Is whey protein bad for you?

one of the many whey protein supplements on the market

One of the many whey protein supplements on the market

Just about every guy I know who goes to the gym is either taking, or is thinking about taking protein supplements. This review explains that protein supplementation immediately after resistance training can enhance muscle hypertrophy. Furthermore, taking protein may enhance recovery from exercise, or decrease muscle damage.

Whey protein is one of the most popular protein supplements on the market. Whey is a whole protein found in milk, the other being casein. We ingest and absorb protein into our body, break it down into amino acids and then use it to build our own body’s proteins, such as muscle.

But is it safe to take protein supplements?

Livestrong says that taking whey protein can cause indigestion. I couldn’t access one of the links, but I couldn’t find anything in the others that mentioned protein intake and indigestion. Nor could I search for anything relevant on pubmed.

There is a myth that taking protein can cause osteoporosis. This study shows that protein supplements is actually beneficial for bone health!

An even more prominent myth is that protein causes kidney damage. This is not true for people with healthy kidneys, as explained in this review, and a direct quote from another:

“…we find no significant evidence for a detrimental effect of high protein intakes on kidney function in healthy persons after centuries of a high protein Western diet.”

The biggest cause of kidney disease in today’s Western society is hypertension and diabetes. The results of this study showed that a high protein diet plus resistance training resulted in better glycemic control and and weight loss as opposed to a standard carbohydrate balanced diet with resistance training. This improved glycemic control may mitigate kidney damage caused by diabetes.

However, there are a number of conditions where taking protein supplements may cause problems:

  • AcneThis paper found that 5 healthy adult patients developed acne after taking whey protein. This is in line with other evidence showing that milk and dairy products enhance insulin or insulin-like growth factor signalling which can aggravate acne. Note that acne is quite complex and has a number of aggravating factors. Nutrition and hormones may or may not be a factor in a specific case. Nonetheless, a non-milk derived protein (like pea or soy protein) could be used instead.
  • Lactose Intolerance: As whey protein is a milk product and may contain lactose, it should be avoided if diagnosed with lactose intolerance.  Ditto with replacing it with a non-milk protein.
  • Hyperphenylalaniaemia: A rare genetic disease. This case  details a boy with hyperphenylalaninaemia getting headaches and mild depression when taking protein supplements.
  • Kidney Disease: despite not being bad for healthy kidneys, it may be bad for diseased kidneys. These two studies suggest that low protein diets slows the decline into renal failure.
  • Pregnancy: not enough is known about protein supplement use and pregnancy. We can’t foresee any dangers, so it’s best to stay on the safe side.
go on! enjoy your protein shake

Go on! Enjoy your protein shake

In conclusion, if you are a healthy person and maintain sufficient intake of fibre and vitamins in your diet, there should be no problem with taking whey protein supplements.

Leave a comment if you have found any research to the contrary, or if you can share you own personal experience!


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