Whey Protein Does It Harm? Are There Side Effects?

Whey Protein Does It Harm? Are There Side Effects? / Supplements

Whey protein supplement is also a big hit in Brazil, where 6 out of 10 sports supplements sold are whey protein.

The great popularity of the supplement has led many people to use it without proper professional guidance, which may eventually raise questions about the safety of whey for health.

Does whey protein hurt? Are there potential side effects? Check out some of the myths and truths about whey protein and know if you can use the supplement without putting your health at risk.

How Whey Protein is Made

To understand whey protein is bad, it is important to know first how the supplement is produced.

What we know as whey is nothing more than a byproduct of cheese production from cow's milk. Milk is made up of two proteins, casein and whey. While casein has slow digestion and makes up about 80% of milk proteins, whey is quickly assimilated by the digestive system and quickly reaches the muscles.

After a series of whey filtrations, whey is obtained, which can be classified according to its protein content.

Whey protein was for many years totally discarded by the dairy industry, and only in the last decade began to be widely used as a sports supplement.

Types of Whey Protein

The more protein in whey, the "purer" the product is and the greater its benefits for gaining muscle mass. According to the type of processing and the amount of protein, whey can be divided into whey concentrate, whey isolate and whey hydrolyzed.

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The first type of whey is the most consumed in the world, because it has a high concentration of proteins with a good cost x benefit. The protein content of whey concentrate approaches 70-80%.

Isolated whey can contain up to 99% protein in its formulation, which makes it a product of high biological value and also more interesting for those who are worried about the scale. That's because whey isolated almost contains no carbohydrates and fats, which can facilitate the control of calories by those who need to lose weight.

Whey hydrolyzate is a whey isolated only partially digested, which makes its absorption even greater. It is the purest whey of all, but also the most expensive and least cost x benefit.

Properties of Whey Protein

Whey proteins are of very high biological value, which means that they are very well utilized by the muscles and other tissues of the body. This makes whey protein a great supplement option for anyone looking to maintain or increase muscle mass.

Some of the benefits of whey protein:

  • Preserves lean mass while allowing fat burning;
  • It brings strength and endurance gains;
  • Provides amino acids necessary for the recovery and growth of muscle cells;
  • Helps control appetite (proteins have slower digestion, which prolongs satiety);
  • Strengthens the immune system.

Side Effects of Whey Protein

The main side effects of whey protein are related to the presence of lactose in the supplement. People with milk sugar intolerance may suffer from a number of digestive problems, such as diarrhea, cramps, gas, and poor digestion.

This problem can be solved from the consumption of whey protein alone, which contains at most 1% lactose.

People with lactose allergy, however, should avoid consumption of any type of whey, as the body can still trigger an immune response after consumption of the supplement. 

After all, does Whey protein do bad?

As we have just seen, whey is nothing more than a protein extracted from milk and concentrated in a hyperprotein supplement. However, like almost any supplement aimed at athletes, whey protein is the target of many myths.

Myths or Truths

Let's look at what is true and what does not proceed regarding the possible side effects of whey protein:

- Whey protein is bad for the kidneys?

When someone says they've heard that whey protein is bad, they're probably referring to the possible kidney problems caused by the supplement.

This is actually a half truth, as there are no scientific studies that prove a link between whey consumption and kidney complications (such as kidney stones) in healthy people.

Research published so far claiming that whey-damaging kidneys were developed with individuals who were already predisposed to kidney problems, and therefore do not serve as a foundation for all other people with a perfect functioning of the organs.

On the other hand, we have said that the statement is a half truth because excessive consumption of any protein can overload the kidneys, especially in the absence of an adequate intake of fluids. It is not, therefore, a claim that whey protein is bad for the kidneys, but rather that excess protein (whether from meat, beans or whey) can alter kidney functions.

To prevent this from occurring, keep a record of your daily protein intake, and try to limit it to a maximum of 1.5 g of protein / kg.

- Whey Protein Fattening? 

No, whey does not gain weight, unless of course you exaggerate in calories and end up extrapolating what you need to meet your daily energy needs. Understand why:

The main source of energy for the cells are carbohydrates, but in the absence of these the fats and proteins can also be used to maintain metabolic functions. The opposite is also true, since in the presence of carbohydrates the excess protein can be stored in the form of fat.

For those who maintain a balanced consumption of calories and exercise daily it may not be a problem, but those who ingest more than they spend can rather gain weight with whey protein. That's not to say that whey is fattening, because that would not be true, but rather that excess calories in the diet can lead to being overweight.

If you use whey in place of another more caloric food you will not gain weight, but if you keep eating regularly and simply add whey to your diet you are very likely to see the scale pointer rise. After all, a whey shake contains at least 100 calories.

In order not to end up gaining weight with protein, you need to be aware of some whey brands on the market that add sugar, flavorings and a host of other chemical additives that can boost whey calories beyond what you really need.

Finally, for those with an eye on the scale the ideal is to consume the isolated whey protein because this is the type that contains a high protein content and almost nothing sugar and carbohydrates.

- Does Whey change the production of hormones?

One of the main myths of whey protein is that it would be an anabolic steroid. Although it has an anabolic function - that is, a stimulus to muscle growth - whey is not an anabolic drug.

And since this is a milk derivative, there is nothing hormonal about whey. Therefore, the claim that whey protein malfunctions the functioning of the thyroid and other hormone-producing glands is definitely a myth.

Does Whey Protein Cause Osteoporosis?

This myth is not unique to whey, as the claim is that diets high in protein can cause loss of bone mass. This belief spread from the presence of calcium in the urine of people who consumed a diet rich in protein.

The explanation for the fact would be that too much protein can increase the acidity of the blood, which in turn would force the bones to balance blood pH through the elimination of calcium and other minerals. Of course, this process would weaken bones, a precursor to osteoporosis.

In practice, however, not only are there no conclusive studies about it as there is evidence that whey protein may help increase bone density. A research published in the British Journal of Nutrition demonstrated that mice that received fractions of whey protein showed a decrease in bone resorption, resulting in denser bones.

Other studies indicate that excess calcium in the urine in hyperproteic diets would result from increased mineral absorption. That is, whey would help to make the bones stronger and healthier because it would increase the availability of calcium and possibly IGF-1, a naturally occurring growth factor in milk.

Does Whey Protein Cause Diabetes?

Although less known, this myth also tends to circulate in the sporting environment, since whey actually changes blood sugar rates.

Studies suggest, however, that milk protein can help lower blood glucose in both healthy and diabetic people.

A survey published in 2005 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown that adding whey protein to a fast-digesting carbohydrate meal can stimulate insulin release and reduce glucose levels in the circulation soon after a meal.

On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that leucine, one of the amino acids responsible for the benefits of whey, can increase insulin resistance.

When consumed for long periods and in high doses, leucine can slow the entry of glucose into cells and decrease insulin sensitivity. As a result, there is a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

While this effect does not seem to affect most whey protein users, it is recommended that diabetics and people who are predisposed to the disease avoid using the supplement without medical advice.

Does Whey Cause Arthritis?

The metabolism of proteins leads to the formation of uric acid, which in excess can cause gout, arthritis and kidney stones. Again, as discussed above, this effect occurs in those who are already predisposed to the disease, which is primarily hereditary.

That is, if someone in your family has arthritis or gout, it is recommended that you avoid the daily consumption of whey protein.

Drug interactions

According to the Mayo Clinic, whey protein may increase the risk of bleeding when consumed in conjunction with medications that also have the same effect, such as aspirin, anticoagulants, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen.

Final word

Whey protein is a safe supplement and poses no health risk, except for people who already have a history of kidney problems or arthritis. And for those who have lactose intolerance, the tip is to opt for whey protein alone.

As with any supplement, however, the guidance is always to seek a specialized professional before starting to use whey protein to gain muscle or lose weight.

Additional references:

  • Anders H Frid, Mikael Nilsson, Jens Juul Holst, and Inger ME Björck. Effect of whey on blood glucose and insulin responses to composite breakfast and lunch meals in type 2 diabetic subjects. Am J Clin Nutr July 2005 vol. 82 no. 1 69-75;
  • Kruger MC, Plimmer GG, Schollum LM, Haggarty N, Ram S, Palmano K. The effect of whey acidic protein fractions on bone loss in the ovariectomized rat. Br J Nutr. 2005 Aug; 94 (2): 244-52.

And you, have you ever heard and believed whey protein is bad? Do any of these whey side effects include any health conditions of yours? Comment below!