Protein intolerance - causes and countermeasures

Protein intolerance - causes and countermeasures

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Protein intolerance

As is well known, there are many food intolerances. Most of them can be more or less compensated for with a targeted special diet and by avoiding certain foods. With protein intolerance (protein intolerance) this is somewhat more complicated. Because protein is an essential building block that is important for almost all tissue structures and functional processes of our body. The immune system and DNA in particular are based on a regulated protein supply, which is why a protein intolerance inevitably goes hand in hand with an increased risk of disease susceptibility and damage to the genome. Our contribution to this topic explains how exactly the intolerance comes about and which steps in the treatment are essential.

Why is protein important for the body?

As a basic building block of numerous body processes and structures, protein is actually indispensable in daily nutrition. With a share of 50 percent, it is an essential building block in all cells of the body and thus has important functions to perform in the organism. Both our muscles and bones, as well as the tissue cells of the blood, hair, skin and even the body's own enzymes, hormones and antibodies of the immune system are built from proteins in their core. Protein is therefore one of the most important nutrients at all and must therefore be supplied to the body daily through nutrition in order to maintain the functionality and structural integrity of all the body elements mentioned. It is all the more dangerous if the body is deficient in protein due to a lack of protein.

The possible effects on the body are very extensive and can include the following symptoms:

Protein deficiency and its effects:
Disorders in the structure of the skin and hair cellsfor example hair loss, discoloration of the hair, wound healing disorder, eye rims or wrinkles
Muscle building disordersfor example muscle wasting, muscle weakness, loss of heart muscle mass
Organ and indigestionfor example diarrhea, reduced heart function, fatty liver, weight loss and hunger edema
Developmental disorders (in children)for example growth disorders or a weakened immune system

An insufficient supply of protein is always present when a person permanently consumes less than 0.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight a day, which can happen very quickly, especially with a protein intolerance.

What is protein intolerance?

Protein intolerance always arises when the immune system mistakenly recognizes foreign proteins as hostile substances. It is therefore an autoimmune disease in which, due to immunological misinterpretations, certain proteins that are found in certain foods can no longer be consumed without causing allergic reactions such as indigestion or skin irritation. Now there are different types of proteins in the food sector and not every patient with protein intolerance reacts to the same protein variants with an intolerance. Depending on which foreign proteins cause the intolerance, a distinction is made between four different forms of intolerance.

Chicken egg white intolerance

With a chicken egg white allergy, the patient is allergic to proteins produced by chickens. These include above all the proteins ovomucoid, avalbumin, ovotransferrin and lysozyme, which are not only found in the chicken meat but also in the eggs of the chicken or their egg white. Accordingly, neither chicken dishes nor chicken eggs or finished products made from them, such as pastries or pasta, can be consumed. In addition, people with protein intolerance to chicken egg white are usually allergic to other poultry products and types of poultry eggs. Chicken egg allergy is very common in infants and young children.

Protein intolerance: fish and seafood

As fish and seafood are known to be among the most protein-rich foods there is another possible source of allergy. In particular, the protein tropomyosin, which is found in many seafood, very often causes intolerance. Symptoms such as nausea and vomiting after eating fish dishes or seafood do not necessarily have to be signs of fish poisoning from spoiled fish or mussels, but are also sometimes an expression of a protein intolerance.

Intolerance to milk proteins

Dairy products are also known to be very high in protein. This is especially true for cow's milk products. Proteins in cow's milk that repeatedly cause intolerance here are, in particular, casein, lactoglobulin, lactoferrin and lactalbulmin. Similar to chicken egg white allergy, so-called cow's milk allergy often shows up in childhood. For example, baby food prepared with cow's milk is not tolerated by infants, who subsequently use it

  • bloated stomach,
  • Stomach pain,
  • Redness of the skin
  • and itching respond.

The milk protein allergy should not be confused with the milk sugar allergy (lactose intolerance). An intolerance, which often also occurs in childhood, but is directed against the milk sugar known as lactose.

Grain and vegetable protein intolerance

Anyone who has heard of gluten intolerance (celiac disease) is also familiar with the intolerance to plant and cereal proteins. The allergy is primarily caused by proteins in various types of cereals, whereby patients are significantly allergic to the gluten that is found in the cereals. This form of protein intolerance is extremely common these days, which is mainly due to the excessive use of gluten in the food industry. In addition, proteins in other plant foods, such as beans, can also be responsible for intolerance to plant proteins.

Causes of protein intolerance

As with many autoimmune diseases, the exact pathway of protein intolerance has not yet been fully researched. Existing pollen and food allergies seem to play a special role, which can lead to cross allergies if certain food proteins are consumed regularly. However, this does not mean that protein intolerance cannot occur separately. It does not even have to be related to the consumption of protein-containing foods, but can also be based on certain trigger factors in everyday life. Then an overview of the possible risk factors.

Nutritional factors

In many cases of protein intolerance, the eating habits of those affected are certainly not insignificant for the development of a protein intolerance. For example, anyone who feeds very frequently on gluten-rich foods such as white flour products, which are predominantly made from gluten-containing wheat flour (flour type 405), could sooner or later develop a gluten intolerance. Spelled flour (flour type 630) and rye flour (flour type 815) also have a very high gluten content. And even foods that are not originally made from wheat flour, but which rely on the gluten quality of gluten, can serve as triggers of intolerance. Overall, caution is required with the following products:

  • Ice,
  • Instant soups,
  • Ready-made sauces,
  • Oatmeal,
  • Cream cheese,
  • Ready-made coffee powder,
  • Potato pancakes,
  • Ketchup,
  • Croquettes,
  • Beer,
  • Granola bar,
  • Breaded food (for example schnitzel),
  • French fries,
  • Pudding,
  • Chocolate,
  • Pasta (e.g. pastries, pasta or pizza)
  • or sausage.

Danger: Radical changes in diet as well as extreme deficiency diets cannot be ruled out as the cause of a protein intolerance. The same applies to the consumption of alcohol, which is occasionally also responsible for intolerance.

Protein-containing substances

It should be noted that protein allergens cannot only be hidden in food. Some medications also contain protein. This is especially true for vaccines (e.g. flu vaccines). They should support the immune system with the help of appropriate protein compounds. In people with protein intolerance, however, this has the opposite effect. The proteins processed in the pharmaceuticals are sometimes obtained from chicken embryos. Medicinal treatments or vaccinations can therefore definitely trigger an egg protein intolerance.

Protein care products and cosmetics are also considered as triggers of protein intolerance. The proteins are said to mostly strengthen the skin or hair structure or, as with gluten-containing finished products, to improve their adhesiveness. In fact, gluten in cosmetics (especially in lipsticks) is not as rare as expected. And even toothpaste can contain gluten.

Genetic predisposition

Autoimmune diseases are usually determined by a special genetic predisposition. In the case of chicken egg white allergy, researchers are now assuming that about 35 percent of all affected children and 14 percent of all adult patients are to be found in an inherited food allergy or in existing autoimmune diseases such as neurodermatitis or hives. Cow's milk allergy, in turn, was associated with an immunological disorder in the release of so-called IgE antibodies, which is also hereditary. It therefore does not seem unreasonable that at least a certain proportion of the protein allergies is triggered by genetic mutations that provoke allergic reactions in the immune system against certain proteins.

Existing sensitivities in childhood

Especially milk protein and egg protein intolerances, as mentioned, often occur in early childhood. The period after the child has weaned seems to be of particular importance. In most cases, protein intolerance manifests itself in small children when they are converted from breast milk to supplementary foods containing cow's milk or powdered foods that contain proteins from the egg white of the hen's eggs. Apparently, the child's immune system seems to be particularly sensitive to the changeover at this stage, which is not surprising when one considers that the child's organism has so far only been fed on breast milk.

Children and adolescents who enjoy a more natural diet at home, but who are later increasingly confronted with unhealthy finished products and sweets, also tend to develop a protein intolerance. In this context, the body can also be an indicator of an unhealthy diet.

Unhealthy lifestyle

In addition to nutrition, other everyday factors play a role in the development of protein intolerance. For example, it is no secret that stress in many cases can trigger allergies and autoimmune diseases. It's no different with protein intolerance. Stress can not only be defined by deadline pressure, occupational stress or mental problems. Also and especially physical stress caused by pollution in the living environment or at the workplace are often underestimated with regard to allergies and intolerances. The harmful substances can attack body processes sensitively and thus lead to a weakened immune system, which is ultimately the reason for numerous autoimmune processes.

Symptoms of protein intolerance

In terms of its symptoms, protein intolerance is very similar to conventional food intolerances. Digestion problems and allergic skin reactions can be recorded as cardinal symptoms. In particular, diarrhea and stomach pain as well as hives (hives) and atopic eczema known as neurodermatitis can often be observed in the context of protein intolerance. Protein intolerance to chicken egg white can also cause anaphylactic shock.

Important: If there are signs of anaphylactic shock, please see a doctor as soon as possible! The condition is life-threatening and requires prompt treatment!

With intolerance to milk protein, breathing difficulties are often observed in addition to hives and gastrointestinal complaints. With gluten intolerance or intolerance to plant proteins, symptoms such as joint inflammation, glossitis, tooth enamel breakdown or anemia are even conceivable. All in all, the following complaints about protein intolerance are known:

    Complaints about protein intolerance:
    Allergic skin reactionsfor example itching, dry skin, redness, hives or neurodermatitis
    Gastrointestinal complaintsfor example diarrhea, colic-like abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting
    Difficulty breathingfor example allergic rhinitis, bronchial asthma, shortness of breath or respiratory infections
    Bone and joint problemsfor example joint inflammation, bone pain or osteopenia
    Heart and circulatory problemsfor example anemia, restlessness or fatigue
    Changes in the mouthfor example glossitis, tooth damage or changes in the oral mucosa

    Symptoms of a deficiency

    To make matters worse, with protein intolerance there are also symptoms that result from a potential protein deficiency. The worst forms of protein or protein deficiency are Marasmus and Kwashiorkor. While the Marasmus is particularly noticeable due to an extreme weight loss (possibly also hair loss), Kwashiorkor also makes itself felt through a hunger belly, which results from excessive water retention in the body. Other symptoms such as diarrhea, muscle wasting or a weakened immune system are also conceivable with both forms of a lack of protein supply.

    Both Marasmus and Kwaschiorkor arise from a persistent undersupply of protein and are particularly widespread in developing countries. A lack of access to foods that contain sufficient protein is usually due to permanent food shortages or poverty, which makes protein deficiency a serious health problem in the relevant regions. This is especially true if there is a protein intolerance at the same time. Children and adults in developing countries who suffer from such intolerance therefore have a particularly difficult time. However, deficiency symptoms can be observed again and again in industrialized countries in the course of protein intolerance. A targeted and timely nutrition therapy is therefore all the more important.

    Important: Optical changes such as hair loss, the edges of the eyes or protruding cheekbones due to extreme weight loss can provide initial indications in the case of a protein deficiency, but these, like diarrhea or muscle loss, are very unspecific symptoms. In addition, the symptoms, as well as the lack of protein itself, could conceal serious underlying diseases, which is why thorough physical examinations are necessary for a reliable diagnosis.


    In order to diagnose a protein intolerance, those affected best go to an allergist with their suspicions. This will first carry out a detailed medical history, within which primarily family predispositions must be determined, which indicate a tendency to develop allergies or autoimmune diseases. If there are already cases of neurodermatitis, pollen or food allergies within the family, the risk of allergies also increases. In addition, the nutritional habits of those affected will be examined more closely during the patient consultation. If you are intolerant to gluten or milk protein, a provocation test or a provocation diet also helps.

    The so-called prick test is often used for the provocation test on the skin. For this purpose, the doctor introduces small amounts of a certain allergen into the skin and then observes the skin reaction. For a provocation diet, patients have to consciously eat a milk-free diet for a certain period of time in order to discover whether existing symptoms subside through the diet. In order for the events to be recorded in as much detail as possible, it is important that those affected or the parents of the affected child carefully keep a diary during the provocation diet of all body reactions that result from the change in diet.

    In addition to the medical history and any provocation tests, blood tests are also common. Certain blood values, such as inflammation parameters or antibody activities, can provide information about existing intolerances and autoimmune reactions. Of particular importance in this regard are the IgE values ​​of certain antibodies, which are caused by an intolerance to hen's egg, milk or vegetable protein.


    If a childhood protein allergy arises due to the increased sensitivity of the child's immune system, this often goes back to the age of ten and then requires only limited treatment. The situation is different with protein allergies in adulthood. They often persist for a lifetime and cause particularly complicated symptoms. This is especially true when protein intolerance has been provoked by certain risk factors such as alcohol consumption or improper nutrition. In such a case, complications arise not only from the limited food selection, but also from chronic symptoms such as hives or neurodermatitis, which become a heavy burden for patients. The therapy therefore includes not only measures that prevent protein deficiency, but also extensive symptom treatment to improve the quality of life of those affected.

    Nutritional measures

    The most important countermeasure for protein allergies is, of course, the omission of allergy-causing foods. Allergy tests must reveal in advance which foods are to be avoided here. In addition, drinks should also be examined more closely. Smoothies and protein shakes in particular could be an additional source of danger here. Instead, mineral water, teas and harmless fruit juices are recommended.

    Of course, when treating a protein intolerance, it is not an option to completely do without proteins, because despite existing intolerance, a regulated protein supply is essential for the functionality of the body. For this reason, only the search for possible alternatives helps here. Fortunately, in the case of protein intolerance, there is usually only an intolerance to a certain type of protein, so that other protein variants can continue to be consumed. So if you suffer from a chicken egg allergy, you can compensate for this with vegetable proteins or protein from fish and seafood. In the case of gluten intolerance, animal proteins from dairy products or fish are an alternative. In addition, with a targeted product selection, gluten-free products such as

    • Amaranth,
    • Buckwheat,
    • Millet,
    • Rice,
    • Corn,
    • Locust bean gum
    • or Qinoa can be used.

    In the case of a cow's milk allergy, substitute products such as almond, goat or mare's milk are recommended. Soy milk and soy products, on the other hand, are particularly inadvisable for children with protein allergies, since the ingredients in soybeans have a hormone-like effect. This in turn could put an additional strain on the child's body, which is still growing, in particular on its metabolism and hormone balance.

    Food supplements

    A good piece of advice is to rely on amino acids in the diet instead of the finished protein. They are the smallest building blocks of proteins and can be used by the body to synthesize their own protein. In particularly serious cases, the administration of protein and amino acid-containing food supplements may be necessary. Since proteins consist of different amino acids, a targeted intake can also stimulate the body's protein production. This is especially true for protein intolerances that have already caused massive protein deficiency.

    Another recommended protein protection agent is wobenzym. The preparation supports the utilization of protein in the digestive tract and can therefore improve reduced absorption through food. There is also medicinal help in the form of

    • Papaya,
    • Pineapple,
    • Cowardly,
    • Caraway seed,
    • fennel
    • and anise.

    They also improve digestion and make the protein utilization of the body more efficient.

    Important: Dietary supplements can never be a complete substitute for proper nutrition. The preparations should therefore only be taken in extreme emergencies and with particularly problematic courses of protein intolerance.

    Everyday measures

    In addition to nutrition, it is also important for protein intolerance to take a closer look at the ingredients of medicines, vaccines, care products and cosmetics in order to avoid unwanted allergic reactions. In addition, stress and a polluted environment should be avoided. In the case of mental conflicts that could upset the immune system through psychosomatic processes, it is advisable to resolve the internal conflicts promptly, if necessary also with the help of specialist therapeutic care.

    To support stress-free everyday planning, targeted relaxation measures are also recommended. These can consist, for example, of certain courses such as yoga, meditation or Qi Gong. Regular massages and sports activities to strengthen the immune system are also important. In addition, many underestimate the impact of adequate sleep hygiene on health and stress. If you have an autoimmune disorder, go to bed early and make sure that your sleep is not affected by noise or other disturbances.


    An alternative medical measure that is often used for existing allergies is hyposensitization. Unfortunately, the desensitization process is not always successful with an allergy to animal or vegetable proteins. Only milk protein intolerances respond well to hyposensitization and may therefore be mitigated by this treatment method.

    Hyposensitization is carried out by administering milk in increasing doses to a final amount of 250 milliliters over a longer period of time. In this way, the tolerance of those affected should gradually increase. It is important that you continue to consume cow's milk every day even after successful desensitization in order to maintain the habit.

    Prevention in case of protein intolerance

    Prevention of a protein allergy is only possible to a limited extent. For example, adults can avoid risk factors that artificially cause an allergy. This means that all influences that could impair the immune system's function, such as pollution, stress or an unhealthy diet, must be prevented. It is recommended that mothers of infants who are breastfeeding only gradually replace their child's food with slowly increasing doses of protein-containing weaning and complementary foods. After all, radical dietary changes in particular encourage a sudden outbreak of allergies in both children and adults. (ma)

    Author and source information

    This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


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    ICD codes for this disease: T78ICD codes are internationally valid encodings for medical diagnoses. You can find yourself e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.

Video: Cows Milk Protein Allergy in Infants - Dr. Aliza Solomon (February 2023).