Is your favorite protein drink causing you digestive issues?
Posted by Kelli de Sante' on 13th Feb 2022
Is your favorite protein drink causing you digestive issues?
Sometimes the thing we think is so good for us is causing us harm…whey protein could be one of these if you are lactose intolerant.
I have a friend who has been having terrible irritable bowel lately. We got to talking and while her doctor has been prescribing medications and ran a slew of tests to rule out colon and stomach cancer, she shared with me that for the past year she has been drinking whey protein shakes every morning purchased from her local grocery store.*
A friend of mine’s grown daughter developed cystic acne after never having acne before. The one thing in her life that had changed was her consuming whey protein powder in shakes several times a day. When she stopped, the acne cleared. Coincidence? This got me thinking.*
Protein drinks have become very popular of late, as we covered in our last blog. But many protein shakes have whey protein as their main ingredient. It can be hard to digest for some people and can cause both digestive issues and acne according to research. The last blog we covered protein shakes in general but today let’s hone in on whey in particular.* (1,2)*
What is Whey protein?
Whey protein refers to a group of 8 proteins found in milk. These proteins include Beta-lactoglobulin, Alpha-lactalbumin, Glycomacropeptide, Immunoglobulins, Bovine serum albumin, Lactoferrin, Lactoperoxidase, and Lysozyme. 1*
Whey comes as a result during the cheese-making process. Enzymes are added to milk, which curdles the milk, separating the liquid whey from the milk’s solid curds. The curds contain most of the milk’s fat and are the main ingredient in cheese. When these solid curds are removed, the watery substance that remains is the whey protein which contains varying amounts of lactose and fat. Whey protein powder is made by pasteurizing the whey to kill bacteria and then drying. 1*
Whey protein then goes through another process to make one of three types of whey protein:
Concentrate: found in many protein drinks, bars, and nutritional products, as well as infant formula. They vary widely in their protein, fat, and lactose content. 1*
Hydrolysate: This form of whey protein is the easiest to digest due to its long protein chains called peptides that are pre-broken down into shorter ones. Also known as hydrolyzed whey protein, hydrolysate can be found in specialized infant formulas as well as medical supplements for nutritional deficiencies. 1*
Isolate: high in protein and low in fat or lactose, isolate may be found in protein supplements, bars, and drinks. This may be a suitable choice for the lactose intolerant.1*
The benefit of consuming whey protein for those who can tolerate lactose is that it is a complete protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are important for many functions in the body from building muscle to immune cell development. While the body generates many amino acids on its own, it does not make essential amino acids. We get these from the diet. Consuming whey protein is one way to achieve that. 1*
While these are the “positives” of whey protein, there are the downsides as well.2*
Digestive issues as a result of lactose intolerance
According to the US National Library of Medicine, about 65 percent of the global population is genetically lactose intolerant. These numbers are actually higher in people of East Asian, West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek, and Italian descent.3*
As we enter adulthood, we have a reduced ability to digest lactose. So essentially, the majority of the world’s adult population has difficulty digesting it. It can lead to irritable bowels, diarrhea, cramps, or bloating. If you experience this, you may consider cutting out dairy for a bit to see if lactose intolerance is the reason for your condition. If so, cut out lactose and switch to plant-based milk.3*
Can lead to acne breakout
Another downside to whey protein is its effect on the skin. The link between diet and acne has long been studied. Several new studies, according to the Academy of Dermatology, suggest dairy intake can worsen and trigger acne as a result of the stress it puts on the digestive system and also the excess hormones found in dairy that are added to the diet. Consuming whey protein, thinking it is a “health shake” can throw people a curveball, if their skin starts breaking out for “no reason”.3*
The impact on the environment
At least 18 percent of the world’s carbon footprint is a result of the animal agriculture industry. Dairy is one of the most popular foods that come from this industry, and that includes whey protein.3*
New research has also shown that 30% of biodiversity loss can be directly linked to livestock production, according to new research. Choosing plant-based proteins can help reduce the negative impact the dairy industry, which includes products like whey protein, is having on our planet.3*
Cancer link due to hormones in dairy
“…According to Dartmouth Medical School, evidence suggests that dairy sourced hormones may be the source of androgenic and mitogenic progestins, which drive prostate and breast cancer…” Those who have a genetic disposition to hormone-driven cancers should be aware of this and explore whether this is a driver for you or not. 3*
Cost and marketing
Protein powders, bars, and shakes are not inexpensive. And, they are marketed to make us think they are “healthy”. So beware of falling victim to marketing and advertising and throwing your money away.*
What are the alternatives?
Unless you are recovering from an illness or surgery or there is another medically driven health reason that you might need protein supplements, you don’t need to add this to your diet. Extreme athletes should explore their options before choosing a protein supplement. Ask questions, do your research before choosing a supplement and consuming it in high quantities. Read ingredient lists. Talk to a nutritionist. You can get the complete proteins you need through a normal healthy diet that includes eggs, fish, poultry, and meat. If you are not a meat-eater, you can get your essential amino acids and complete proteins by eating the right combination of plant-based proteins. Nuts and legumes combined with eating a variety of incomplete proteins will make up complete proteins in your diet. Combinations include nuts or seeds with whole grains, such as almond butter on whole-grain toast, and whole grains with beans.(1,4)*
.When in doubt, go back to a whole foods diet, full of organic proteins, vegetables, and fruits. Remember to focus on the core of your health which is the gut. Put foods in your body that support good gut health, not processed foods with artificial ingredients. Support the microbiome with a daily regimen of Body Biotics™ Bio-identical SBO Probiotics Consortia™ to maintain healthy digestions and a strong immune system.