Seriously! Does whey protein have any side effects?

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Rohit Jadhav Founder - M2PROTEINS

Whey Protein Side Effects

Tons of Research on Whey protein Side effects

​We all want to look better, better than most people surrounding us. We want to have great abs, big shoulders, and arms that pop out of our new t-shirt. We join a gym, get a personal trainer, and hit those weight hard. Soon to realize that our daily diet is not enough to support the nutritional needs of our new workout regime.

One usual way to achieve better results is to take protein supplement, gym trainer says so, you read online about the great benefits and hear from your gym buddies, but you are a little afraid that there might be some side effects of that magic stuff. You are not alone, most of us are. So, here we are going to discuss if whey protein really has any serious side effects? Is it going to harm your body?

Whey protein as a protein supplement has been around since almost 1960, however evidence of usage of whey in diet can be found since early 1500. It is after the advent of sophisticated filtration techniques whey protein took off. Since 1980 whey is being used as a quality source of protein supplement for many.

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So whey has been on the market now for almost 5 decades, as a food supplement it is deemed as safe by both USFDA and FSSAI (India) and other regulatory agencies around the world. There is tons of research that have been performed and ongoing on the effectiveness and possible side effects of whey, given its high worth as one of the most effective protein sources.

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Most discussed Whey Protein Side effects

Let’s see if whey protein does cause any damage to our health? Here are some most discussed whey protein side effects on various elements of our body. Lets see how serious they are or it is just an irrational fear.

  1. Hair loss
  2. Acne
  3. Weight gain
  4. Kidney
  5. Liver
  6. Digestion
  • Do Whey Protein cause hair loss?
      • The usage of whey protein leads to an increase in the levels of testosterone. Many other factors cause an increase in testosterone levels, some of them are exercise, lifting weights, age, eating fat, and carbohydrates.
        An increase in testosterone level is desirable for many since it helps build muscles and offers other numerous benefits. However, testosterone leads to the formation of a metabolite named DHT (Dehydroxy Testosterone) and studies suggest that this hormone is an even better stimulator of muscle growth than testosterone (1). However, this hormone indirectly causes hair follicles to shrink, which leads to hair fall or a condition named male pattern baldness.
        A study led by a renowned hair transplant surgeon suggests that Whey protein concentrate along with some vitamin supplements can lead to a decrease in hair fall. However, there is no direct link between whey protein and hair loss, plenty of other factors lead to an increase in the level of the male hormone testosterone. Being that said,  If you experience hair loss after taking whey protein, reduce your consumption.
  • Does Whey protein cause Acne?
      • Similar to hair loss, whey protein does not have any direct link to acne. Studies suggest that a lot of things such as food, dairy, age, cosmetics, fatty food, and food with a high glycemic index, stress, and hormonal imbalance, fatty food can lead to acne.  But let’s discuss the effects of whey protein here, Consumption of dairy or whey protein can lead to increased levels of IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor), which leads to an increase in sebum production. Increases in sebum production lead to acne. Studies show that the appearance of acne associated with Whey protein decreases over time (2). So, if you experience the appearance of acne after whey protein consumption, decrease your intake, and wash your face with a good facewash couple of times a day.
  • Does Whey protein cause weight gain?
      • Anything that is consumed in excess can cause weight gain, given simple logic that consumption of more calories than required results in weight gain.
        However, when consumed within the limits of the daily required amount whey does not cause weight gain as carbohydrates or fat can.
        Studies were performed to determine the effects of a high protein diet on body composition. Two groups consuming high protein and low protein diets over a period of time were studied. At the end of the study, both groups showed no difference in body fat. The high protein group consumed as high as five times as protein as the normal requirement (3).
        Also, another study was conducted on a group of obese females to determine the effects of a high protein diet on weight loss. The two groups were asked to consume a high protein/ high fiber vs. low protein diet, at the end of the study the high protein group showed higher weight loss as compared to the group with a low protein diet (4). When consumed within limits whey protein does not lead to weight gain, studies show that a high protein diet leads to weight loss when combined with exercise.
  • Does whey protein affect the Kidney?
      • No, in healthy individuals when consumed within the daily recommended limit whey does not cause any damage to the kidney. So, how whey is related to kidneys? Whey contains proteins, which are metabolized to urea by the liver and the urea is excreted by the kidney along with water. So the assumption is that the excess consumption of whey leads to excess urea formation which stresses kidneys and leads to kidney damage. But that’s the normal function of kidneys, isn’t it, to excrete waste products. The glomerular filtration rate of the kidney is a measure of the health of the kidney. Higher GFR rate is associated with higher protein intake, obliviously to excrete the higher amount of waste, but studies show that the dietary protein had no effect on the changes of GFR rate, and high protein intake does not adversely affect kidney function in healthy adults (5) when consumed within daily recommended allowance (6)(7). High protein intake does not lead to kidney damage in healthy individuals, but people with pre-existing kidney disease or dysfunction should consult their physician before consuming any protein products.
  • Does Whey Protein consumption have any side effects on the liver?
      • Whey protein undergoes metabolism in the liver, where the ammonia from amino acids is converted to urea and then the Urea is passed to kidneys for excretion. It is assumed that higher protein intake will stress the liver due to metabolizing higher quantities of protein and, it may cause damage to the liver. However, there is no evidence to suggest that higher protein intake can cause liver damage. A study performed on rats fed with a high protein diet showed some changes in liver mitochondria but, the changes were adaptive to respond to the higher metabolic stress and not pathological (8). Studies also suggest the importance of a high protein diet for individuals who are alcoholics and have liver disease (9).
        One study further suggests that a high protein diet can improve hepatic function in patients with hepatic liver disease (10). So far, studies are only pointing out the beneficial effects of a high protein diet on the liver, and given no evidence to suggest otherwise, we can safely say that the fear of liver damage due to a high protein diet is baseless.
  • Does protein cause bloating, gas, and upset stomach?
    • In some cases, yes. Whey protein does cause bloating, gas, and upset stomach in individuals with lactose intolerance or when consumed in excess amounts.
      Lactose intolerance: It is a condition where an individual is not able to digest lactose due to decreased production of an enzyme required for digestion of lactose. The undigested lactose causes gas, bloating, or a distressed stomach.
      Whey protein such as concentrate contains some amount of carbohydrates in the form of lactose. So when consumed by people with lactose intolerance whey concentrate can upset the stomach. This can be easily overcome by


        1. Consuming Lactase enzyme supplement or Switching to high-purity Whey protein such as Whey Isolate which contains a minimum amount of carbs.
        2. If still the problem persists, switch to plant proteins.

      Another case when Whey protein can cause gas or bloating is when consumed in excess amount. When our body has reached its full capacity to digest the protein, the un-digested part travels to the large intestine, where the intestinal bacteria ferment the undigested protein and produce gas.
      This is a very common occurrence with people consuming a high amount of protein in any form.

      Simply cut down your consumption and gradually increase the dose.

To summarize, Whey protein can indirectly lead to some minor side effects, the effects of which can be minimized easily, and there is no evidence to suggest any ill effects of whey protein on the kidney in healthy individuals.

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  1. Dihydrotestosterone stimulates amino acid uptake and the expression of LAT2 in mouse skeletal muscle fibres through an ERK1/2-dependent mechanism
  2. Acne located on the trunk, whey protein supplementation: Is there any association? Fatma Pelin Cengiz, , Bengu Cevirgen Cemil, Nazan Emiroglu, Anil Gulsel Bahali, and Nahide Onsun 
  3. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals Jose Antonio*, Corey A Peacock, Anya Ellerbroek, Brandon Fromhoff and Tobin Silver
  4. Comparison of high protein and high fiber weight-loss diets in women with risk factors for the metabolic syndrome: a randomized trial Lisa A Te Morenga, Megan T Levers, Sheila M Williams, Rachel C Brown & Jim Mann 
  5. Changes in Kidney Function Do Not Differ between Healthy Adults Consuming Higher-Compared with Lower- or Normal-Protein Diets: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
  6. A Systematic Review of Renal Health in Healthy Individuals Associated with Protein Intake above the US Recommended Daily Allowance in Randomized Controlled Trials and Observational Studies Mary E Van Elswyk,1 Charli AWeatherford,2 and Shalene H McNeill3
  7. Effects of Protein Intake on Renal Function and on the Development of Renal Disease Mackenzie Walser
  8. Jorda, A., Zaragosa, R., Portoles M, Baguena-Cervellera R. and Renau-Piqueras J. (1988) Long-term highprotein diet induces biochemical and ultrastructural changes in rat liver mitochondria. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics
  9. Navder, K.P. and Lieber, C.S. (2003b) Nutrition and alcoholism. In: Nutritional Aspects and Clinical Management of Chronic Disorders and Diseases. Ed: Bronner, F. Boca Raton, FL
  10. Mendenhall, C.L., Moritz, T.E., Roselle, G.A., Morgan, T.R., Nemchausky, B.A., Tamburro, C.H., Schiff, E.R., McClain, C.J., Marsano, L.S. and Allen, J.I. (1993) A study of oral nutrition support with oxadrolone in malnourished patients with alcoholic hepatitis: results of a Department of Veterans Affairs Cooperative Study


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