An Inability to Digest Protein

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People who can't digest protein are rare.

Proteins play essential functions that include everything from the creation of antibodies to muscle contraction, chemical reactions and the health of hair, nails and skin. The amino acids present in protein regulate chemical reactions and improve healing time, control blood pressure and help with blood clotting. An inability to digest protein can cause serious problems.

Signs and Symptoms

People who can't digest protein experience a number of health problems, especially long term. Loss of muscle mass, impaired liver performance and anemia are common, since the body cannot properly absorb essential vitamins. Other common signs that you are not digesting protein properly include fatigue, vomiting after consumption of protein and an impaired immune system.

Protein Intolerance

People with lysinuric protein intolerance cannot properly digest some of the amino acids present in protein. This metabolic disorder is extremely rare. According to the Genetics Home Reference Library, people of Finnish and Japanese origin are most likely to experience this problem. The disorder is genetic and hardly seen outside these two countries.

Other Causes

A very low amount of gastric acid in the stomach can make protein digestion more difficult. A deficiency of gastric acid production can occur naturally, but it's often the result of taking acid-suppressing drugs, which are used to control gastroesophageal reflux disease and bleeding ulcers. Lack of hydrochloric acid in the stomach not only prevents proper protein digestion, but also makes it difficult for the body to absorb vitamin B-12 and calcium from protein sources, according to health and nutrition expert Dr. Rallie McAllister.

Solution

There's no cure for lysinuric protein intolerance, so people who have this disorder will need to restrict their protein intake permanently. According to Gianfranco Sebastio, M.D., from the Department of Pediatrics at Federico II University and colleague, people with protein intolerance might need to take citrulline and nitrogen-scavenging drugs on a regular basis. These drugs will clear the body of any nitrogen waste caused by the digestion of protein. People who are able to digest protein can filter and eliminate that waste on their own, but people with lysinuric protein intolerance can't. This can lead to serious problems, such as seizures, cerebral edema and coma.

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