Whey Protein Benefits, Dangers and Side Effects
Is whey protein a risky supplement to use? Does the potential for bodily harm outweigh all the good that whey protein has to offer?
Benefits of Whey Protein:
First of all, whey protein is a natural and highly digestible product. It is a high quality, complete protein and actually exceeds the requirement for essential amino acids needed for overall body health, maintenance, and growth. In an article titled “The Wonders of Whey Protein,” Marjorie Geiser, RD, NSCA-CPT, states that whey protein is often referred to as the ‘ultimate protein,’ and points out that whey protein is superior to other forms of protein because it offers more immune system benefits, has a faster digestion and absorption rate, and has better antioxidant properties. And as if this isn’t enough, she mentions that whey protein is also a key ingredient in many infant formulas and that it can serve as a relaxant and improves mood as well as increasing serotonin levels in the brain. She even states that “whey protein shows promise to help fight many cancers through its glutathione antioxidant system (GSH). Now that’s exciting!
Secondly, whey protein has amazing benefits for athletes. In an article titled, “Protein Needs for Athletes,” it explains that protein ingestion is associated with increased rates of protein synthesis, increased lean muscle mass accretion, improved strength, improved recovery from exercise, improved immunity, and decreased musculoskeletal injuries. These factors relate directly to the performance and health of an athlete. (Campbell, 2)
Sounds like a no-brainer to me. What athlete wouldn’t want to experience these benefits?
Dangers of Whey Protein Supplementation:
Just like with any substance, the danger lies mainly in the use or abuse of the product.
Most of the dangers associated with whey protein are related to levels of consumption, and often times, OVER consumption. Like the old adage says, “Too much of a good thing can be bad.”
Here is an outline of potential dangers associated with whey protein:
- Danger to the kidneys and liver: because breakdown is preformed primarily by the liver and because the kidneys excrete excess waste products in the body, overconsumption or long-term excessive intake of whey protein can tax these organs more than is necessary, leading to kidney and liver damage, or even bone loss.
- Digestive Issues: excess protein intake is linked to gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, etc. However many companies are now adding digestive enzymes to their products to help eliminate these side effects.
- Lactose Intolerance: because whey is a derivative of milk, people who have intolerance to lactose, should probably avoid this product and seek out other forms of protein. However, in the most concentrated forms such as whey isolate, much of the lactose has been removed, so even those who are lactose-intolerant can safely take this product.
- Gaining Fat: even though whey protein has the potential of aiding in weight loss, caloric intake not monitored closely can result in the storage of adipose tissue.
Other side effects mentioned by the Mayo Clinic include drug interactions, decrease in blood pressure, increased risk of bleeding, decreased blood sugar levels, etc.
How Much Protein Do I Need Each Day Anyway?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein in a healthy adult is 0.8 g/kg/bodyweight per day. Research suggests that this can easily be consumed through the food we eat.
For athletes, the National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends 1.5-2.0g/kg/body weight per day (with athletes performing moderate amounts of intense training-consuming levels on the lower end of this range and athletes undergoing high volume intensity training at the upper end).
So, simply put, KNOW YOUR BODY! Figure out YOUR safety zone for proper protein intake. If you are not engaged in a fitness program or your program is pretty low key, chances are you do not need supplementation, but rather a nutritious, well-balanced diet.
Dangers associated with this product appear to be slim as long as the consumer uses the product wisely and follows directions for proper use. Careful consideration may need to be given to individual health circumstances and current medications, so it is always best to consult with a trusted health care professional before starting a supplementing regimen.
We can all learn a lesson from that wise little nursery rhyme character, Little Miss Muffet. She was enjoying a nice snack of curds and whey when that pesky spider came along. It didn’t take her long to get off her tuffet and get the heck out of there. She probably felt incredibly grateful for that whey protein that aided her speedy escape from that creepy, menacing spider. So, what can we conclude?
Dangerous = Spiders, NOT Whey Protein!
Campbell, Bill, PhD, CSCS, FISSN. (Downloaded 3/25/2010). Protein Needs for Athletes. NSCA Hot Topic Series. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2011 from http://www.nsca-lift.org/HotTopic/download/Protein%20Needs.pdf.
Geiser, Marjorie, RD, NSCA-PT. (October 2003). The Wonders of Whey Protein. NSCA’s Performance Training Journal, vol. 2, number 5, 13-15. Retrieved Oct. 7, 2011 from http://www.nsca-lift.org/Perform/issues/0205.pdf
Matthews, Ryan. (April 26, 2011). What are the Dangers of a Whey Protein Supplement? Retrieved on Nov. 3, 2011 from http://www.livestrong.com/article/204263-what-are-the-dangers-of-a-whey-protein-supplement/
Whey Protein. Retrieved on Nov. 3, 2011 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/whey-protein/NS_patient-wheyprotein/DSECTION=safety