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A study by Consumer Reports found that most people do not need to add a protein supplement to their diet and that some protein drinks contain contaminants and metals that can cause serious health problems.

Manufacturers of protein drinks once marketed only to body builders, athletes and health fanatics, however in recent years they have aimed promotion of these supplement products to busy professionals, working mothers, pregnant women, young adults and even children. Some protein drinks entice consumers with advertising claims including weight loss, muscle building, energy boosting or anti-aging. They encourage consumers not only to supplement their daily diet with these products, but also to use them to replace meals.

The Consumer Reports investigation sent fifteen protein drinks to an independent laboratory for analysis, reviewed government documents and interviewed health experts, fitness experts and consumers. They found that most people get enough protein in their regular diet and do not need these supplements. Consumer Reports recommends that people who need more protein, can find it in healthier, cheaper sources such as milk, eggs and chicken breast.

The results of the laboratory analysis found that all fifteen of the protein drinks tested contained one or more of the contaminants arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. Three of the products tested raised particular concern because consuming more than three servings per day could expose the consumer to levels of these contaminants that are above recommended limits:

  • Eas Myoplex (Arsenic and Cadmium)
  • Muscle Milk Chocolate (Cadmium and Lead) and;
  • Muscle Milk Vanilla Crème (Lead)

“It is our company mission to do everything possible to ensure that our products are superior in quality, reliability, authenticity and safety,” said Greg Pickett, Founder of CytoSport, Inc. who manufactures Muscle Milk. “Additionally, our products are rigorously tested by both us and independent third party agencies including NSF International to ensure their safety and efficacy.”

The article detailing the study appears in the July 2010 issue of Consumer Reports Magazine. The non-profit consumer organization Consumers Union publishes the monthly periodical.

Watch the Early Show on CBS as they take a hidden camera into nutrition stores in New York City where salespeople failed to warn of dangers and even said taking more than the recommended doses would cause no harm.

“What we’re concerned about here is the chronic low level exposure of a heavy metal. And what people should know, is that heavy metals, once they come into our bodies, once they’re metabolized, they tend to stay there for a long period of time,” Urvashi Rangan of Consumer Reports told CBS.According to the American Heart Association, people who have an excess of protein in their diet may be at higher risk of kidney and liver disorders, and osteoporosis. While everyone can suffer adverse health effects from exposure to heavy metals, children, growing teens, pregnant women and their unborn children are especially at risk.

Lead exposure can cause developmental problems such as damage to the brain and nervous system or slowed growth in growing children and teens. In adults, it can cause reproductive problems, high blood pressure and hypertension, nerve disorders, effect memory or concentration or cause muscle and joint pain. Ingesting very high levels of arsenic can result in death. Exposure to lower levels can cause nausea and vomiting, decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart rhythm, damage to blood vessels and a sensation of “pins and needles” in hands and feet. Cadmium is a known carcinogen, meaning cancer causing. Ingesting cadmium can damage kidneys and bones. Exposure to mercury can permanently damage the brain and kidneys. Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing and memory problems.

“The results of this analysis aren’t alarming,” Andrew Shao of the Council for Responsible Nutrition told CBS. “The heavy metals that were found are well below the limits FDA (Food and Drug Administration) would be concerned about, so they don’t pose a health risk to consumers at all.”

The Council for Responsible Nutrition is the leading trade association representing dietary supplement manufacturers and ingredient suppliers.

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