protein is an essential macronutrient that plays a pivotal role in maintaining overall health and well-being. However, one of the most often overlooked functions of dietary protein is its contribution to your immune system. Not eating (or drinking) enough protein can result in protein deficiency. The consequences of inadequate protein in your diet extend beyond just feeling hungry. In fact, protein deficiency can actually weaken your immune system, leaving your body more susceptible to infections and illnesses such as the common cold, flu, and COVID, and even foodborne illnesses (via the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

A 2007 study in the British Journal of Nutrition emphasized the significance of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, in the development and functioning of immune cells. These amino acids are essential for synthesizing immune cells, antibodies, and other immune factors that identify and neutralize harmful invaders like bacteria and viruses. Ensuring an adequate protein intake is vital for both health and resilience against infections.

Understanding protein and its vital functions

To truly appreciate the importance of protein in maintaining a healthy body and immune system, it's crucial to understand the multifaceted roles it plays. Protein is not just a dietary component but a cornerstone of our well-being. It plays various critical roles that go beyond muscle growth and repair and extend into the very core of our health and immunity.

Proteins, composed of amino acids, serve numerous functions. They aid in tissue and organ growth and repair, facilitate chemical reactions, regulate essential bodily functions, combat infections, and enable movement. The 2007 British Journal of Nutrition study highlighted the critical role of amino acids in synthesizing immune cells and antibodies, underscoring the direct link between protein intake and a robust immune system. This intricate relationship between protein and our immune defenses exemplifies its significance as a foundational element in the maintenance of our overall health and resilience against diseases.

The immune system's dependency on protein

The immune system, a complex network of cells, tissues, chemicals, and proteins, is our body's defense mechanism against pathogens like viruses and bacteria (via Cleveland Clinic). Proteins are pivotal in immune function, particularly in the production of antibodies and the proliferation of immune cells like B and T cells. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology pointed out that immunoglobulins, also known as antibodies, are a diverse group of proteins critical to the immune system. For this process to work, specific amino acids derived from dietary proteins are essential.

Proteins also play a crucial role in immune signaling, with cytokines acting as signaling molecules (via Cleveland Clinic). These molecules regulate the immune response by enabling communication between immune cells. Maintaining a balanced cytokine environment is essential for a robust immune response, and adequate protein intake supports this balance. Consuming enough protein promotes the production of antibodies, immune cells, and cytokines, strengthening your immune system's defenses against pathogens.

Meeting your protein needs

Insufficient protein consumption not only weakens immunity but can also lead to various health issues such as muscle weakness, fatigue, hair loss, skin problems, edema, and impaired wound healing. Your daily protein requirements depend on factors like age, gender, activity level, and overall health. For instance, sedentary adults should aim for a daily protein intake of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, while physically demanding jobs or athletes may require 1.2 grams per kilogram (via the Mayo Clinic). Pregnant or breastfeeding women also need higher protein intake to support their growing babies, per MedlinePlus.

Maintaining a balanced diet that includes a variety of protein-rich foods, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, nuts, and seeds, is crucial. While protein supplements are often promoted as a convenient option, whole foods are generally recommended as they provide a broader spectrum of nutrients (via ISSN). Adequate protein intake is essential for overall health and immune function and should be a priority in your daily diet.