Nutraceuticals are poised to touch market size of 130 billion dollars in a few years, indicating the demand for products of this category. Globally, individuals are turning to food products and supplements that deliver faster nutrition in conveniently available forms. This has made protein powders popular, helping individuals receive protein and other nutrients in a faster and easier manner. However, this exposes individuals to the possibility of fallouts due to various reasons. The supplements are useful and beneficial for sections of users, when taken in moderation or as per recommendations; but may cause effects in other users. Following subsections offer a detailed look at whey protein side effects to help users seer clear of fallouts from use.

Overview of protein powders

Essentially protein powders are protein in powdered form extracted from animal, dairy or plant sources. For instance, proteins are extracted from soybeans, peas, rice, potatoes, and in new formulations – hemp. Similarly, protein powder is also extracted from eggs and milk. Whey protein is powder extracted from milk and all powders comprise other ingredients such as added sugar, flavoring agents, vitamins and minerals to fortify the powder, apart from thickening agents. Supplements are usually used by individuals aiming to build more muscle, for enhancement and improved capabilities during resistance training and also as meal replacement.

Overview of whey proteins

Whey proteins are a popular choice among nutraceuticals, and are known to help individuals looking at increasing muscle mass. Whey proteins are extracted from milk, which essentially comprises casein and whey. The extraction of whey protein is either through separation from casein or is available as a by-product when cheese is made. Whey protein contains all the nine amino acids that are classified as essential amino acids, the building blocks of muscle.

Different types of whey protein

The supplement can be broadly classified into three different categories – concentrate, isolate and hydrolysate. The concentrate, also known as whey protein concentrate delivers differentiated levels of protein – anywhere between 30 to 90 percent protein concentrate, with low fat and carbohydrate levels. The isolate, commonly known as whey protein isolate is a more refined or processed version, with fat and lactose completely removed. The third category is whey protein hydrolysate which is typically recommended as a medical protein supplement and infant food formula. This is mainly because it has been partly digested through partial hydrolysis, making it easier for the body to absorb the protein.

Recommended daily intake of protein

Before we look at the uses and possible side effects of supplements, it is necessary to know all about the recommended daily intake of protein. Latest studies indicate that individuals require about 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight. This may be slightly higher for sportspersons or individuals taking up some form of resistance training to build muscle. Based on the average weight of men and women, this recommended daily intake may work out to around 56 grams for men and around 46 grams for women. This can be provided to the body with natural sources with a balanced diet. For instance, eggs, yoghurt, nuts, milk and chicken are simple sources to ensure that the recommended intake is fulfilled.

When protein powders are essential

Protein powders that are free from chemicals, toxins and metals are a good choice for certain categories of users; or certain circumstances. For instance, protein powders are a good partial meal replacement option for patients diagnosed with cancer, or geriatric patients unable to consume food. Patients recovering from a surgery or wounds that need extra protein for repair and recovery can also take protein powder supplements. Similarly, patients recovering from burn injuries also require proteins to heal faster, and powder supplements could be a good option. However, in all the above instances, it is necessary for the powder to be consumed with recommendations regarding the intake.

Commonly associated benefits of whey proteins

Whey proteins are known to help individuals lose weight, while increasing muscle mass. Additionally, the presence of the nine essential amino acids makes whey proteins a good choice to reduce cholesterol levels. The proteins are also known to help individuals undergoing cancer treatment, as a part of holistic approaches in managing the dreaded disease. Whey proteins are also useful in helping asthmatic patients, as studies have demonstrated that the immune response system of children with asthma had improved with whey protein intake. Other benefits of the powder include impact on blood pressure and cardiovascular health.  The reduction in blood pressure levels is known to help patients in managing the condition, in addition to reducing the risk of exposure to ailments such as heart attack, stroke.

Overview of possible fallouts of protein supplements

As supplements are not certified by the FDA in a manner similar to medications, the unregulated nature of the products could pose a health hazard. Adequate number of studies have not been performed to ascertain the possibility of long-term effects of supplements. Common issues that could be faced by users include possible allergic reactions among individuals with lactose intolerance. There is also the possibility of digestion related issues that could be faced by users. Due to the added sugars in protein supplements, there is the possibility of increase in weight due to the heavy calorie content. Additionally, individuals are also exposed to the possibility of increase in blood glucose levels. By virtue of being unregulated, there is the possibility of powders containing other metals and toxins, that may have an impact on health.

The contaminants in protein powders are attributed to the source and the manufacturing processes. The presence of toxic substances in soil are typically absorbed by plants which then find their way to the manufactured products. Additionally, when the manufacturing processes are not as per standards, there is every possibility of cross contamination, that may result in metals finding their way into the powders.

Commonly reported whey protein side effects

As outlined above, there is a possibility of undesirable effects from supplements, and this is a compilation of some of the commonly reported or observed effects. This is neither exhaustive nor complete and is intended to serve as a broad reference of the possible side effects. It is also necessary to bear in mind that all users may not experience side effects. A significant section of users may be free from any kind of undesirable effects. Individuals with lactose intolerance may experience effects that are linked to the condition, and it is important to remember that the effect is mainly due to the condition and not the product itself.

Individuals who are allergic to whey are likely to experience some unwanted outcomes when the consumption levels are high. At lesser quantities, the possibility of effects may be considerably reduced. Symptoms that are indicative of allergies include pain in the stomach, sudden loss of appetite, cramps and possible nausea. There is also the possibility of individuals experiencing throbbing headache, in addition to overall weakness.

Digestive issues from whey protein

Among the frequently reported effects, digestive issues rank high, with a large number of users reporting symptoms such as diarrhea, flatulence bloating etc. These symptoms are indicative of digestion related issues and possible lactose intolerance. This is because the carbs in whey protein are essentially lactose, and this may be a problem for individuals with lactose intolerance.  While individuals do have the option of choosing the more refined versions of the whey protein powder, the last resort is to pick a whey protein powder that is extracted from non-dairy sources.

Possibility of allergies to cow milk products

Individuals with allergies to cow milk or cow milk products are likely to experience some kind of allergic reactions as whey proteins are extracted from cow milk. However, the consolation is that, this is most likely to be extremely rare, as most individuals come out of allergies to cow milk after a particular age. Simple tell-tale symptoms indicate allergic reactions, for instance, patients are likely to experience onset of hives, and abnormal swelling in the face. Similarly, there could be swelling in the throat and the tongue, apart from the possibility of the individual ending up with anaphylaxis. This is considered as one of the most serious among allergies; as it can endanger life, if left untreated.

Link between constipation and whey protein?

Individuals on the protein may end up with constipation, and it is necessary to not confuse constipation with whey protein. Constipation is mainly attributed to lactose intolerance and not to the whey protein powder. Individuals with the condition are advised to consume additional fruits and vegetables, to counter the effects of the intolerance. By increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables, it is possible to deliver more fiber to the body, and this could help improve motility of stool.

Impact on kidneys

Excessive intake of protein is linked to kidney health issues. Whey protein is known to increase the amount of pressure on the kidneys, though this is not a harmful condition by itself. Individuals who have already been diagnosed with kidney health issues are likely to end up with aggravated conditions as a result of excessive whey protein intake. It is therefore recommended that individuals avoid taking protein supplements after any diagnosis that indicates kidney health problems.

Various myths surrounding whey protein are presently floated in social media and online sources.  For instance, this has created apprehensions in the minds of individuals that whey protein may have an impact on bone health and on the liver. Both of these apprehensions may be ignored, as whey protein is not known to affect the liver. Regarding bone health, newer studies have indicated that the body’s natural response system takes care of calcium leaching, thereby preventing whey protein from being blamed for osteoporosis.

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