Tests find some protein supplements contain lead, cholesterol

Protein powders and shakes can boost an athlete’s intake of a vital building block for muscle growth and repair. But a new report from ConsumerLab.com is warning consumers that some supplements it tested in a recent study contain less of the good stuff – protein – and more bad ingredients such as cholesterol and carbohydrates than are listed on the label.

ConsumerLab tests health and nutrition products for its membership community. In a recent test of 17 protein powders and drinks, 70 percent of those tested were accurately labeled but five had problems ranging from lead contamination to high levels of carbs, cholesterol and calories.

“Some protein powders come with unwanted surprises,” Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab, said in a company statement.

According to ConsumerLab.com:

* Prolab Advanced Essential Whey Milk Chocolate had just 32 percent of the protein promised per scoop.

 * Dymatize Nutrition Elite Casein Smooth Vanilla contained undeclared cholesterol.

* Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Egg Protein, Rich Chocolate had more cholesterol than stated.

* Nature’s Plus Spiru-Tein Vanilla contained more sugar, carbohydrates and calories than noted.

* The Shakeology Greenberry sample contained lead.

The company said it verified the negative results with a second independent lab.

“Neither the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or any other federal state agency routinely tests nutrition powders and drinks for quality prior to sale …. Most problems and the magnitude of such problems can be determined only with lab testing,” Cooperman wrote in his report.

The manufacturers of the named products did not respond to email or phone requests for interviews.

ConsumerLabs.com isn’t the only investigative body to find fault with protein powders. In 2010, Consumer Reports tested 15 powders and found that every product had at least one sample that contained a heavy metal – either arsenic, cadmium, lead or mercury – or a combination.

“Those metals can have toxic effects on several organs in the body,” the report noted.

Cadmium can cause kidney damage, arsenic is a known carcinogen, lead is mainly harmful to developing children but also has been tied to fertility issues, cognitive decline and muscle and joint pain in adults, and mercury poisoning can cause brain, kidney and lung damage.

Nutrition experts say troops can get most of their needed daily protein (between .6 to .9 grams per pound of body weight) by diet alone and should avoid protein supplements.

“Because of this increased protein need, many athletes view supplements as convenient to fulfill those demands. However, sufficient protein intake can be met with a diet of natural foods. Dairy products — especially Greek yogurt — are high in whey protein,” said a nutritionist at the Uniformed Services University’s Human Performance Resource Center.

To review the full list of the 17 tested plus 11 more that passed the company’s voluntary quality certification program, you’ll have to pay. The report is available at  www.consumerlab.com.

Patricia Kime is the health reporter for Military Times. She can be reached at pkime@militarytimes.com.