Protein Poisoning (Rabbit starvation) – What Is It and What You Should Know.


We’ve all heard of the widely popular protein diets (and quite a number of us have followed them). Their menu includes almost exclusively protein foods: meat, fish, eggs, milk, nuts and protein supplements. Carbohydrates and fats are excluded from these diets, only some vegetables low in carbohydrates are allowed. We will not discuss the nature of this type of diets, but we will cover the opposite side of the coin – namely, the danger, called “protein poisoning”.

Proteins should be consumed in moderation.

Each of us has heard not so good (or downright bad) things about fat and carbohydrate foods (in particular for refined sugars and starches), but you may not have thought it’s possible for proteins, which are such an essential part of our bodies.

Proteins perform some of the most important functions in the human body – they build muscles, hair, skin and nails.
Enzymes, hormones, hemoglobin, antibodies, – they are all made mainly of protein. Everyone knows that amino acids are also extremely important for the young adolescent body.
All of these are established facts. The proteins have a crucial role in maintaining the body, however, they are required in much smaller quantities than the quantities an average person consumes.

If proteins are so important for the body, why an increased protein intake is not leading to more benefits for us?

You may heard the famous saying that: “too much of a good thing is not a good thing”. All nutrients absorbed by the body, including proteins, must be used (absorbed and metabolized), stored or eliminated from the body system.
If you take more protein than can be absorbed by the body, the excess is converted and stored as fuel for the body.
In the same time, there is a production of toxins, a nitrogen-containing sub-products and waste elements, which are eliminated through the kidneys.

In such cases, there is an increase in the quantity of nitrogen in the blood. The excess nitrogen affects the working capacity of the muscles, resulting in the production of toxic nitrogen metabolites responsible for muscle fatigue.

Partially or incompletely digested protein cannot be absorbed by the body and the toxic by-products enter into the blood stream.

High-protein diets and their health hazards

When the body is exposed only to protein source of nutrients for the procurement of the daily calories and is devoid of carbohydrates, it draws its energy from the fat stores. This diet and its results have been reported predominantly in patients with obesity: BMI ≥ 30 and a combination of risk factors (high levels of triglycerides and cholesterol) in the study group really observed relatively quick and easy weight loss.

High-protein diets, however, should be used only under strict medical supervision, because it’s not completely safe for health. As we mentioned previously, the degradation of proteins leads to the release and accumulation of large amounts of metabolic products of the proteins, which are then eliminated by the kidneys, which greatly hampers their normal function.

It is not advisable to start such diet without checking whether your kidneys function normally – laboratory tests and diagnostic imaging may be required and are made at the discretion of your physician. In conducting such a diet, there are risks of hypoglycemia and hypovitaminosis , and lack of essential fatty acids ( EFAs ). These complications lead to rapid tiredness, significant fatigue, lack of concentration and inability to work.

It is not recommended a high-protein diet to be practiced for more than one month. It is contraindicated in children, adolescents, pregnant and lactating women, people with diseases of the kidneys, liver, and heart, diabetics taking sulfa agents or insulin and elderly.

Without proper nutrition under medical supervision, you will quickly regain the lost weight after the diet.

The Experiment of Stefansson and Anderson

An interesting study done in 1928 is the story of Dr. Stephenson (Dr. Vilhjalmur Stefansson) – Canadian ethnologist of Icelandic origin. He spent nine years with the Inuit (Eskimos), during which time he eats only meat and fish.

Stephenson, along with his friend Anderson, later agreed to a special experiment – they will not eat anything but meat for one year under the strict supervision of a team of doctors. The diet includes neither fish nor vitamins or dietary supplements. Only allowed are tea and coffee.

The meat used in the study includes muscle and organ meat from beef, lamb, pork and chicken. At the beginning of the experiment they are given only lean meat without fat.
Stephenson warns the medical team, that the consumption of meat and fat during his stay at the Inuit had been critical of his condition, but is resigned to the initial choice of the doctors.

Then both participants develop severe indigestion only after a few days of the start of the study. At the urging of Dr. Stephenson to their menu urgently was added fat meat and lard and miraculously all complaints disappear after only two days.
According to the survey results, the two men consumed an average of 800 grams of meat per day, divided into 3-4 doses.
The amount of protein ingested daily was in the range of 100-140 g , fat – 200-300 grams , and carbohydrates – 7-12 gr.

The diet is composed of 15-25 % protein, 75-85 % fat and 1-2% carbohydrates.

Research results after 12 months are as follows: no evidence of any subjective or objective physiological or psychological changes.

No signs of decay or other changes in the teeth. The gingivitis, which Stephenson had prior to the experiment, has disappeared completely. Digestion and excretion is also regularly.

Both participants lost a few kilograms, despite the calorie intake of about 2500-3000 kcal per day. The Blood pressure of Stefansson remains constant throughout the study ( 105/70 mm) , while that of Andersen drops from 140/80 mm before the start of the experiment, to 120/80 mm at its end .

There wasn’t any fatigue and tiredness, or signs of hypovitaminosis , although the diet is highly acidic and rich in calcium. Anderson reported that his hair loss has stopped shortly after starting the diet, and Stephenson notes that his hair becomes thick and healthy.

The acetone bodies in the blood (acetone, acetic acid and beta- hydroxybutyric acid ) ranged between 0.4 – 7.2 g, and the maximum registered excretion was 12.3 g, acidity in urine is 2-3 times higher than normal , as it was expected.
Generally, there wasn’t detected any changes in the kidneys, despite the fact that they were both in a state of ketosis, most of the time.

One of the participants in the medical team that controls the initial study visits Stephenson in 1935 ( 7 years after the experiment ) and after the review he found that the scientist who after one year long study returns to normal diet, was 14 pounds heavier, his hair is thick and healthy as before, he is suffering again from gingivitis, and his blood pressure was 120/80 mm.

Then, as now, the idea that someone can survive by consuming only meat is absurd. This experiment radically contradicts everything that is known about the effects of a high-protein diet on the body, and its long-term effects on metabolism.

Perhaps this story should be seen only as an exception to the rule that confirms it, but we should not forget that in the regime of the two doctors was included source of animal fat, responsible for most calories , making this diet ketogenic.

What is Protein poisoning?

Protein poisoning also called Rabbit starvation is real and potentially dangerous, even fatal in extreme cases. The good news is that it is treatable and can be easily prevented.
It occurs when there is a high intake of animal protein and lack of carbohydrates and fats in your daily menu. The medical term describing this condition is proteinosis.

At increased intake of animal proteins, the blood is acidified by the co-products of protein metabolism. On the other hand, the absence of fat hinders the processing of the proteins by the liver and the kidneys, which leads to an excess of protein.

What are the symptoms of protein poisoning

This excessive protein accumulation in the body and the subsequent protein poisoning may lead to serious health problems,which can manifest itself differently in different individuals, with the occurrence of the following symptoms:

  • nausea
  • heartburn
  • weakness and fatigue
  • low blood pressure
  • headache
  • burning and drying of the lips
  • mouth and throat
  • skin and nasal symptoms
  • and some other symptoms of food intolerance resembling allergy

In cases of proteinosis or acute protein poisoning, a sense of generalized pain may occur. The saturation of the cells with acidic products, due to excessive protein intake, can even lead to acidosis, coma and death.

In the most extreme cases, an increase and enlargement of existing tumors, organ failure, muscular dystrophy, and death is observed, but the chances for the occurrence of one of these extreme complications are still quite small. This condition is easily prevented and treated.

Such an extremely large ratio of protein to carbohydrate + fat is difficult to reach in normal circumstances. It is necessary to consume 7 times greater amount of protein, than the combination of carbohydrates and fats.
However, if the protein poisoning occurs, it is sufficient to add more fat and carbohydrates in the food to achieve a return to the normal in a few days or weeks.

Proteins are not a bad thing – the bad thing, is the unilateral and monotonic diet. The diet should contain three main components: proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Consequences of protein poisoning

Various types of degenerative disorders of many organs are either directly or indirectly caused by the protein poisoning. One of these is the cancer.

According to one theory, the cancer occurs in the presence of excess protein in the body, which is involved in side reactions, leading to the production of toxic substances, and they in turn are leading to loss of control on the normal cell cycle.

When this happens, the cells begin to divide uncontrollably. It is known that in the cell genome, oncogenes are normal genes responsible for the expression of proteins involved in normal cellular functions, and only in some cases can become oncogenes, i.e. their expression leads to a new, altered cellular functions, and hence to onco-transformation of cells and tissue respectively .

It is believed that the function of oncogenes can be “activated” and “deactivated” by altering the amount of protein reaching to the cells.

Protein poisoning can cause the occurrence of arthritis. It is aggravated by excessively high levels of inorganic minerals in the diet. High protein levels are closely associated with high levels of urea (uric acid ) in the blood .
It is known, that urea has a “corrosive” effect on cartilage and joint tissue. Lowering protein intake is the first step that must be taken to prevent arthritis.

Heart disease, diabetes and many other diseases can be directly or indirectly related to the consumption of animal proteins. Very often during the heat processing proteins undergo microstructural changes that may make them unsuitable for full use and satisfaction of the cellular needs.

Consumption of large amounts of animal proteins results in increased acidity of the fluids inside the body, which is a direct cause of the osteoporosis, and the damage to teeth.
The reason is that the body compensates for its acid-base equilibrium by leaching calcium from the bones and teeth, in order to restore the mineral balance.

Most people think that, when they are using more protein in their diet, this protein “will go” directly to build a strong and healthy muscles. The truth is that the body uses the amino acids of these proteins for construction of many other structures, besides the muscles.Ingested proteins must be broken down to individual amino acids before being used in anabolism. This process takes place in the gastrointestinal tract and requires time for them to be converted into usable protein macromolecule monomers – amino acids.

If we follow this logic, many vegetables and fruits contain in itself the protein in more usable form that can be assimilated by the body (such as short-chain proteins and amino acids) than a good steak, for example.
Thus the body performs less work to assimilate them. On the other hand, Proteins of animal origin, which are rapidly absorbed into the blood stream and metabolized rapidly, are causing the release of high concentrations of toxic nitrogen products.

Unexplained vomiting and loss of appetite are indicators of protein poisoning. If these symptoms are accompanied by a large amount of nitrogen in exhaled air, a possible presence of renal impairment can be diagnosed.

When you eat more meat – you are losing more bone mass

For most people, with a “traditional” diet, with the process of ageing, there will be loss of bone mass or the so-called osteoporosis.

Bone loss is usually present in older women or those in menopause. Almost everyone, however, whose diet is full of protein, is threatened by this in one way or another. This includes young people, even children.
This condition occurs due to the loss of calcium caused by its extraction from the bones in order to meet the metabolic demands of the body.

This is because at a higher intake of protein the body excretes more calcium. Studies show that protein intake, higher by 50% than necessary, causes the loss of 1% of bone mass per annum. This means that 25 year old young woman can lose over half of their bone material until it reaches 75 years of age, if they continue to take a large amount of protein in their diets.
And almost every man and woman reaches such excess in your daily intake of protein. Bone loss affects about 98% of the world population.

What are the dangers?

One of the signs affects the teeth and below the gum-line of the oral cavity. When you lose bone tissue from the jaws, your teeth are losing its stable support and will start to degrade and fall. Most problems with the gums and teeth are due to this reason.

Another very commonly observed damages from the loss of bone tissue are fragile bones and susceptibility to fractures in older people, even at minimal injuries. Particularly susceptible to this process are the femurs which “don’t withstand”, even under their own body weight, particularly in adult women.
Protein excess – damages the normal functions of the kidneys

If the ingested protein is not needed by the body for synthesis of the body structures or recovery, it is subjected to a transformation process in the liver, known as deamination. In which process it generates a nitrogen-containing and non-nitrogen co-products.

The nitrogen co-products as such are subject to a series of chemical changes and are transformed into urea, and then excreted by the kidneys. Excess amounts of consumed protein overload the liver and the kidneys. Their function is to remove excess acids (deaminated groups) from the substances.
At high-protein diet kidneys are subjected to overload, while trying to eliminate all the toxic co-products of protein metabolism.

Significantly, in the western world early renal impairment doesn’t surprise doctors, as protein intake normally exceeds body needs. The condition is complicated by the more complex proteins, which when decaying generate a higher amount of amino acids. This is a common characteristic exactly for the animal proteins.
It turns out that in middle-aged people, normal renal function is the exception rather than the rule. When modified diet by reducing the protein intake is possible to alleviate the work of the kidneys to a level at which they are able to maintain the level of the waste nitrogen products in the blood within a normal range.

The increased amount of urea in the blood is a predisposing factor for the development of gout or arthritis later in life. Both conditions are invariably associated with excessive consumption of proteins.

Persons with renal disorders, who are not on dialysis, are advised to avoid excessive consumption of protein, as this affects their condition and can result in an inability of the body to get rid of harmful by-products.
Normal renal function deteriorates with age due to the gradual loss of nephrons in the kidney. For this reason, a 90 -year-old man cannot safely consume the same amount of protein as a 20-year-old young man.
Primary causes of renal impairment are:

  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • untreated high blood pressure

and the use of certain analgesics such as:

  • ibuprofen
  • aspirin
  • paracetamol
  • acetaminophen

Other kidney diseases can be inherited and possibly get worsen with ageing.
The diagnosis of renal impairment is carried out with blood tests that establish the concentration of creatinine and urea in the blood. The methods of diagnostic imaging are also used.

Can proteins cause tumors and cancer?

In 1982, a link between the increased consumption of proteins and malignancies is suspected. The cancer develops slowly and generally becomes more frequent occurrence with age.

It can be said that we “invite” cancer in the body with every bite processed, refined and canned foods. There is a link between high protein diets and certain types of cancer, such as those of the breast, prostate and colon.
The correlation of Cancer with the large amount of fat consumed in food is old news, but it turns out that this is also the case with proteins. In colon cancer there is an interaction between the combination of fat and protein with the available resident intestinal microflora.

This connection has been detected in tumors of the breast, prostate, pancreas, kidney and ovary. Not only animal proteins, but all proteins in highly concentrated form have the potential to be carcinogens.
Even vegetable proteins generate nitrogen (and subsequently nitrosamines) in the processes of decomposition and decay in the digestive system. Nitrosamines are among the chemicals with the highest carcinogenic potential.
Malignant tumors require amino acids for its growth, which are produced only from the protein foods. Some scientists describe tumors as “trap” for excess nitrogen in the body. It was found that when there is an intake of concentrated protein, there is 2 times faster tumor growth, than normal.

Many newly diagnosed cancer patients are advised to limit protein intake, including high protein plant foods – peas, soybeans, beans, etc.

The amount of protein that the cancer cells require is about 10 times greater than that of the healthy cells.
It was found that the average American woman consumes 50 % more, and the average American man – 100% (!) more protein than the recommended daily allowance (which is generally higher to ensure the intake of all essential nutrients). Many people consume even more protein.

Athletes and hard training athletes, bodybuilders and others generally are big consumers of protein. People mistakenly believe they are the main source of energy, while parallel they lower the intake of carbohydrates, which are actually the main energy source. Yes – thereby you are losing weight quickly, but at the same time you are losing . .. health.

When the body does not get enough carbohydrates to generate energy, it uses proteins for this process. This is a complex multi-step process for the conversion of proteins into carbohydrates and is accompanied by loss of resources, calories, and weight.

In these restructuring processes, however, body generates very toxic co- products with acidic character – urea, uric acid, adenine and others, which outside normal quantitative limits are causing degradation of tissues – gout, liver failure, kidney, digestive and endocrine disorders, arthritis, even hallucinations.

We can’t fool our bodies!

High-protein diets which are practiced in order to lose weight are based on “deceiving” your body. Instead of receiving carbs as fuel (which is the natural way), it receives proteins that generate acidic products which through a very difficult process are converted in the body.

It’s like pouring water into the gas system of the car and hope that your body will be able to convert it into usable fuel of good quality. And your body really is trying, but cannot be “fooled” to prefer “burning” of proteins instead of carbohydrates.

In a controlled study, carbohydrate rich food (potatoes, fruit, etc. . .), was replaced entirely with protein for some of the participants.

After a few days this group really lose some weight, but also developed a huge appetite for carbohydrates, followed by uncontrolled intake of sugary and starchy foods, hence – quick regain of the lost weight.

The ultimate high-protein diet

What could be worse than a high-protein and low-carbohydrate diet? The answer is entirely protein diet.

Although it sounds incredible, thousands of people in the late 70’s of last century practiced high-protein diet for weight loss, which had nothing else included in its composition, except highly processed liquid animal protein, sugar, and artificial colors.

Called “liquid protein“, this product contains extract of cow hooves and other waste products from slaughterhouses. This “protein” (virtually unusable residues left over from packaging of meat) was liquefied or molten and then artificially scented with aromas of cherry or grape.

Unfortunately, not only weight loss became fact, but also the loss of health as there was symptoms like: – nausea, vomiting, dehydration, muscle cramps, dry skin and hair loss.

“Liquid protein” triggers almost undetectable, but potentially dangerous heart problems, disruption of mineral balance, dramatically lowering of potassium levels and hence subsequent arrhythmias and abnormal heart rhythms. Fortunately nowadays such products have no place on shelves.

The most important conclusion is that you should not exceed for long the consumption of more than 1.5 grams of protein per kg body mass.

What do you think about protein poisoning? Do you take protein shakes and do you use protein in moderation or you are a heavy protein user? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Jessy Donston
Jessy Donston is a dedicated blogger, occasional freelance writer, co-author and editor of several health and food blogs, with a strong belief that we all should have healthy lifestyle and live in a clean environment. His mission is to educate other people and help them to achieve health naturally and thus be happy as much as possible in their lives, because if you have a steady health, then you will certainly be happy and will help make others happy too. The more happy people are out there, the better the world will be, as a place to live in.