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Report: Protein Drinks Have Unhealthy Metals

Consumer Reports Study Finds Worrisome Levels of Lead, Cadmium, and Other Metals
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 3, 2010 -- Popular protein drinks with names like Muscle Milk and EAS Myoplex -- favorites of teens, gym rats, boomers, and pregnant women -- can contain potentially unsafe levels of heavy metals and other harmful substances, according to an investigation by Consumer Reports.

''Consuming these kinds of protein drinks on a regular basis can in some cases create the risk of chronic exposure, even at low levels, to heavy metals such as cadmium and lead that can pose health problems, particularly to vulnerable people," says Andrea Rock, the Consumer Reports editor for the investigation. Among vulnerable people are children under age 18, pregnant women, and people with diabetes or chronic kidney conditions, she says.

Makers of protein drinks disagreed and said there were flaws in the investigation.

While the protein drinks are marketed as convenient, Rock says, "Most people can meet their protein needs through diet. And that can be better for both your health and your wallet.''

The full report will be in the July issue of Consumer Reports.

Lab Tests on Protein Drinks

For the study, Consumer Reports had an independent laboratory test 15 protein drinks, including ready-to-drink formulas and powders meant to be mixed with milk, juice, or water. Three servings of the products tested provide from 27 to180 grams of protein.

Testing for contaminants -- including arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury -- found most products to be in the low to moderate range. But three products cause concern, Rock says, because people who have three servings a day could be exposed to higher levels of three substances -- arsenic, cadmium and lead. Some products surpass the maximum limit  proposed by the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). The USP sets voluntary standards for health products.

Excess cadmium can accumulate and gather in the kidneys, and excess protein can also damage the kidneys.

Protein drinks are considered dietary supplements, so the makers are not required to test the products before sale to ensure they are safe and effective, according to the report.

Consumer Reports says these three products are of special concern:

  • 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.

Just one of the products, Six Star Muscle Professional Strength Whey Protein, specifies a maximum daily intake, Rock found. Other makers use vague language, the researchers say, which could promote high consumption levels. 

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