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Is Whey Protein Good Or Bad For Your Heart? (2022 Research)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

If you’ve done your research on whey protein, you’ve probably stumbled upon claims that it can have an adverse effect on your health.

One claim that’s particularly concerning is that whey protein damages your heart health.

That’s probably the last thing a fitness enthusiast like you would want.

But is it true?

After hours upon hours of deep research with our dietitian, we finally found the answer, and here’s the full disclosure.

Quick Summary

  • Different studies have different conclusions on the effects of whey protein on your heart.
  • Some studies found whey protein to be harmful, but more have found it to be beneficial.
  • Don’t consume too much whey protein, and you should be safe. Moderation is key.

Is Whey Protein Bad For Your Heart?

container of white powder and scooper

Contrary to what some people claim, whey protein isn’t bad for your heart when taken in moderation. In fact, it has more health benefits than side effects.

But there’s some truth to this rumor.

Excessive use of whey protein supplementation can lead to an abnormally high protein intake, which may indeed cause poorer cardiovascular health.

To help you get the full picture, we’ll go over studies that have linked high-dietary protein with both positive and negative outcomes.

Whey Protein May Clog Your Arteries

One research on mice suggests that a high-protein diet may cause more arterial plaque [1].

The rodents were divided into two groups: 

  • One group got a high-fat, high-protein diet
  • The other group got a high-fat, low-protein diet

The researchers found that rodents fed on high-protein diets developed 30% more plaque in the arteries than mice given a low-protein, high-fat diet.

Plaque develops when excess amino acids from whey protein activate another protein called mTOR.

mTOR signals a cell to grow. This results in plaque complexity which can clog arteries.

While the research wasn’t done using whey protein per se, it’s still relevant:

“A couple of scoops of protein powder in a milkshake or a smoothie adds something like 40 grams (g) of [dietary] protein — almost equivalent to the daily recommended intake.”

- Dr. Babak Razani, Associate Professor of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

So, if high-protein diets are bad for your arteries, whey protein supplements could be, too.

Whey Protein May Increase Blood Sugar

Secondly, some protein powders contain a lot of added sugar, leading to increased blood sugar [2].

However, this side effect is easily preventable. Simply choose a protein powder with little added sugar.

Benefits of Whey Protein for Cardiovascular Health

toy heart and a doctor

We’ve seen that too many amino acids aren’t good for your heart health. But they can be beneficial when present in lower amounts.

They promote new cell growth in your heart, as well as help with weight loss.

So, it makes sense to assume that whey protein is beneficial for cardiovascular health. After all, protein is made up of amino acids.

But these aren’t just assumptions. Numerous studies have concluded that whey protein has a positive impact on your cardiovascular system.  We’ll list the three most important benefits here.

Lower Blood Pressure

hand and arm view of a medical person taking a patients blood pressure

High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease, and whey protein can help lower it. However, this effect seems to take place only if you consume whey protein in high amounts.

For example, when participants in one study took 22g of protein every day for six weeks, the protein was effective in reducing high blood pressure [3].

But participants that consumed less protein (3.25g/day) during another study didn’t experience these effects [4].

So, if you want to lower your blood pressure, you’ll probably need to increase your daily dosage of protein.

Milk protein seems to be equally effective in lowering high blood pressure [5].

Lower LDL Cholesterol

High cholesterol—and especially LDL cholesterol—increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes. According to scientific studies, whey protein may be effective in reducing it.

One such study found that whey protein reduces not only LDL cholesterol but also total cholesterol [6].

Increasing Blood Flow

An adequate blood flow is essential for cardiovascular health because blood carries oxygen and other nutrients your heart needs to function. So, when your blood flow works well, your heart works well, too.

Taking a whey protein supplement right before exercising can increase your blood flow. That way, all the good stuff that blood carries can get to your muscles and brain faster.

Stick to the recommended dosage to avoid accidentally damaging your heart health. This means you should consume 25-50g of whey protein a day [7] - and no more.

As with all other supplements, moderation is key.

Can Whey Protein Harm Your Heart?

While some studies suggest that whey protein can be bad for your heart, others have found it beneficial.

So, it seems like the most important thing is to be moderate in your consumption of whey protein. Always read the label and follow the directions.

That way, you’ll ensure that you’re not damaging your health while still getting closer to your fitness goals.


References:

  1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s42255-019-0162-4
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-hidden-dangers-of-protein-powders
  3. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095869461000141X
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17180485
  5. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/nutrition-research-reviews/article/impact-of-milk-proteins-and-peptides-on-blood-pressure-and-vascular-function-a-review-of-evidence-from-human-intervention-studies/46EB7421DA240099A736AC8362B68C23
  6. https://lipidworld.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12944-020-01384-7
  7. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/whey-protein-101
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