Can Protein Cause Your Skin to Turn Yellow?

When your skin, eyes or nails take on a yellowish cast, the condition is known as "jaundice." Most common in babies, jaundice can affect adults, but often for different reasons 1. If you experience skin yellowing, you may have an underlying medical condition that may be complicated by protein intake. One of the liver's jobs is to break down proteins. While protein intake doesn't cause jaundice, it may exacerbate the condition by making the liver work harder, and reports that an over-worked, over-loaded liver can be an underlying cause 4. Always consult your physician if you have yellowing skin but are unsure of the cause.

Jaundice Causes

When you bruise your skin, the purple bruise likely fades to a greenish-yellow. You are seeing yellow pigments known as "bilirubin," which is a byproduct of normal red blood cell death. Your liver is typically responsible for breaking down these blood cells. However, if your liver does not work properly or your gallbladder becomes blocked, you can experience jaundice. While protein does not directly cause jaundice, excess amounts can contribute to conditions affecting the liver and gallbladder, ultimately resulting in skin yellowing 1.

Saturated Fats

Your gallbladder is a small, bag-like organ under the liver that holds bile, which your stomach uses to digest fats. Unfortunately, your gallbladder can work somewhat inefficiently at times, and the bile leaving your gallbladder can cause a blockage. One of the key factors that causes gallbladder problems and disease is eating a diet high in fat, according to the January 2008 issue of "Annals of Surgery." Because many protein sources, such as red meat, are high in saturated fats, overindulging in a big steak could lead to a gallbladder blockage. This blockage can become infected, which leads to a buildup of bilirubin in your body, causing jaundice and yellowing skin.


Proteins in your diet can lead to yellowing skin when you have hepatitis, a condition that causes inflammation in the liver. Your liver is the major filter for your body, breaking down proteins and vitamins in your food so that your body can use it. Normally, your liver breaks down proteins and sends them on their way to your cells and the waste to your intestines. When you have hepatitis, eating too much protein can further weaken your liver function 2. As a result, your liver won’t be able to break down blood cells as effectively and you’ll build up bilirubin that tints your skin yellow.


Your body needs protein for energy and to build healthy tissues, such as your hair and muscles. Even if protein is a contributing factor to your jaundice, you’ll still need a small amount in your diet to maintain normal body functions. Talk to your physician about protein and how it may be affecting your body. He may recommend switching from higher-fat animal sources to vegetable proteins such as lentils and soy products, which tend to be easier on your liver and gallbladder.