Heavy Metals in Protein Supplements: Are You Drinking Lead?


What Is Protein?

Protein is a necessary part of the human diet. It exists in every cell, tissue and organ in the human body. To put it simply, without protein we wouldn't exist. The protein we eat in foods is converted by the body into amino acids, which are later used to replace proteins the body has broken down. Meats, seafood, poultry, legumes, eggs, nuts and seeds are all natural foods that are high in protein.

The human body requires protein in order to build and maintain muscle mass. Without protein, muscles won't be able to properly repair themselves after a workout, leading to fatigue and muscle loss.

What Are Protein Supplements?

Most people who eat a balanced diet don't need to consume additional protein. Bodybuilders, athletes and a number of people seeking to get fit or who are fit and are looking to maximize muscle gain often turn to protein supplements. The supplements come as either powders you add to liquid and mix yourself or premixed drinks that you open and consume.


Bodybuilders often consume a gram of protein or more per pound of weight they carry. In order to do this, most bodybuilders supplement their diet with 2 to 4 scoops of protein powder daily. Each scoop contains between 20 to 25 grams of protein.

What's In Protein Powders?

Well, for one, protein. Protein comes in many forms and the various types of protein found in protein drinks is beyond the scope of this article.

In addition to the protein, which can come in varying forms and may or may not be of high quality, there are a number of other ingredients to watch out for when choosing a protein powder:

  • Genetically modified ingredients. This one is tough to identify because there are no labeling requirements.
  • Artificial colors.
  • Carageenan.
  • Antibiotics.
  • rBGH.
  • Refined sugars.
  • Artificial sweeteners.
  • Heavy metals, including lead, cadmium and arsenic.

Wait, Did You Say Heavy Metals?

Yes, heavy metals. Consumer Lab tested 27 protein powders and drinks and one of the protein powders was found to have 12.7 mcg of lead per serving.

Consumer Reports published the results of lab testing in the July 2010 issue of Consumer Reports Magazine and the results were even more shocking. 15 protein powders tested all contained measurable amounts of arsenic, 9 of the protein powders tested contained cadmium, 11 contained lead and 6 contained mercury. A number of major brands were tested, and some of the most popular brands on the market were found to contain arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury.

Are Any Protein Powders Free of Heavy Metals?

It appears there may be a small handful of protein powders that don't contain heavy metals, at least not in the amounts found in the tests run by Consumer Reports. According to an article by Food Babe, the following protein powders are "free of pesticides, GMOs, all those nasty chemicals and other grossities:"

According to the Mercola website, Mercola Miracle Whey is either free of heavy metals or contains extremely low amounts of it. Here's a link to the Mercola page that shows the analytical results:


Take it for what it's worth, but I'd much rather drink a protein shake that's been tested and is free or is largely free of heavy metals than one that hasn't been tested or has been tested and has been shown to have elevated levels of cadmium, arsenic, lead and/or mercury.