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Consumer Reports Finds Protein Drinks “Dangerous”?

Collins McDonald & Gann practices extensively within the dietary supplement industry.  Our attention was drawn when the July 2010 issue of Consumer Reports (CR) magazine investigated protein drinks with not very flattering findings:

… [O]ur investigation, including tests at an outside laboratory of 15 protein drinks, a review of government documents, and interviews with health and fitness experts and consumers, found most people already get enough protein, and there are far better and cheaper ways to add more if it’s needed. Some protein drinks can even pose health risks, including exposure to potentially harmful heavy metals, if consumed frequently. All drinks in our tests had at least one sample containing one or more of the following contaminants: arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. Those metals can have toxic effects on several organs in the body.

It’ll take some time to fully dissect the findings.  Obviously, nobody needs to ingest unsafe levels of heavy metals.  But 12 of the 15 did not contain unacceptable levels of any heavy metals in a full three (3) servings daily.  Of the 3 that did show unacceptable levels, again, it was only at 3 servings daily, not one or 2.  Only one product had levels of arsenic above the proposed USP limit.  Further, the USP limits are based on a person weighing only 110 pounds — considerably less than many if not most protein shake drinkers.

The Natural Products Association, an industry trade group, has issued a response observing that the levels found were all below the FDA’s own standards for what is tolerable, and that the levels were far below what is found in many foods!   “For reference, the FDA’s Total Diet Study Statistics on Element Results report offers summaries of element analytical results in food and nominal element analytical limits across a wide range of foods,” the response points out.  “From that study one can plainly see that much greater levels are commonly found in the food supply without concern, and certainly without a Consumer Reports article fueling the public’s worry.”

While the CR article mentions proposed legislation sponsored by Senator John McCain of Arizona (a bill from which he has, in fact, backed off), it mysteriously fails to mention the new Good Manufacturing Practices that FDA has now established for dietary supplement companies — practices that are designed to ensure that unsafe contaminant levels are detected before products hit the shelves.

Where CR goes off the rails most, however, is with respect to protein requirements for active, exercising people. CR interviewed “experts” who cling to the notion that folks only need minimal protein daily to attain great physical shape.  That’s just not so, according to the latest research findings.  With all due respect to CR and their sources, check out the International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise and you’ll find a very different view, to say the least.

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