In the July 2010 issue of Consumer Reports, there’s a 4 page spread and chart showing that those favorite protein drinks of yours can contain potentially unsafe levels of heavy metals. Things like Arsenic, Lead and Cadmium! With such a report, it’s almost a guarantee to rock the supplement world. Or is it?
Maybe the better question: Should it?
The full report will be in the July issue of Consumer Reports. Or you can read the Consumer Report on Protein Drinks (opens in a new window)
QUESTION: I just read the Consumer Reports article about potentially unsafe levels of heavy metals. Some of those protein drinks I consume. I’m currently drinking Muscle Milk chocolate. Not three times a day but I use it frequently. Do you think I should stop drinking protein shakes entirely? What is your thought on this report?
ANSWER: Could this be true? The same magazine I used to buy my last washer and dryer is now the expert on supplement research? Can the same evaluation methods to test how dry my socks are be used to tell me if I’m in-taking too much dangerous levels of heavy metals? Or even better, how much protein I need a day?
In a nutshell, Consumer Reports used USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) an independent research facility to test 15 protein drinks which included ready to drinks, meal replacement power and just whey powders.
Consumer Reports testing was based on consumption of three shakes per day and the testing applied proposed U.S. Pharmacopeia standards - not current, accepted or approved standards or guidelines. It’s important to note this was not published in a peer reviewed scientific journal.
They tested for:
USP found most of the products to be in the low or moderate range for the 3 servings except for the following three products.
What Consumer Reports Found:
- EAS Myoplex Original Rich Dark Chocolate Shake has an average of 16.9 micrograms of arsenic in three servings — more than the 15 micrograms a day that is the proposed USP limit. It has an average of 5.1 micrograms of cadmium for three servings — above the USP limit of 5 micrograms a day.
- Muscle Milk chocolate powder, at three servings, contained all four of the metals, and three metals were found at a level that was among the highest of all 15 products tested. Cadmium levels were 5.6 micrograms — above the 5-microgram limit. Lead was 13.5 micrograms — above the USP limit of 10 micrograms. The arsenic averaged 12.2 micrograms — near the 15-microgram daily USP limit.
- Muscle Milk vanilla crème had 12.2 micrograms of lead per three servings — above the 10-microgram daily limit. It has 11.2 micrograms of arsenic — close to the 15-microgram daily limit.
Here’s What They Aren’t Telling You … They Didn’t Compare Apples to Apples!
All of the products listed in the Consumer Reports article are not the same. Muscle Milk and Myoplex ranked the highest partly because they are Meal Replacement Powders or MRPs. MRP’s will have naturally higher trace amounts of these elements because they include a blend of all macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates), plus micronutrients in vitamins & minerals. Whey protein powders OR low carb protein powders will contain lower levels of these elements because they provide mostly protein and not the full blend of macronutrients plus vitamins & minerals that MRP’s do.
In other words, the more nutrient sources (macronutrients & micronutrients) one consumes, the more trace amounts of these metal elements they are ingesting. The report would have been more accurate if all like products were compared (MRP’s). Pure Whey protein powders will have lower amounts of these elements for the reasons just mentioned.
Do You Know What’s In Your Food?
Don’t forget the substances tested by Consumer Reports are naturally occurring in the environment, and it would be uncommon, if not impossible, not to detect the trace amounts reportedly found in any agricultural product, such as dairy products, fruits and vegetables.
BUT KEEP READING…
First off … let me start by saying I’m not a scientist by nature. But that doesn’t disqualify me from making comments on how a proper study should be conducted. In fact, I wondered myself after reading this article.. how would one conduct such a study?
My guess is, at the very least they need to include the methods used in testing so that anybody else qualified could reproduce the results. Even friendly hackers do this. They report their findings and methods used to reproduce the error in an effort to get the company in question to fix their product.
However, what’s the #1 thing missing from this Consumer Reports article Heavy Metals Found in Protein Shakes? Care to take a guess?
The methods used! For all I know, they took various expired supplements from a location in Area 51 and used a metal testing kit from ACE Hardware. They don’t specifically say how it was conducted and the onus is on them.
Here’s How another 3rd Party, Independent Agency Responded to the Consumer Reports Article on Protein Drinks
“NSF International cannot comment on the test results reported in the July 2010, Consumer Reports article on protein drinks. It omits critical information about the laboratory that performed the test and its accreditation qualifications. ISO 17025 accreditation is critical for any laboratory testing for heavy metals in dietary supplements and nutritional products.
The article also omits the test methods used, analytical preparation, sample size, the basis of their risk assessment, detection limits, quality control data and instrumentation used for this report.”
FACT: In order to report your finding you MUST report methods used so that results can be reproduced by others. Sorry Consumer Reports but your study is invalid without such. Not to mention your testing apples to oranges.
But don’t take my word for it… I asked Daniel Whittaker, a personal trainer for decades, a Wellness Consultant, an Expert Moderator on DiscussBodybuilding.com and researcher. He’s currently attending California State University, Los Angeles, where he is studying Exercise Science and Bioscience and assisting with research in the University Human Performance Laboratory.
He is the recipient one of two Certificates of Honor awarded by his College in recognition of exceptional academic achievements, and he has been inducted into both Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and Golden Key International Honor Society.
“Marc, your comments about the validity of the research methods are spot on. Without a methods section, the report is really of no value if I can not repeat it consistently in a proper lab with the same methods…” -Daniel Whittaker
What’s even more shocking is that nobody including the fitness expert you probably follow seems to pay attention to the 4 pages that precede the pretty colored chart. Things I’ve tried in my newsletter, program, blog, podcasts and forum to battle. What things?
“The body can only break down 5 to 9 grams of protein per hour” -Kathleen Laquale, licensed nutritionist and certified athletic trainer
“Regarding the quote from Kathleen Laquale about the body only being able to break down 5 to 9 grams of protein an hour. I defy her to find research to support this. I cringed when I saw the original quote in Consumer Reports, and I’m cringing again to see that the NPR site has adopted it as fact. - TCLoma (of T-Nation?)
“There is no such thing as consuming too much protein.as long you’re getting other nutrients in your diet as well.” – Dr. Andrew Shao, Ph.D, in Nutritional Biochemistry from Tufts University in Boston, M.S. in Human Nutrition Science. His B.A. in Biology is from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.
A reoccurring theme throughout the entire article is:
Too Much Protein Can Cause Health Problems!
Of course, there’s no links to current studies just “experts” who drop the statement like a hot stock tip at a bus station.
Let’s see what a few of the real experts in the field of bodybuilding have to say about the never ending myth that a high protein diet is deadly ….
“If you tell them you are on a high protein diet because you are an athlete they will tell you, “oh you don’t want to do that, you don’t need it and it will lead to kidney disease” without a single decent study to back up their claim!” - Will Brink, columnist, contributing consultant, and writer for various health/fitness, medical, and bodybuilding publications article, author of the “Nutritional Myths that Just Won’t Die: Protein.”
“A number of health risks have been attributed to the consumption of high protein intakes, this includes potential problems with the kidneys, bone health, metabolic acidosis and certain types of cancers. For the most part, these risks tend to be extremely overstated.” -Lyle McDonald, “Protein Controversies.” Chapter 8 from The Protein Book: A Complete Guide for the Coach and Athlete.
Moving on …
So I asked my friend and mentor, Tom Venuto, a lifetime natural bodybuilder, an NSCA-certified personal trainer, certified strength & conditioning specialist (CSCS) and author of the #1 best selling diet e-book, “Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle” about this “High Protein” is bad for you that Consumer Reports wants you to believe.
Marc: Tom, can you explain why some licensed professional STILL tell their clients that a diet high in protein leads to health problems? Including kidney failure, dehydration and osteoporosis?
Tom Venuto: I knew this question would pop up. This “high protein is bad for you” myth never seems to go away, so let me squash this ugly bug right now once and for all.
At one time or another, you’ve probably heard the myth that high protein diets are:
- bad for your kidneys,
- they dehydrate you
- and give you osteoporosis.
Well, here’s the truth: It’s a medical and scientific fact that except in the case of pre-existing kidney disease, there is no documented evidence that a high protein intake will cause kidney damage in a healthy kidney. In fact, there is not a single study that has been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal using adult human subjects with healthy kidneys that has shown any kidney dysfunction whatsoever as a result of consuming a high protein diet.
In the textbook, “Total Nutrition: the Only Guide You’ll Ever Need,” from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, the authors, Victor Herbert and Genell Shubak-Sharpe, had this to say about protein and kidney disease:
“High-protein diets have never proven to be a serious hazard for healthy people, although processing excess protein can overburden a liver or kidney’s that are damaged by disease. That’s why individuals with kidney or liver disease are often put on protein-restricted diets. Likewise, very high protein formulas can also be detrimental to very young or premature infants whose kidney function is not fully developed. Some nephrologists have also speculated the eating a high-protein diet throughout life may be the reason for the ‘slight’ decline in kidney function that usually occurs with age, but this connection is still under investigation.”
What about the claim that high protein diets cause osteoporosis? In inactive people, some studies have shown that increased protein intakes lead to elevated calcium excretion. This is because high protein intakes increase the acidity of the blood, and the body must “leach” calcium from the bones to buffer the acidity. The researchers theorized that this calcium loss could lead to accelerated osteoporosis, especially in women.
While this phenomenon has been observed in sedentary individuals, there is no clearly established link between high protein intake and osteoporosis. Women with risk factors for osteoporosis should be more cautious, but if you are athletically inclined and participate in aerobic and resistance exercise, you will probably have few risk factors. Here’s what Herbert and Shubak-Sharpe had to say on the subject:
“Our typical high-protein, high-meat diets have also been implicated as a factor in the development of osteoporosis, but these claims may be the results of misinterpreting scientific research. Studies have shown that adding purified protein supplements and amino-acid mixtures that have had their phosphate removed do increase excretion of calcium by the kidney in both animals and humans. However, several long-term controlled human studies carried out by Herta Spencer, M.D., at the Hines VA Medical Center in Illinois have shown that high intakes of protein from natural protein sources such as meat, which have their phosphate intact, do not significantly increase calcium loss.”
A post-menopausal sedentary woman would not be well advised to go on a high protein diet, but if you’re a bodybuilder, or even if you just train with weights recreationally, then you will have denser bones than someone who doesn’t work out. Therefore, extra protein should not be a cause for concern.
Probably the only legitimate problem created by a high protein intake is dehydration. Metabolizing protein requires more water than fats or carbohydrates, so it is very important to consume extra water if you increase your protein intake. The standard recommendation is 8-10 8 oz glasses per day (64 – 80 oz). However, the higher your protein intake, the more water you should drink beyond the standard guideline. For bodybuilders on high protein diets, a gallon a day (124 oz) is more like it.
The one gram per pound of bodyweight guideline is good as a general rule of thumb for bodybuilders. The amount of protein you need depends on how hard you are training and on whether you want to gain, maintain, or lose bodyweight.
Marc: Thanks once again Tom.
I can appreciate the overall good intentions of Consumer Reports to bring public awareness to the foods were consuming. However, it does not negate the fact that the study itself was flawed and that most of the article seemed to have a bodybuilding type bashing theme to it.
In my 6 years online and 2 decades of bodybuilding, I’ve run across these myths countless times. I can understand how the average consumer might not know protein intake requirements or how to conduct a proper research study, I fail to understand how a company as large as and well funded as Consumer Reports can write such a loosely documented and misleading prose on the world of fitness.
Even IF the report were true, they give NO information to the companies listed on how to reproduce the results to correct their products.
When David Barr wrote on the potential ill effects of Glycocyamine in some products, specifically Muscle Milk, I recall passing that report off to Cytosport.
Guess what they did?
They took the research, they looked over the facts and the consumer concerns and Cytosport REMOVED it from the product.
See folks.. that’s how it works.
Step 1: You Find Something Questionable
Step 2: You Document Your Research and Share with Company
Step 3: You See if Company Responds
What we have here is a clear case of myth perpetuation and classic biased reporting.
Here’s What They Should Do Next:
Instead of freaking out of high protein diets, or all protein powder, the products that have been named should get tested by a research group that will publish the findings in a peer reviewed journal, where we know the methods of testing meet certain scientific standards or at least can be scrutinized by the rest of the scientific community to be sure that they do.
If the results come up positive for heavy metals, these supplement companies have some explaining to do and some actions to take for damage control.
The Bottom Line: Overall, the Consumer Reports article on Heavy Metals Found in Protein Drinks is of no real usable value. I won’t change my habits at this time when it comes to using protein supplements on that list or not. Regarding Cytosport’s Muscle Milk, which I am a consumer of at times, it has NSF Certification which does not support the findings of Consumer Reports.
In my NoBull Bodybuilding program, I recommend whole foods thru Ph.D. approved meal plans, andd using protein shakes or powders as an supplement getting no more than 20% of your daily protein from such sources. While I use proteins like this myself, I don’t drink 3 shakes a day.
Disclosure: I have a close family member works for Cytosport. However, I am a consumer of the product. You should realize however, that this isn’t an research report; it is a blog, and unbiased blogs are kind of boring. If you don’t take a position what do you write about, really?
Cytosport: Testing Confirms Muscle Milk Safety
NSF Statement on Consumer Reports Findings
For Further Research:
Protein Drinks Are Dangerous??!! Yeah, right.
CBS Morning Show: Could Protein Drinks Be Harmful to Your Health?
Heavy Metals Found In Protein Shakes: Should You Stop Drinking Them?
UltimateFatBurner Blog: Skeptical about Consumer Reports
How to Evalute Any Supplement
Dangerous protein drinks?
Bodybuilders & Protein, Part 1, 2 and 3
How Much Protein Can I Eat at Any One Time?
Consumer Reports Magazine Takes Aim at Protein Drinks
“The NoBull Muscle Guy”
P.S. – My biggest pet peeve is a few fitness experts trying to make money off the report and linking you to a brand of protein thru their affilite link! Of course they make a commissions off the purchases. Talk about bias. If you don’t trust supplement companies WHY on earth would you trust and expert that passed this report to you, offering up no professional insight and then tries to milk you for a few cents off a link to purchase protein.
I believe buyers should be made aware of the incentives individuals may have to give particular advice. They should be more cynical.