Whey protein is a derivative of milk, so you could experience symptoms associated with a dairy allergy. Not all side effects from whey protein are related to allergies, however; some side effects stem from a dairy or whey intolerance. Sometimes whey is blended with other protein powders or is hidden in high-protein bars or drinks; so if you know that whey causes you problems, read through the ingredient list on the nutrition facts label carefully and avoid products with whey.
Whey Allergy Details
Being allergic to whey means that your body doesn't recognize the protein and your immune system thinks it is a harmful invader. Your immune system goes into attack mode, fighting off what it thinks could be harmful. While uncommon, it is possible to be allergic to milk and foods made with milk. Because whey is a byproduct of milk, it can come into contact with some of those proteins that set off your immune system.
External Signs of an Allergy
Signs and symptoms of a whey protein allergy can start immediately when you come into contact with it, if you’re highly sensitive. As soon as you open up the container of whey protein powder, you could get a rash or develop hives. Your skin may get red and irritated, making you want to scratch at it. You might not experience sensitivity on your hands and arms, however. If you ingest the whey, the skin around your mouth could become irritated, and your lips and tongue may swell up.
Internal Issues of a Whey Allergy
After ingesting or inhaling whey protein powder, if you’re allergic, your eyes will probably start watering or even turn red. Sneezing and coughing may soon follow. As the protein makes its way through your gut, you might have abdominal pains, leaving you nauseated. In some cases, you could also throw up or develop diarrhea. If you start wheezing and are short of breath, that means that you’re most likely going into anaphylaxis shock, a life-threatening condition in some cases. You'll need an epinephrine injection and emergency medical treatment if breathing becomes difficult.
Lactose Intolerance Consideration
Just because you experience intestinal distress or other mild problems after consuming whey protein powder doesn’t necessarily mean you are allergic to it. You could be lactose intolerant. Some types of whey products have lactose in them, which is a natural milk sugar that is difficult for some people to digest. If milk, yogurt, ice cream and cheese send you running for the bathroom, whey protein powder could have the same effect. You might also be experiencing whey protein sensitivity symptoms. Until you get a clear diagnosis as to whether you have an allergy or intolerance/sensitivity, though, stay away from whey protein to avoid serious complications.
Alternatives to Whey Protein
If you're allergic or sensitive to whey, there are other alternative protein powders you can use to up your protein. Popular non-dairy alternatives include soy, quinoa and amaranth, which are complete proteins. Other protein powders may blend multiple sources of plant-based protein together to create a complete protein. Popular sources of these incomplete proteins include peas, rice and hemp. Egg and beef protein powders are also an option.