Some Protein Supplements Contain Toxic Heavy Metals

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
See more: in the news health


I'm a vegetarian and I am careful to get enough plant based protein in my diet from food. The only supplement I take in a daily vitamin. Report
I do use protien poder some but not as offten as I did . I try to get my protien from food source Report
Um, weren't people in China recently executed for heavy metal residue in milk fed to babies? Where is the FDA when we need them? Report
I use protein powder and will proably continue to use it. Once I reach my goal weight I will proably not have it as often. I need it right now because it gives me a lot of protein condensed into a small portion. I sometimes use it as a meal replacement as dinner after a workout is hard for me to digest. I also use zone bars and to me it is better then eating a chocolate bar. Report
I do not use protein supplements because I also agree that you should get your nutrients from your food first. I happen to work at a gym and have looked at the ingredient list for a lot of them and it really concerns me when I "google" one of them and I still cannot figure out what it is. I get get asked if I use them and which one is the best all the time at work and I simply give them my opinion and tell them to do their own research before making a decision. Report
No I do not. Report
I wouldn't spend the money on Protein Powder as I think it is much too expensive compared to eating beans, fish, eggs, etc. Report
I also wish there was a bit more info as I do use protein powder on occasion...I need to add protein and my fruit smoothies with a sccop of total soy help....since I don't use them daily or even in the full dosage, I don't think I'll get overly concerned right now. Report
I use Shakeology, which replaces my nutritional supplements (multi-vit) as well as helps boost protein for ST. I also like to eat Zone Perfect bars in place of OTHER junk food. I know they're not the healthiest choice but they're better than Reese's PB cups! Report
I'm a vegetarian and when I started using the nutrition tracker again I found that I really don't get enough protein in my diet. I did buy a protein shake mix, but I made sure that it was as close to real food as possible. I bought an organic product that essentially was just three or four types of whey and some vanilla flavoring. I don't know that it will be free of metals, but I don't use it every day. I still have no guarantee that it's okay, but I do need the extra protein and I really wasn't getting it. I was going way over on calcium to get within range of that bottom protein number on the tracker. Report
I enjoy a soy protein drink now and then. This report may be limited to muscle building gym shakes or not? Too little information to make decisions. Painting with a broad brush? A report like this needs to list the safe "shakes". Report
I guess it depends on whether or not you read the ingredient labels. Some of only have high quality, all natural, unsweetened protein powder, and some others prefer crap like LEAN CUISINE food. Report
My son was using Muscle Milk, I showed him the article in Consumer Report as I have a subscription of it, and he said no more Dad. He has informed some of his buddys that where using it also. With some of the other ingredients no one needs to put the heavy metals in their bodies. Report
I'm not sure about people with special circumstances, such as lap-band-surgery patients (see posts below), but according to the SP Nutrition Tracker I have never had any trouble getting a sufficient percentage of daily protein from my usual foods (including meats, soy and dairy). I have never considered taking a protein supplement, and I am very not likely to consider doing so now in light of this report. Report
I've been using Lifetime Life's Basics Plant Protein Powder-(22 grams protein per serving) -it contains protein from, pea, hemp, rice and chia seed and it tastes really good--I'm pretty sure it's safe--but who really knows these days. It says it doesn't "contain any yeast, corn, soy, gluten, wheat, milk, egg, whey, or any artificial ingredients or presertives"--so maybe it's more safe than some? It's just so easy to whip up a great tasting shake a few times a week--I don't know if I'd give it up now... Report
Well, I have drank muscle Milk, and liked the protein, but I won't drink it anymore! As for my Whey Protein powder, no idea of whether it is contaminated, they sure won't tell you on the label! BUT I only have maybe 2 scoops a week, and don't feel that is harming me. Report
Maybe we'll have to add "Toxic Metals" to our SP tracking system since you cant eat anything these days without something harmful/bad for you in it...Fish/Seafood=Mercury/PB Oil, Meat/Vegetables=Ecoli,Salmonella Processed Foods=who knows ?
Its frustrating ! = (
I have to say in the past I used diets that had me drinking two protein drinks a day with an evening meal. This is the first I have heard of this and would likely do more research if I were going to use it today. Report
I don't believe the average person needs to consume protein. For those of us who have had weight loss surgery, sometimes protein supplements are helpful. I really wish the article reviewed even more protein supplements because for those of us with gastric bands, we need to fall back on protein supplements for at least a day after a fill to get all of our protein intake. I know some bariatric physicians sell protein at their offices, but are those proteins any better? It sounds like the FDA needs to regulate these companies.

[note a large number of proteins were reviewed. I like Designer Whey also, but all the ones which are found over the counter in stores had contaminants.] Report
I drink protein supplements (and have been since June 2009). It is the only way that I can ensure that I get a minimum of 64grams of protein in a day. I was actually told by my gastric nutritionist to use supplements. A good one to use is Designer Whey. Others have told me to get my protein with "real" foods. But that is hard to do since I can only eat about 3 ounces of food at a time. Report
This is so good to know, I drink protein drinks but not any of these. But I know people who do drink......thank you Report
Yep, totally believe this article. Drank Muscle Milk for the first time last year, and you can TASTE the metal...gross. Guilty of drinking the powdered EAS protein though... Report
I agree with the nutritionist. It's best to use natural sources of protein. Report
I use protein whey powder in a breakfast smoothie to stay within my goals also. Report
I use whey protein powder to try to boost my protein intake. I would not make my goals regularly without the powder. I use it in a smoothie in the morning and it keeps me full for most of the morning. Report
I have used protein supplementation on a regular basis for over a year and a half now. Lately though I have been more leary due to studies and reports I've been reading about the whey and/or soy protein powders. So I have started to back off on my consumption of these supplements. Especially protein bars. Most of them are full of bad products. I'm vegetarian so I usually get my protein from tofu, beans, nuts and nut butters. Report
I don't use any of the products CR refers to.
I DO use Shaklee Energizing Soy Protein,
but I don't think that's really what they're talking about.
I take it as a non-animal sourc of protein,
and as a cholesterol-lowering aid,
not to build muscle bulk.
I do know that Shaklee's product testing and quality control are unsurpassed,
and I would not hesitate to use it. Report
Guilty of making the breakfast smoothies with protein powder in an attempt to get the needed protein at less calories. I usually use Soy products - is it also bad for you? Report
Thanks for the article. I am a fan of Runnersworld and they have always supported a glass of chocolate milk for a recovery drink. I think I will stick with that! Report
I stopped using them, for the most part. From what I understand, the product is not regulated, and who knows how much variability lies in the measurements. I'd rather not worry about it. Report
I use them as a meal replacement - usually one a day. Saw this info on the news and they said one supplment has the same amount of metal as a baked potato does. Report
Thanks for the info! Report
i think for the occasional user these drinks are fine. they have trace amounts of natural metals as do most things. Using them as the only source is not smart, but to supplement a varied healthy diet... i don't see why not.

I like body fortress whey protein powder on occasions. Report
I rarely ever use protein supplements. The few times I have is after major surgery and I bought my supplement from Whole Foods. Most protein supplements taste AWFUL in my personal opinion of them. Report
I don't drink protein supplements but my 20 year old son does. I will be sharing this article with him. Report
I'm a big fan of lean, low-carb protein. Low-fat milk is not lean. Nonfat milk has a lot of sugar in it (lactose). I do rely on supplements as one source of lean protein.

Bodybuilders load protein because they know it works. My own experience is consistent with this fact.

There is a group of us here on Spark People who research topics such as nutrition timing and lifting regimes, etc. and pretty much all of us are on a fairly high protein diet. Some of us use whey, others are allergic to it.
for our discussions.

My favorite protein sources are:

1) Nasoya Lite Firm Tofu
2) Poultry breast meat
3) Lean seafood (shrimp, tilapia, cod, light tuna, etc)
4) Whey protein powder (and/or egg white powder)
5) Nonfat Greek yoghurt or Skyr
6) Seitan
7) Textured Vegetable Protein

The only two brands I've used on the Consumer Reports list are Optimum Nutrition and Solgar. I like the Solgar because it has no sweeteners, artificial or otherwise.

Here's a direct link to the table of products tested and the results:

P.S. I drank my mid-afternoon ON vanilla whey shake while reading and commenting. Report
I use nature's whey protein supplement -- Greek Yogurt! you can still do your banana/berries/ice in a blender routine but use plain fat-free greek yogurt as your base instead of the fancy protein mixes. High protein, delicious, and nothing chemical. Report
Wow, that's a bit alarming! I do occasionally use protein supplements but only after really hard workouts or on days when I don't manage to hit my protein target. This will definitely make me think a little bit more about what i'm putting in my body! Report
It does make me think about it. Although, I would only be having one once a day, and it helps me to make sure I get in enough calories, because I get lazy with my meals and sometimes with my kidz appointments, I just don't have the time for eggs, toast & tea. so . . .


I think I'll continue so far. I've never had problems with them before. but, anyways. Report
I fully believe in trying to get what we need from real food. A 1/2 cup of cottage cheese has 14 grams of protein. If you get the no salt added kind there's virtually no flavor, so it works well in smoothies. I think the protein/carb/fat ratio can be a hot topic, so I'm not going to comment on that. I just do believe that anything that's overly processed (massive list of ingredients) is bound to have more chemicals and additives than whole foods and for me, is best if it's avoided. Report
I don't use them and have been very cautious about them. Report
I use soy protein concentrate to make my own protein-enriched drinks and smoothies. Should I be worried about the soy protein? What brands/sources are safe? Report
The brands they tested had other ingredients other than whey powder in them. They also take about consuming more than 60 grams a day through supplements. In my opinion the article was designed to "bash" supplement drinks and protien loading.

Not a lot of scientific information was given and apparently they are not providing the scientific testing measures after the fact (which screams illegitimate testing process).

Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.