It was an unusual coincidence when a cousin and a former associate, each of whom I hadn’t been in contact with for over a year, reached out to me on the same day. They wanted to talk about their first ever gout attack that occurred recently. Never experiencing that level of excruciating pain, both discovered their flare up was primarily caused by too much whey protein. My cousin, who stays fit, used a product from a health store. My former associate, an overweight smoker, started drinking whey protein smoothies from Smoothie King as a substitute for coffee. They both recalled their sudden gout occurred after a month of regular consumption.
This post will explain how whey protein can cause gout. It will also reveal distinctive contributing factors and discuss why plant-based protein powders are safer for individuals with or without gout.
Whey Protein Isolate and Concentrate Simply Explained
Whey protein, one of the two proteins in cow’s milk, is extracted during the cheese-making process. As milk is turned into cheese, the curds and liquid (whey) are separated. This nutrient-rich liquid contains all nine essential amino acids, crucial for protein synthesis, plus various vitamins and minerals. The whey undergoes further filtration and drying processes to produce a refined whey protein powder.
Whey protein isolate (WPI) and whey protein concentrate (WPC) are the derivatives used in whey protein supplements. WPI contains more protein than WPC. WPI requires a longer purification to yield a higher protein concentration (usually over 90%) with low levels of fats and lactose. On the other hand, the less-filtered WPC retains more fats, carbohydrates, and other ingredients, resulting in a lower protein percentage from 25% to 89%. Consequently, WPI is much more expensive than WPC.
If you haven’t already adjusted to a gout-friendly diet, this is a MUST read: The Absolute Worst Foods For Chronic Gout Sufferers
Does Whey Protein Cause Gout?
While whey protein might not be widely acknowledged as a major cause of gout, it does elevate uric acid levels in the body. More so, if an individual’s diet consists of high-purine foods, then it can quickly tip the balance towards gout. Here are the factors explaining how whey protein causes gout symptoms in some people:
Unknown Purine Content
Purines, natural compounds found in various foods, break down into uric acid during digestion and metabolic processes. The purine content of whey protein isn’t precisely known, but given its made from milk, it’s assumed to contain fewer purines than meat and seafood. The prevailing notion is that a significant increase in uric acid levels, enough to trigger gout, would only occur from consuming an extreme amount of whey protein.
While the potential link between WPI and a higher concentration of purines is not widely acknowledged, it’s worth considering. Whenever proteins are present, there will most likely be purines. It may be possible that the protein isolation process may also increase the concentration of purines. How much more? It is unknown. Keep in mind that the FDA does not regulate the formulations and ingredients of supplements. This makes it difficult to guarantee the purity of these products, including their purine content.
Rapid Absorption & Sudden Overload
Since the body digests and metabolizes liquids faster than whole foods, the absorbtion rate of protein from whey powder drinks is much quicker than protein from eating meat. It only takes around 20-30 minutes for nutrients from liquid to enter the bloodstream. Whereas, meat proteins take longer to break down in digestion, needing about 2-5 hours or more to be absorbed.
The rate at which drinking protein shakes and eating beef get into the body might affect how much uric acid the body makes. The sudden absorption of protein from liquids (plus a high concentration of purines) can cause uric acid levels to spike and overload the kidneys. Comparatively, the slower metabolic process of meat permits a more gradual release of uric acid, allowing the kidneys enough time to effectively process and eliminate it.
Kidney Strain & Additional Waste
Protein metabolism generates several nitrogen waste products like urea and creatinine. When there is an excess of waste products in the blood, the kidneys need to work harder to filter them out. This additional workload on the kidneys can slow down the removal of uric acid, increasing the risk of gout symptoms.
Regularly subjecting the kidneys to a high protein load may strain them, especially when sustained over an extended period. Gout sufferers with pre-existing kidney conditions may be more vulnerable to such strain.
Acidic Effects to Urine
In addition to filtration, the kidneys play a vital role in maintaining acid-base balance in the body. They regulate blood and urine pH to effectively transport and expel excess acids and toxins.
The byproducts or wastes from whey protein makes urine more acidic. This occurs particularly when there’s excessive consumption, or when an individual’s diet lacks enough alkalizing foods like fruits. This is crucial for gout sufferers because high acidic urine leads to less uric acid removal.
Many people do not realize they are dehydrated. Proper hydration supports kidney function, aiding in waste filtration and maintaining a healthy fluid-electrolyte balance. When consuming more protein, whether from supplements or whole foods, it’s crucial to stay well hydrated. The quick absorption of whey protein requires more water during digestion, potentially elevating the risk of dehydration. The lack of water and increased protein intake, amplifies the other factors that influence the likelihood of gout.
Should Gout Sufferers Use a Protein Powder?
Yes, gout sufferers can use a protein powder, as long as it is made from organic or vegetable sources. Plant-based protein powders are a wiser choice as they are less likely to contribute to significant uric acid production compared to animal-based products like whey.
Reasons For Protein Supplementation
Whether you are an athlete, fitness enthusiast, or simply looking to enhance your diet, a protein powder provides a versatile and convenient option for dietary supplementation. It can remarkably boost anyone’s health in several ways.
A good protein supplement aids in muscle building as it is rich in amino acids. It also supports weight management by inducing a feeling of fullness and safeguarding muscles during weight loss. For individuals leading an active lifestyle, a protein powder shake offers the additional protein necessary for improved performance and post-exercise recovery. Moreover, protein supplements ensure adequate protein intake, enhancing overall health and energy levels.
Plant-based Protein Powder Helps with Gout and Overall Health
People with gout can consume protein powders, as long as it is not made from whey or other animal sources. Vegetable or plant-based protein products offer comparable benefits without posing a risk of developing gout. This is attributed to these reasons:
Lower Purine Content: Plants with protein like peas, spinach, or hemp, contain fewer purines compared to animal-sourced proteins like whey. Plant-sourced protein powders offer the same amount of protein, but with less purines. Simply, less purines means less uric acid production.
High Fiber and Nutrient Content: While both plant-based and whey protein powders might not inherently contain probiotics, sourced vegetables often provide more prebiotic fibers and vitamins, which can support a healthy gut environment. Fiber helps to regulate uric acid metabolism and reduce its absorption, potentially mitigating the risk of gout.
Unlike animal protein, plant protein metabolism typically does not result in the formation of urea or creatinine. Thus, the kidneys are not strained from extra waste products.
Alkalizing Effects: Contains minerals and substances that can affect the pH level in the body. When these proteins are digested, they leave behind alkaline byproducts, which help counteract the acidity from other foods, contributing to less acidic urine. Reducing the acidity of urine increases the amount of uric acid you pee out. Moreover, the natural vitamins and nutrients in vegetables add to alkalizing effects.
Less Dehydrating: Considered less dehydrating compared to whey protein. This is because of the higher fiber content of vegetables, which aids in water retention and digestion. Additionally, the absorption rate of plant-based proteins tends to be slower, reducing the potential risk of dehydration associated with rapid protein absorption.
Digestibility and Slower Absorption: Slower to absorb and digest than whey, providing a steadier release of amino acids. The slower rate is easier on the kidneys, allowing them more time to remove excess uric acid without getting overloaded.
Reduces Appetite: Studies have shown that when people increase their protein intake, they start craving fewer calories. If you’re looking to lose weight or keep it off, protein supplementation can help curb hunger. It also serves as a gout-friendly alternative to junk food that can raise uric acid levels.
Heart Health: Contains much less saturated fats and cholesterol compared to animal-based protein sources. Consuming plant-based proteins may contribute to better heart health and help lower the risk of cardiovascular issues, which are often of particular concern to men.
Lactose-free: Does not contain lactose like dairy-based whey. It is the smart choice for gout sufferers who are lactose intolerant.
Guidelines When Buying A Plant-based Protein Product
To choose the safest and healthiest plant-based protein powder for optimal performance, consider the following guidelines:
- Plant Protein Sources: Opt for a diverse vegetable protein source blend to ensure low purine content.
- Protein Content: Ensure the product provides an adequate amount of protein per serving, aligning with your performance and nutritional goals.
- Check Ingredients: Look for products with natural ingredients. Avoid artificail additives, colors, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners (especially high fructose corn syrup)
- Sugar Content: Choose products with low or no added sugars to avoid unnecessary calorie intake.
- Certifications: Select products with third-party certifications, such as USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified, ensuring quality and purity.
- Allergen Information: If you have specific allergies or sensitivities, choose products that are free from those allergens.
- Reviews and Ratings: Read reviews and ratings to get insights into the product’s qualities.
- Brand Reputation: Choose reputable brands with a history of producing high-quality, reliable products.
- Price and Value: Consider the cost per serving and overall value for money. Sometimes, higher-priced products may or may not offer better quality.
Selecting plant-based protein instead of whey protein is safer for gout sufferers due to its lower purine content, reduced kidney strain, and ability to make urine less acidic. These factors collectively contribute to maintaining low uric acid levels in the body.
It’s important to emphasize staying well-hydrated is crucial when increasing protein intake. Failing to stay hydrated, particularly in combination with an unhealthy diet and regular alcohol drinking, the addition of whey protein can cause an extreme spike in uric acid levels. Dehydration is a major factor in hampering kidney functions.
In the case of my two friends, they only heard about getting gout from beer and seafood. They were clueless about the many sneaky triggers like high fructose corn syrup, MSG, and whey protein.
Interestingly, this demonstrated how gout can strike both a healthy or unhealthy individual.
Since protein helps suppress the appetite, beverages made with plant protein powder can also help you lose weight. It makes a healthy alternative to snacks and drinks made with unhealthy ingredients. Whether from whole foods or powder supplements, incorporating more plant-based proteins into a gout-friendly diet is major step towards becoming GOUTPROOF!
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