November 24, 2016 7 min read

In this article

    Whey protein has exploded in popularity recently, making itself a staple in many diets. From supermarket shelves to countertops, whey has successfully infiltrated the mainstream drink and breakfast bar market, becoming a standardized supplement for the masses. The appeal is obvious: Why get your protein from multiple sources when you can take it all at once? Its convenience makes whey great for warding off hunger pains and matching calorie goals.
    But we should be asking ourselves: Is a frequent intake of whey protein right for everyone?

    In truth it seems most of us never give it a thought – we assume that adding whey protein to our diet is beneficial without further investigation. So if you're a regular whey protein junkie, here are four important questions to ask yourself:

    • Could whey protein induce digestive problems?
    • What types of proteins are there, exactly?
    • What is your whey protein processed from and where was it sourced?
    • What extra processed junk was added?

    Could Whey Protein Induce Digestive Problems?

    Whey is made from milk, meaning it could cause gut sensitivities for those with lactose intolerance.

    To digest milk, we require an enzyme called lactase. All of us carry around varying amounts – some of us have enough lactase to process small amounts of milk, others have very little and are highly intolerant to any dairy consumption.

    But with whey it gets a little more complicated. Whey is the part of milk left over after the curds are separated – the stuff used to make cheese. By removing the large, fatty portion of the milk, the remaining product is the dry whey powder – containing lactose, now in a highly concentrated serving.

    Because of whey’s concentrated lactose content, even people who don’t seem to havelactose intolerance issues in daily life may find their stomach overwhelmed.

    Whey Protein and Lactose Content
    This is why we often feel a little rumble in our stomachs after consuming whey protein: Even those of us with high levels of lactase enzymes can still feel a digestive burden from all that concentrated lactose taken at once. We often ignore this physical symptoms - after all they're common, right?

    But what if whey protein is causing unintended damage to our stomachs?
    Leaky Gut is a theory on how our gut's digestive struggles induce inflammation in our body.  Dr. Axe summarizes:

    "Essentially, leaky gut syndrome (“intestinal hyperpermeability”) is a condition that happens as a consequence of intestinal tight junction malfunction. These “tight junctions” are the gateway between your intestines and what is allowed to pass into the bloodstream. Your tight junctions keep things out like toxins, microbes and undigested food particles. But having leaky gut is essentially like having the gates broken from your intestines to your bloodstream so many of these particles that should never have been able to enter have now gotten through. When this happens it causes inflammation throughout your body leading to a variety of diseases."

    It can take up to two days for the gut of lactose intolerant people to fully remove a lactose-filled meal from the body. This can’t be good for sufferers ofleaky gut: More unprocessed lactose in your gut means a greater chance of adverse reactions. tested non-celiac gluten sensitive patients with gluten-free diets and others with whey protein. Here’s what they found:"In all participants, gastrointestinal symptoms consistently and significantly improved during reduced FODMAP (short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed) intake, but significantly worsened to a similar degree when their diets included gluten or whey protein."

    It’s possible that in certain people, whey protein can act just as a gluten does – making proper digestion difficult, leading to inflammation and other negative symptoms.

    This sounds awfully similar to leaky gut, which stresses the importance of avoiding gluten in products like wheat.

    What Types of Proteins are There, Exactly?

    To Avoid

    Soy. While soy is a common option for those following vegetarian and vegan diets, as a nutrient it’s not a great choice. The phytic acids found in soy bind and pull major minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc from the body. Additionally, thyroid hormonal problems have been linked to soy consumption. Don’t be fooled by its low-cal appeal!

    Wheat. Some whey protein powder products intended for muscle "bulking" add wheat gluten to maximize calorie intake. Again, gluten can be highly allergenic and can promote inflammatory reactions within the body. The next time you’re looking to pack some extra calories into your protein shake, opt for a natural, nutrient-rich addition, like bananas.

    To Try

    Collagen peptides. Here at Amandean we’re big on natural Collagen Peptides powder. Like its cousin bone broth, collagen is an excellent way of obtaining the best amino acid protein chain, sourced from grass-fed cows. Collagen is the natural protein that our bodies generate to make up our skin, joints, hair and nails – and an excellent choice for gut health.

    What is Your Whey Protein Processed From and Where Was it Sourced?

    When searching for a whey protein, choosing a grass-fed, pasture-raised brand will be your best bet for product purity. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that grass-fed cow’s milk had 5x the amount of conjugated linoleic acid (CLAs) – an unsaturated fat – than their grain-fed counterparts. CLAs have been linked with lower cholesterol and lower risk of heart attack. CLAs are present in whey protein, albeit with a lower concentration than milk.

    Another concern is rBGH (a synthetic bovine hormone), which we discuss in depth later on. Grass-fed, pasture-raised dairy cows are far less likely to have had rBGH in their feed, adding another reason to check on the source of your whey protein.

    Another consideration is whether the whey is a “hydrolyzed whey protein isolate”.

    Hydrolyzed isolate is a form of whey with smaller protein fragments, making digestion even faster than standard whey. Whey protein concentrate, on the other hand, goes through less filtering, which means fewer of the natural carbohydrates found in milk are removed. The result is a whey product that is much lower in protein content. Although most whey protein concentrates are somewhere between 70-80% protein, some can be less than 35% protein. This is why most companies make a big deal about their whey protein isolate powders (and why isolates and hydrolysates generally cost more.)

    Discover the Superhuman in you!

    Take our quiz and find which supplements your body is craving.

    What Extra Processed Junk was Added?

    As with many supplements, your whey protein brand may be juiced up with artificial preservatives and additives. This is usually done for flavor or texture, but also to preserve the powder while it’s being transported in bulk containers.

    First, let’s talk artificial sweeteners:

    In 2012 the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS) and the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) looked at epidemiological data from a 22 year period. The findings are stark: Artificial sweetener aspartame was a “multi-potential carcinogenic agent,” increasing the risk of cancers like myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphomas and leukemia. Suddenly those artificial flavors and taste don’t seem to be worth the risk.

    Transition into this:

    Milk is an incredible amalgamation of nutrients, proteins and hormones that have only recently been discovered and appreciated. It certainly is not the pure white liquid, high in calcium, vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals portrayed by milk manufacturers and their lobbyists…. it contains almost all of the hormones, immunological factors, and body altering proteins that are found in pure cow blood.

    Another troubling contaminant that could be in your whey powder: Heavy metals.

    In 2010, Consumer Reports tested 15 whey protein powders and drinks for their content of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. The study showed that of the whey protein supplements tested, three contained very worrisome levels of heavy metals. Three daily servings of any of these three supplements could result in daily exposure to arsenic, cadmium, or lead exceeding the limits proposed by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention.

    Finally, whey protein does not avoid issues from big farming practices. rBGH – recombinant bovine growth hormone – is a synthetic hormone developed by Monsanto to stimulate milk production in cows. Samuel S. Epstein has this to say about rBGH in his book “What’s in your milk?”:

    • rBGH makes cows sick. Monsanto has been forced to admit to about 20 toxic effects, including mastitis, on its POSILAC label.
    • rBGH is contaminated by pus, due to the mastitis commonly induced by rBGH, and antibiotics used to treat the mastitis.
    • rBGH is chemically and nutritionally different than natural milk.
    • rBGH milk is contaminated with rBGH, traces of which are absorbed through the gut.
    • rBGH milk are supercharged with high levels of a natural growth factor (IGF-1), which is readily absorbed through the gut.

    Research into the effects of elevated IGF-1 blood levels shows mixed results, but for those suffering from autoimmune conditions or an allergy to Beta Lacto Globulin, it would be best to stay away from whey. This is the advice of Dr. Pedro Bastas:

    Whey contains not only Beta Lacto Globulin, but also Bovine Serum Albumin. Some peptides from this protein have structural homology with peptides from our own tissues, and BSA has been implicated in Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Type 1 Diabetes.

    There is no simple way to find out whether your brand of choice contains whey derived from hormone-diluted cow’s milk. The only way to be sure is to choose an organic “hydrolyzed” brand of whey protein – dairy from those farms are far less likely to engage in synthetic hormone injections.

    In Conclusion

    Whey protein is popular. It’s consumed by millions around the world, and luckily we have yet to see accompanying large-scale health issues.

    Nonetheless, we’re learning more each year about how many different food sensitivities - many of which are still passed off as "normal" bodily discomforts. Allergies can lay dormant for years, brought out by sudden changes in environment or our diets.

    Food sensitivities can come and go, then reappear in new forms, making it difficult to diagnose true physical issues like leaky gut. Whey protein's concentrated dairy could easily cause a negative chain reaction.

    It’s a little extreme to outright reject whey protein, but if you’re experiencing symptoms of inflammation or other gastric problems, it may be wise to consider other options for protein intake, such as Grass-Fed Collagen Peptides supplement, if not to only experiment.

    Our health is too important to not ask these questions.

    Article References:

    1. WebMD. (2019). Lactase: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning.
    2. WebMD. (2017, May 5). What Is Lactose Intolerance? WebMD; WebMD.
    3. (2018, May 8). 7 Signs and Symptoms You Have Leaky Gut - Dr. Axe.
    4. Elwood, P. C. (2005). Milk consumption, stroke, and heart attack risk: evidence from the Caerphilly cohort of older men. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 59(6), 502–505.
    5. Schernhammer, E. S., Bertrand, K. A., Birmann, B. M., Sampson, L., Willett, W. C., & Feskanich, D. (2012). Consumption of artificial sweetener- and sugar-containing soda and risk of lymphoma and leukemia in men and women. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 96(6), 1419–1428.
    6. Why Dairy Isn’t Paleo. (n.d.). The Paleo Diet®. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from
    7. Surprising Truth About IGF-1 + Foods, Effects, Cancer. (2019, October 12). SelfHacked.
    8. Thaler, C. (2015). The Paleo Diet. The Paleo DietTM. 

    Also in Blog

    Genetic Factors: Understanding the Nature Versus Nurture Conundrum
    Genetic Factors: Understanding the Nature Versus Nurture Conundrum

    July 16, 2024 7 min read

    This ongoing debate has been the root cause of a division between many scientists, primary biologists and sociologists. Is the genetic makeup we're born with the fate we have to make peace with, or does the social setting play a vital role in our development and behavior? Are genetic predispositions unwavering, or can a certain parenting style and social setting set the course? Find the answers to all these questions in our nature vs. nurture guide, and learn more about the benefits of DNA tests.
    Read More
    Understanding the Link Between Vitamin D and Psoriasis
    Understanding the Link Between Vitamin D and Psoriasis

    July 09, 2024 8 min read

    Psoriasis remains a mystery even to scientists, while the role of vitamin D in skin health is crystal clear. While the exact causes of psoriasis are still unknown, certain mechanisms have been studied and deciphered. There is a strong link between vitamin D and psoriasis, especially since psoriasis patients seem to have very low vitamin D levels. Find out more about the link between the sunshine vitamin and psoriasis in our in-depth guide.
    Read More
    Unlocking the Power of Creatine and Mental Health: What You Need to Know
    Unlocking the Power of Creatine and Mental Health: What You Need to Know

    June 24, 2024 5 min read

    One of the surprising, lesser-known benefits of creatine is that, by optimizing brain health, it also boosts mood levels. Low creatine levels in the brain have been associated with mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Luckily, supplementing with creatine can elevate creatine levels and allow you to grab all its benefits, including the neuroprotective effects. Learn more about the impact of creatine on the brain -- especially mental health.
    Read More