The Harmful Side Effects of Whey Protein

Sep 10, 2022

What is whey protein?

Whey is one of the proteins found in cow’s milk and other dairy products. Whey is the liquid byproduct of the cheesemaking process.

To make whey-based protein supplements, the liquid whey is processed into a powder form. During this process, some of the lactose and fat are removed to render a product that’s about 90-95 percent protein.

Danger of whey protein: Does whey protein have side effects?

By analyzing a collection of whey protein studies, review authors found parallels between the findings that presented several adverse effects of whey protein consumption.

Whey protein side effects include:

  • Increased acne
  • liver toxicity
  • increased oxidative stress
  • kidney problems
  • inflammation
  • bloating
  • expression of anger

In regards to dosage, the authors found that 40 grams or more of whey protein a day resulted in these adverse effects.

Young black guy suffering from stomach ulcer

Whey protein consumption effects on kidneys

How does whey protein damage your kidneys? Consuming whey protein, even during a short-period only, has proven to incur the following effects: increased plasma urinary volume, and urinary calcium excretion while the pH of urinary citrate decreases.

Essentially, it increases taxing of the kidneys, which is the first step in kidney disease.

Risk of liver damage for sedentary individual

In regards to liver function, those who live generally sedentary lives are most affected.

Researchers found that when not exercising, the proteins from a whey supplement ended up going to the liver for processing—instead of being used for muscle synthesis. Over time, sedentary participants showed signs of early liver injury.

Are whey protein shakes good for athletes?

True athleticism isn’t about being stronger or faster—it’s about longevity. One major component of longevity is avoiding inflammation.

Many professional athletes have discovered that a dairy-free diet is a key to enhancing their performance and maintaining their peak for years past their expected retirement age. These leaders are moving the needle toward plant-based fuel in sports, but the misconception surrounding dairy and performance nutrition still lingers.

While whey protein supplement is still commonly used by athletes and trainers, recent research* suggests that whey protein is not the healthy muscle-maker that marketing makes it out to be.

*Read more “Whey protein supplementation and its potentially adverse effects on health: a systematic review.

Fit young woman jumping in air

Whey and inflammation

When you ingest whey protein, your body responds by producing histamine to protect your body from infection. Too much histamine being released into your soft tissues causes your blood vessels to dilate, promoting increased blood flow, irritation and inflammation.

Inflammation in the body can inhibit the repair of muscle fibers broken down during exercise, potentially causing muscle atrophy, prolonging the healing process post-injury, and causing extreme pain or discomfort in affected areas.

On top of those things, inflammation sets the stage for cancer, heart attack and stroke.

Whey and the microbiome

Something as simple as bloating can be a clue as to a physical imbalance.

While physical activity can increase the “good bacteria” in your gut, supplementing with whey can counteract those positive effects.

Supplementing with whey protein has been found to decrease beneficial bacteria and increase harmful bacteria. When the balance shifts and one’s microbiome contains too much “bad bacteria,” one can experience uncomfortable symptoms such as severe and chronic bloating, constipation, stomach pain, gas, and other gastrointestinal distress.

These might not sound that serious, but these symptoms can lead to digestive disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome.

With plant-based supplement options abounding, there is no longer a reason for anyone to choose whey protein.

Graphic of the guts microbiome

Which protein powder is safe to use?

Plant-based protein powder are whey-free, meaning they contain no protein from whey, making them the safest protein powder option for your health and athletic performance.

The good news is that there are many options for whey-free proteins that are widely available and equally effective at increasing or preserving muscle mass, and aiding in weight loss.

Used alongside a healthy diet, plant-based protein powders can be a wonderful addition to a daily routine.

Some of the plant-based protein supplements we love are 22 Days Nutrition and NuFyx. For more whey-free supplement options, check out our favorites below.

The 9 best whey-free protein powders

Chocolate plant-based protein powder

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