Some Protein Supplements Contain Toxic Heavy Metals


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  93 comments   :  32,774 Views

Protein supplementation is, and has been, all the rage in gyms across the globe for some time now, especially for those looking to build lean body mass. There is a misconception that if one increases his/her protein consumption he/she can build muscle mass at a much faster rate. In all reality it isn’t the amount of protein one consumes that builds lean body mass, but the breakdown and repairing of the muscle fibers from resistant training that does.

Excess protein consumption will not transform you into a lean mean fighting machine. If you eat more than your body needs it does precisely the same thing if you eat too many fats and carbohydrates, the excess will be stored as fat. However, protein is important as it helps with muscle repair and recovery, especially after a hard workout.

But do we really need the fancy supplements that I see the body builders downing at the end of a strenuous workout?

Studies have shown a simple cup of low-fat chocolate milk can provide the same benefits to replenishing glycogen stores and repairing muscle damage as consuming a more expensive protein drink. In a recent report published in the July 2010 edition of Consumer Reports, results from testing these supplements may have you rethinking your choice as well.

Consumer Reports had an outside laboratory conduct testing on 15 popular protein supplements in both ready-to-drink and powder formulations and discovered that “at least one sample of each contained low levels of one or more of the following heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury.” Three products-- EAS Myoplex Original Rich Dark Chocolate Shake, Muscle Milk Chocolate powder and Muscle Milk Vanilla Crème-- were the supplements found to have the highest levels of these toxic heavy metals.

While this may not seem too alarming, consuming several of these supplements per day could well surpass the limits for these contaminants set forth by the U. S. Pharmacopeia (USP). The long-term effects of these heavy metals in our system have been known to cause organ damage. And because we are exposed to heavy metals in other areas of our lives, consuming a product that is not necessary for our health only increases our exposure to toxins we do not need.

Last year when I began training for my first marathon I worked with a Sports Registered Dietitian to help me develop a nutrition program that would prepare me to take on the demands of training for a run of this distance. The first thing she told me was to get as much of my nutrition from ‘real’ foods and not supplements, including protein supplementation. She suggested that I eat egg whites, chicken, lean beef, fish, cottage cheese, tofu, nuts and nut butters. Surprisingly, this was not difficult to do as long as I planned my meals well in advance.

I will confess I have been known to use whey protein and Muscle Milk when I felt I was running low on protein. There is something about throwing in a scoop of whey protein into a blender, mixing in a little water, ice, bananas, strawberries and blueberries and voila, I was good to go. However, after reading this report, I am having second thoughts about using protein supplements. I think this is one area where the risks far outweigh the benefits, especially since I can get my protein from natural sources.

Do you use protein supplements? If so, do findings like the one from Consumer Reports cause you to think twice before consuming them?

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  • 93
    I would never drink low fat chocolate milk -- too much sugar - 11/29/2017   4:07:54 PM
  • 92
    The amount of heavy metals in protein shakes would have to be compared to the amount of heavy metals in "whole foods" with equal protein counts to decide on the wisdom of discontinuing usage of protein shake mixes. Everything in moderation is always a good rule. - 3/24/2013   11:04:15 AM
  • 91
    I love protein powder-I used to use the ones listed; - 3/7/2013   4:17:54 AM
  • 90
    I find this very interesting. I've said for a long time that I prefer to get my protein from real food, and have never bought into the protein powder craze. I know that some of my protein bars have it, but these are not an everyday occurrence. - 12/1/2012   4:32:10 PM
  • 89
    Though I would prefer and enjoy actually eating my nutrients, I do find there are days I need the convenience of my low sodium V8 shake with an added high quality protein supplement. On the average I use it once a day, 3 times a week after my early morning workouts. - 6/28/2012   7:31:13 AM
  • JULIA1154
    I like to consume real foods but do find that protein powders seem to help me avoid energy crashes and out of control cravings. My daily calorie range is fairly limited and the powders pack a lot of nutrition into relatively few calories.

    Nuts would be great for a boost, too, but I can't eat them. - 6/17/2011   1:36:13 PM
    Would be nice to know all 15 that were tested. - 12/28/2010   8:45:41 AM
    I use a protein drink mix with pea protein, soy protein, amaranth flour. It is super good with 100% of your daily vitamins, 100% organic and gluten free. It is super good and not a meal replacement just a drink mix to enhance your nutrition. I usually add it to fruit for a smoothie for a snack. I wouldn't dream of quitting using it. - 9/6/2010   10:23:12 PM
  • 85
    I get lots of protein from real food and not even eating much meat... I think that is better than the powders. - 8/31/2010   1:37:25 AM
    I get my protein though natural means like adding raw almonds for snacks. Many Americans are getting too much protein and don't exercise to create more lean body tissue. I'll stick to getting protein through food sources after reading this article.

    ~JTrempe PT, ATC

    - 7/24/2010   10:42:30 AM
  • 83
    After Jazzercise I have started having a glass of lowfat chocolate milk other than then I usually don't like chocolate milk. - 7/20/2010   11:12:32 AM
  • 82
    Protein shakes in moderation are perfectly fine. Of course you have to read labels. You better be doing it on everything. Making a smoothie with a good protein powder along with some fruit is an excellent snack or mini meal. I eat clean but I work out at 5 in the morning. I am famished after I work out and I always have a protein shake after st. 1/2 hour later I have oatmeal with some almonds and maybe a boiled egg.
    It works. I think this article is unnecessarily alarming.
    - 7/9/2010   10:17:55 AM
  • 81
    There are many perfectly fine protein powders and ready to drink shakes that are high in protein out there. If check and many of the nutritional supplement stores, or all natural grocers, you can easily find many different protein supplements - including all natural 100% powdered egg whites. I use protein supplements because by blood sugars are unstable and consuming small amounts of protein throughout the day sabilize by sugar level. I do not like red meat, or pork that much, and I couldn't possibly eat that much chicken. I do eat natural almonds though and veggie, egg-white omlets occasionally for breakfast. - 7/4/2010   1:07:58 AM
    Read the linked article, not all supplements had significant levels, so go to the chart and choose accordingly. Personally I like plain whey protein with a tablespoon of Yeast Plus, kefir and fruit. - 6/28/2010   3:09:48 PM
  • 79
    I get at least one cup of chocolate milk a day. I love it. - 6/27/2010   10:38:20 PM
    After reading this article, I hurried to the kitchen to check the ingredients in the protein I've been using to make fruit smoothies. I was glad to see that none of the heavy meatals listed above showed up in the ingredients list but curious about the whole subject of protein supplements. Here's one manufacturer's (BiPro) FAQ if anyone else is interested.
    . Interesting info that I never thought to look up before. - 6/27/2010   12:19:41 AM
  • LIZ---
    Such a bummer! - 6/26/2010   2:14:41 PM
  • PEPE865
    I drink a whey protein shake each morning that I work. 1 scoop with 26 grams of protein and a cup of skim milk. Sometimes I have a banana or orange with it. I find I don't get hungry until my lunch and then I just want a small amount. And most importantly, I don't get tired during the day like I did eating "regular" foods for breakfast. That is the only supplement I use once a day, 5 days a week. Am I in danger? I'm thinking no. - 6/20/2010   7:06:54 PM
  • 75
    I do not use the protein supplements, however, I do use the protein bars on days when I am having difficulty getting in enough protein.

    Do the protein bars have the same ingredients? - 6/19/2010   10:26:50 PM
  • 74
    They look so delicious, but I have never used any...and I am sure I won't now! - 6/19/2010   10:12:31 PM
  • 73
    Can I just say, I LOVED reading that I should have a glass of low-fat chocolate milk. :) How often do we get to hear that? Honestly, I have tried the protein powders too. I've never found one that I liked that wasn't high in in really great flavor! Now I just am not going to do it, and I'll stick with getting my protein the natural way. - 6/18/2010   5:53:33 PM
  • 72
    Interesting Nancy. I don't use supplements or shakes. I am struggling however to get more protein. I like chicken and meat it just seems like I don't get quite enough. I am almost always at the very beginning of my range. So I am trying with greek yogurt, more cottage cheese and upping my lean meat intake at dinner. Thanks for the info. Anne - 6/18/2010   4:00:36 PM
  • 71
    I have because I thought I needed it since I was planning to lower my meat intake. I get protein now from food vs. a shake. Right now that big tub on mix just sits there. - 6/18/2010   1:52:52 PM
  • 70
    I have been searching for a protein supplement because I rarely eat meat, and I don't usually get enough of it in my diet. After reading this article, I think I will stop searching. Chicken affects my sinuses and makes me itch, beef makes me feel so stuffy and bloated, and I don't eat seafood.
    - 6/18/2010   12:50:19 PM
  • 69
    I was just on my way to buy more Protein powder which I use because I'm a vegetarian and do not get enough protein. Looks like I'll need to find an alternative or limit the amount I use each day. - 6/18/2010   12:23:47 PM
  • 68
    Definitely more research needs to be done about the protein supplements. All this is based on one set of studies, by a single unknown lab (Comsumer Reports won't say what lab they used) and the report is not available for peer review. Poor science, so who's to say? Just how accurate are the results? Until there is more research, available for peer review, be aware, don't over-use it (like anything else!), don't treat the supplements like full meal replacements... use common sense! - 6/18/2010   8:36:04 AM
  • ND774748
    Nope. I haven't used supplements, but I have indulged in low-fat chocolate milk. - 6/18/2010   12:33:10 AM
    I use the EAS vanilla protein in my oatmeal. I only use a tablespoon a day or sometimes a whole scoop in milk as a meal replacement but I will definitely think twice. Good article thanks! - 6/17/2010   11:51:21 PM
  • BERNIE22
    I thank you for this interesting blog. I'm in a serious situation though. I began excessive bruising throughout my body yet primarily on my legs which is an indication of low white cell count and low to no protein in the body. I am mostly vegetarian, don't eat beans that much nor seafood because no one else eats it which leaves me cooking two recipes for dinner all the time. I learned of a jogger who died last fall due to a lack of protein in her system leading to a blood clot to her heart. She appeared healthy. Protein building isn't like a blood transfusion, it's acquired over time if there's a deficiency. Because of my exercise level, my insurance company's nutritionist told me I needed at the very least 90 grams of protein. I was only receiving approximately 8 grams. I'm truly deficient and Whey Protein from Quest is what I need to build my protein levels in order to cease the bruising. Now I don't know what to do. - 6/17/2010   8:23:56 PM
  • 64
    From my viewpoint, the wise consumer steers clear of these over-rated products. Do it the old-fashioned way: consume healthy foods! - 6/17/2010   6:05:03 PM
  • 63
    Aww...the article I have been waiting for. Thank you, Nancy! I track my food every day and I get plenty of protein the natural way. I have no intention of starting protein supplementation...especailly now. Thank you, my dear! - 6/17/2010   1:20:03 PM
  • 62
    Instead of whey or protein powder, you could put soft tofu in the smoothies. I used to make lots of tofu smoothies. They're really good and creamy. - 6/17/2010   12:47:42 PM
  • 61
    I think they're OK for the occasional use. If I use it, it's usually part of a meal replacement (e.g. need a quick breakfast just mix with milk & water in a shaker cup and grab a granola or something). It's not real food so it should be kept to a minimum. Most times I put half or a third of the recommended amount anyway, because it's still calories in the end! Oh and I totally agree most shakes are NOT convenient. There's not a chance I'll be turning on the blender in the morning and waking up my entire family - plus the cleanup is a pain. - 6/17/2010   12:39:24 PM
    My daughter was happy to hear that a glass of low-fat choc milk is just as good. I've been trying to get her to drink the shakes and she hates the taste. I think this continues to prove we over think good nutrition. I believe in 10 years we will learn that many of these special products are not only not good for us but actually bad. - 6/17/2010   11:47:24 AM
  • 59
    I love my protein smoothies, but I have never had more than 2 servings in any one day, so I am not worried (I also do not use the brands mentioned). I do have difficulty filling out my protein requirements without the supplement but I am working on that too. - 6/17/2010   11:43:40 AM
  • 58
    I use a non-GMO pea protein. It has one ingredient : non-GMO pea protein. I have one serving a day, so I'm not worried. - 6/17/2010   11:15:15 AM
  • 57
    I do not use protein supplements but I will pass this information on to my mother who does. I do not like the taste at all, but rarely have trouble meeting the protein requirement. Maybe if I gave up cheese..... - 6/17/2010   11:07:48 AM
    I have mild kidney disease, so the protein I get through my normal diet suffices. I've got to avoid taking in excessive amounts of protein. Have never tried these shakes/supplements, though I take other nutritional supplements. - 6/17/2010   11:06:52 AM
  • 55
    I do not use any protein supplements. - 6/17/2010   11:00:11 AM
  • RGRJOE175
    If I quit doing every single thing that someone considers "bad" for me,

    I would be dead.

    I read the article last week, I don't consume three shakes a day. - 6/17/2010   10:49:35 AM
  • 53
    I don't use them either. As for whey protein, from what I understand that stuff will clog up your innards. Once toxic metals enter into the body, they gravitate towards the soft tissues and there they remain. There is really no way of getting rid of them from the body unless one undergoes chelating. Even then that's iffy. - 6/17/2010   10:32:20 AM
    Its important not to believe everything you read at first sight. When I first read the article I was ready to throw out my Myoplex Drinks But I did some research and found that there research was based on three servings a day. If you are only using one or two you are well within the safety guidelines. I can't help but wonder if thats why they Chose three. I will continue to use Myoplex lite as a meal replacement for Breakfast.
    But the article did make me realize that I need to pay more attention to what I am putting into my body.
    - 6/17/2010   10:18:47 AM
    I use Vega Whole Meal Optimizer (sorta a vegan equiv of Shakeology) and my protein smoothies are made entirely by me using fruit, unsweetened vanilla almond or hemp milk, and brown rice protein--nothing crazy.

    Making your own is tastier and cheaper! - 6/17/2010   10:17:41 AM
  • 50
    I quit drinking shakes as a daily 'habit' about a month ago.
    I've been determined to get my nutrients from REAL food.
    I threw out the powder canisters....
    But, I still have about 8 ready-to-drink shakes in my cupboard that I will use solely for travel.

    Once they are gone - I'll be stopping at grocery stores when I feel hungry and nothing healthy is available when traveling.

    Grocery Stores are STOCKED with healthy choices. :o) - 6/17/2010   10:02:16 AM
    I use whey protein supplements, but not every day and only during or after my strength training workouts. I probably will not discontinue my use of them based on a consumer report. So many things are deemed bad for you, then good for you, then bad for you, then good and bad for you (case in point: eggs! They're bad, they're good, the whites are good but the yolks are bad, just kidding, the yolks aren't THAT bad, etc.)... it's too hard to keep up with everything. You just have to be mindful of things like this and use your discretion. - 6/17/2010   10:01:35 AM
  • 48
    I still love my Shakeology for my protein/meal replacement shake! Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, prebiotics... all good stuff for my insides! I won't drink any of the over-processed canned things that are sold in grocery stores (or even "health" food stores) because many contain HFCS and other unhealthy ingredients. Fillers. And waaaaay too much sugar per serving to even be considered healthy, although they sell themselves as such. Nothing has given me the steady energy that Shakeology has, and I'm coming up on my 1-yr anniversary of having one a day, every day! - 6/17/2010   9:53:34 AM
  • 47
    I use an organic hemp powder for shakes. One thing I think is interesting is how most people say protein shakes are so easy to make. I find there's just as much work and cleanup as most other breakfast and lunch foods---don't know why making a shake is considered "easier". - 6/17/2010   9:44:37 AM
  • 46
    I ocassionally add whey and soy protein powder to my smoothie and my morning oatmeal for dietary enhancement, I do not eat much meat . Moderation is the key.
    These products need more research and transparency everything in the package should be listed on the label, so we can make healthy choices and know what we are consuming. - 6/17/2010   9:40:45 AM
    I do use Whey Protein but not the ones that you listed. I use Isagenix and their Whey Protein comes from cows in New Zealand that are not fed hormones, antibiotics, or steriods. They also run all their ingredients through a triple process for ensuring the quality. I have done very well with this protein powder. It is amazing what "surprises"we find on our food!! - 6/17/2010   9:28:20 AM
  • NOIRE3
    I use protein shakes regularly and this is making me think about getting more information. As a weight lifter, my needs are different than a runner. While certainly it is better to get nutrients through real food, I am allergic to eggs and have discovered through the SP nutrition tracker that I often do not get enough protein, especially on heavy lifting days.

    Though it does appear that the article concentrates on supplements with more ingredients then pure whey. I think more information is necessary. - 6/17/2010   9:23:53 AM

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