Consumer Reports purchased 15 protein powders and drinks and tested multiple samples of each for arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. Levels in several of the products could, with just three servings a day, result in daily exposure to arsenic, cadmium, or lead exceeding USP limits.
When taking into account the large serving size suggested, the number of micrograms per day for these products was comparatively high.
According to ABC 6 Action News:
"Cadmium raises special concern because it accumulates in and can damage the kidneys, the same organs that can be damaged by excessive protein consumption. And it can take 20 years for the body to eliminate even half the cadmium absorbed today."
The protein shakes tested by Consumer Reports are frequently used by not only body builders, but also "regular folks," including some pregnant women, who use them as meal replacements to lose weight and increase muscle mass.
Unfortunately, some of these products turn out to be significantly contaminated with heavy metal toxins such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury.
Of the 15 protein drinks tested, three of them contained very worrisome levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead.
Which Protein Drinks Fared the Worst?
Three daily servings of the ready-to-drink liquid EAS Myoplex Original Rich Dark Chocolate Shake contained an average of:
- 16.9 µg (micrograms) of arsenic
- 5.1 µg of cadmium
The proposed United States Pharmacopoeia's (USP) limits for these two toxins are 15 and 5 µg respectively.
The worst of the products tested was Muscle Milk Chocolate powder, which contained all four toxic metals; three of them at the highest levels of all products tested. Three daily servings of this particular brand and flavor contained an average of:
- 5.6 µg cadmium
- 13.5 µg of lead
- 12.2 µg of arsenic
- 0.7 µg of mercury
Muscle Milk's Vanilla Crème contained slightly less lead, but still exceeded the USP lead limit of 10 µg.
A fourth product, Muscle Milk's liquid Nutritional Shake Chocolate, also tested high in arsenic, providing you with an average of 14.3 µg of arsenic per day, which is very close to the USP limit.
Clearly, getting a potentially toxic dose of heavy metals with your daily protein drink is not what you had in mind, but based on these results, that may indeed be what you're getting…
Arsenic and Cadmium
Arsenic and cadmium appear to be the most problematic here, as the levels of these two compounds in some cases exceeded maximum "safe" limits. However it's worth noting that, ideally, you don't want to ingest these toxins at any level, other than what might naturally occur, as even low-dose exposure can contribute to lingering health problems.
Various toxins can also act together synergistically, creating even more potent, damaging effects.
Exposure to low levels of arsenic can cause nausea and vomiting, decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart rhythm, damage to blood vessels, and a sensation of "pins and needles" in your hands and feet. Long-term exposure has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver and prostate.
Cadmium is also a known human carcinogen. It damages DNA and also disrupts a DNA repair system that helps to prevent cancer.
According to ABC News, cadmium also "raises special concern because it accumulates in and can damage the kidneys… and it can take 20 years for your body to eliminate even half the cadmium absorbed today."
It's important to realize that toxic metals such as the ones discussed here typically accumulate in your body over time where they can cause irreparable damage. Further damage can be prevented by using various detoxing methods to remove the metals, but this can be a slow, difficult process.
Prevention is clearly your best defense when it comes to protecting yourself against heavy metals and other toxins.
A Safer, Healthier Alternative
Fortunately, preventing exposure to toxins like arsenic, cadmium and lead is possible by making sure you're eating as much organic foods as possible, and that includes your protein drinks.
As stated in ABC News' article, cadmium in particular is also prevalent in plants foods such as potatoes, rice, and leafy greens. However, this problem is mainly due to the fact that conventionally-farmed produce is frequently grown using fertilizers that contain cadmium, which is then absorbed by the plant through the soil. Organic farms do not use these types of toxic fertilizers, which prevent the soil and crop from being contaminated in the first place.
Likewise, organic whey protein produced from grass-fed, non-hormonally treated cows that is minimally processed is also an assurance of purity. And whey protein, a by-product of milk and cheese, is often referred to as the gold standard of protein.
While I cannot recommend using nearly any of the commercial protein shakes on the market, I strongly believe that whey protein powder is a very healthful supplement to your diet and an excellent source of protein.*
However, the source of the whey is of primary importance, as is the way it's processed.
Most commercial whey products are derived from pasteurized dairy and processed with heat and acid. Many are also artificially sweetened. All of these factors render them completely useless from a health perspective.
Whey from organic grass-fed dairy, on the other hand, contains beneficial immuno components, including immunoglobins, bovine serum albomin, and lactoferins, in addition to all the key amino acids and other beneficial nutrients you typically get from a high quality whey protein.*
My own product, called Miracle Whey, is made from grass-fed dairy that has been minimally processed using a cold processed, non-acid treated whey, and is naturally sweetened with Lo-Han, a non-glycemic fruit extract.
It has been my near daily breakfast for well over a year and is absolutely delicious. It took me quite a while to develop the technique to make it really great, in my opinion, so I thought I would share it with you and hope you find some value in it.
To boost the protein content even further, I sometimes add two organic, free-range eggs that I purchase from a local farmer. It's an excellent post-work out meal, and it keeps me going all morning.
The Many Health Benefits of Whey Protein
Whey protein has been linked to a variety of health benefits, including:
- Helping your pancreas-produced insulin work more effectively, which supports balanced blood sugar levels*
- Promoting healthy insulin secretion*
- Helping to promote your optimal intake of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals needed for your overall wellness*
- Supporting your immune system, as it contains immunoglobulins*
- Helping you preserve lean body tissue (particularly during exercise) as it delivers bioavailable amino acids and cysteine*
- Maintaining blood pressure levels that are already within the normal range*
But the health benefits of whey do not end there.
Whey Protein Can Help Optimize Your Glutathione Production
You may have heard of glutathione, by many considered to be your body's most powerful antioxidant.* Glutathione is a tripeptide comprised of three amino acids: cysteine, glutamate, and glycine, and is found inside every single cell in your body.
It has the unique ability of maximizing the activity of all other antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, CoQ10, alpha lipoic acid, and the fresh veggies and fruits you (hopefully) eat every day.*
It also removes toxins from your cells and protects you from the damaging effects of radiation, chemicals, and environmental pollutants.*
The optimal food source for maximizing your glutathione production is high quality grass-fed whey protein.
It provides all the key amino acids for glutathione production and contains a unique cysteine residue (glutamylcysteine) that is highly bioactive in its affinity for converting to glutathione. Furthermore, whey provides critical co-factors, which together help create the right metabolic environment for high glutathione activity.*
As I mentioned earlier, most commercial whey products contain whey protein derived from pasteurized, commercial dairy sources. Unfortunately, pasteurized milk is almost entirely devoid of these glutathione-producing compounds, so when selecting a whey product, I strongly recommend making sure your whey protein supplement has the following features:
- Whey is derived from grass-fed cows that are not treated with pesticides or hormones
- Cold processed, since heat destroys whey's fragile molecular structure
- Whey protein concentrate, not protein isolates
- Sweetened naturally, not artificially, and low in carbohydrates
- Highly digestible—look for medium chain fatty acids (MCTs), not long chain fatty acids
So keep in mind, protein drinks can be quite beneficial, whether you're working out and want to increase muscle or using them to supplement an otherwise healthy diet, but quality is everything, and drinking something that's contaminated with heavy metals won't do you any good.*
Making sure that the product you buy fulfills the healthy criteria mentioned in this article will ensure that you're getting the safest, healthiest protein supplement possible.