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Have You Had Your Daily Dose of Arsenic Today? You May Have if You Had a Protein Shake

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An interesting Consumer Reports project found last year that three servings a day of particular protein drinks could result in daily exposure to arsenic, cadmium, or lead exceeding the limits proposed by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). links:

The nonprofit consumer research organization purchased 15 protein powders and drinks and tested multiple samples of each for arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury.. “We found that three daily servings of the ready-to-drink liquid EAS Myoplex Original Rich Dark Chocolate Shake provides an average of 16.9 micrograms (µg) of arsenic, exceeding the proposed USP limit of 15 µg per day, and an average of 5.1 µg of cadmium, which is just above the USP limit of 5 µg per day,” the report said.

Consumer Reports also said that concentrations in most of these products were relatively low, so the conclusion is not that all of these drinks are dangerous to your health. “But when taking into account the large serving size suggested, the number of micrograms per day for a few of the products was high compared with most others tested.”

The samples of Muscle Milk Chocolate powder that were tested contained all four heavy metals, and levels of three metals in the product were among the highest of all in this round of tests. According to the publication:

· average cadmium levels of 5.6 µg in three daily servings slightly exceeded the USP limit of 5 µg per day, and the average lead level of 13.5 µg also topped the USP limit of 10 µg per day;

· the average arsenic level of 12.2 µg was approaching the USP limit of 15 µg per day, and the average for mercury was 0.7 µg, well below the USP’s 15 µg-per-day limit;

· three daily servings of Muscle Milk Vanilla Crème contained 12.2 µg of lead, exceeding lead limits, and 11.2 µg of arsenic; and,

· a fourth product, Muscle Milk Nutritional Shake Chocolate (liquid), provided an average of 14.3 µg of arsenic per day from three servings, approaching the proposed USP limit.

“Cadmium raises special concern because it accumulates in and can damage the kidneys, the same organs that can be damaged by excessive protein consumption. And it can take 20 years for the body to eliminate even half the cadmium absorbed today,” the report said.

This is not just a concern in this one recent study. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has issued international standards for consumption of these medals that were observed to exceed recommended U.S. limits. In January 2009 an EFSA panel adopted an opinion on cadmium in food providing an updated European exposure assessment and establishing a new Tolerable Weekly Intake level. The Panel then reduced the weekly intake for cadmium to 2.5 micrograms per kilogram of body weight (µg/kg b.w.), based on analysis of new data. “The current average dietary exposure to cadmium for adults is around this level and exposure for certain subgroups, such as vegetarians and smokers, may be higher,” the panel noted.

Curious about your particular brand of protein drink? Beyond the Muscle Milk Chocolate example above, the full survey can be obtained from the magazine and its archives. With the new FDA regulations going into effect, it will be worth keeping an eye on this industry to see if any substantial changes are required by the government. In any case, careful reading of the label would be advised, if you feel that these supplemental drinks are necessary for your diet or your exercise regimen.

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  1. Peter Egan says:
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    That there could be arsenic in our dietary supplements is a scary thought indeed.

    When I was younger I used to lift weights several nights a week and drink 2-3 large protein shakes each day to supplement my diet.

    I’m just glad I stopped using the drinks several years before this story broke.