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What Are the Dangers of Whey Protein Isolate?

by
author image Carly Schuna
Carly Schuna is a Wisconsin-based professional writer, editor and copy editor/proofreader. She has worked with hundreds of pieces of fiction, nonfiction, children's literature, feature stories and corporate content. Her expertise on food, cooking, nutrition and fitness information comes from years of in-depth study on those and other health topics.
What Are the Dangers of Whey Protein Isolate?
Woman at desk holding her stomach in pain Photo Credit Alliance/iStock/Getty Images

For most people, whey protein supplements in recommended doses don’t pose any health threats. In fact, studies have shown that taking whey isolate may improve your blood cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and other health factors. Like any supplement, though, whey isolate is not guaranteed to be safe for everyone, especially if you take it in large amounts.

Side Effects

If you take more than the recommended serving size of whey protein isolate, you may experience an upset stomach, cramps or other digestive discomfort. Headaches, fatigue and a reduced appetite are also possible. If you are lactose-intolerant or have a milk allergy, whey protein isolate is less likely than whey protein concentrate to make you ill, but it is still a milk-derived protein and as such could still bother your stomach.

Trace Toxins

According to the results of a series of tests performed by "Consumer Reports" and published in 2010, several whey protein supplements on the market, including whey protein isolates, contain trace amounts of harmful heavy metals including lead, cadmium, arsenic or mercury. At recommended serving sizes, the metals don’t pose a threat to your health. If you’re consistently using a whey isolate that contains heavy metals on a long-term basis, however, you may be at an increased risk of chronic, low-level heavy metal poisoning, symptoms of which include muscle and joint pain, fatigue, headaches and constipation.

Excess Protein

Whey protein isolate is usually at least 90 percent protein by weight, so a typical 30-gram scoop contains about 27 grams of protein. That’s half or more of the recommended daily allowance, which is 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men. Most Americans get more than the amount of protein they need even without using supplements, so regularly taking whey isolate could raise your risk of health problems associated with consuming too much protein, such as dehydration, kidney disease, kidney stones, osteoporosis and cancer.

Poor Nutrition

If you’re using whey isolate as a substitute for other protein-rich foods, you may eventually develop nutrient deficiencies. Whey powder isn’t able to act as a stand-in for whole, natural foods, as it can’t match their nutritional quality, even if it’s fortified with vitamins and minerals. Unless instructed otherwise by your doctor, aim to get most of your daily protein from whole food sources rather than supplements.

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