What Happens to the Body when Whey is Ingested While Intolerant or Allergic“
No pain, no gain” -- it’s a common saying we all know. We hear it from our parents, coaches, teammates, we even say it to ourselves.
Do you ever have the pain from abdominal cramping? How about the itch of a rash on your skin? Or what about the painful and embarrassing bloated and gassy stomach? “No pain, no gain” right? But these aren’t really the types of pain you think you should go through in order to make it to the finish line, yet these are the very common symptoms athletes endure on a daily basis when taking whey protein while intolerant or allergic to whey.
So why do they continue to take whey protein if it’s causing them this much discomfort? It’s because they have failed to recognize the connection between their symptoms and the whey protein, they ignore the consequences, or they simply have just learned to live with the pain. Whey is one of two predominant proteins found in milk. Once separated by specific enzymes, milk is split into two different particles: casein and whey. In order to get to the whey found in protein supplements, it is then further processed to remove fats, carbohydrates, and water content. Results from the first round of processing is whey concentrate -- containing low levels of fats, carbohydrates, and lactose, often found in a typical protein supplement. The second round of processing produces whey isolates -- containing little to no lactose or fat, and is also found in many protein supplements. The final round of processing produces whey hydrolysates, also used in protein supplements but not as often as the previous two listed.
It is often thought that lactose alone causes discomfort and sensitivities due to an intolerance, but even with the whey hydrolysates (the most processed whey), some athletes are still experiencing discomfort. The answer lies within the protein itself as the body is unable to properly breakdown milk’s natural protein -- whey.
What Happens to My Body When Whey Protein is Ingested While I am Intolerant or Allergic?
Whey can cause harmful effects to your body in the form of an intolerance or an allergy. An intolerance to whey protein comes from lactose, the carbohydrate within the whey isolate and whey concentrate. Lactose is the natural sugar found in milk and is one of the most common intolerances world wide with estimations of up to 75% of adults having some degree of intolerance to it. Symptoms occur when the body lacks the digestion enzyme lactase. Lactase breaks down lactose, and without lactase, there are several painful side effects such as abdominal pain, cramping, gas, bloating, and sometimes diarrhea.
An allergy to whey will present different symptoms as it will have an immune response, causing inflammation. Other reactions such as nasal congestion and mucus build up are more common with the allergy to whey. In some cases, it is not even necessary to ingest whey before symptoms of an allergy may occur. A rash, irritated skin, or watery eyes may appear on contact with the protein powder containing whey.
More symptoms found with an intolerance or allergy to whey can be found below.
Other Harmful Effects that Occur When Taking Whey Protein Even When Not Intolerant or Allergic
It is not uncommon for an athlete to use whey protein as a meal replacement. It might have great results towards a goal of weight loss or increased muscle mass but a common side effect is constipation. Unlike plant protein, whey protein lacks fruits and vegetables which are a great source of fiber and is necessary for proper bowel movements.
Whey protein as a meal replacement also develops nutritional deficiencies, especially when also on a low-carb diet. Furthermore, there is strong physiopathological evidence that suggests whey protein concentrates stimulate insulin, which in turn aggravates and develops acne.
What to do if I Have an Intolerance or Allergy to Whey?
If you do not have an allergy but do have an intolerance to whey, it may seem obvious to take a protein that has whey hydrolyze, as it has a lack of lactose. The issue with this ‘solution’ is whey hydrolyze is processed to the point where many proteins become denatured, meaning it loses its quaternary, tertiary, and secondary structures found in their native state. Due to this denaturation, the proteins lose their full ability to perform their function and therefore are not very effective.
Switching to a plant based protein with a proper amino acid profile will ensure no harm to your body. Some plant based proteins, such as Modus Nutrition, have anti-inflammatory properties and they will not cause bloating, an upset stomach, or gas. Modus Nutrition also provides a digestive enzyme which is critical for the unfolding of the proteins, and not just relying on the human gastrointestinal tract. This allows for much easier digestion over whey based protein.
As previously noted, our bodies are constantly changing. It’s not uncommon to continue to develop new intolerances or allergies to certain foods as you get older. Keeping track of your diet in a food journal may be effective to determine any future intolerances or allergies.
If you already are aware of your intolerance or allergy, it is important to read food labels very carefully before ingesting anything -- it can only take a small amount of whey to cause a reaction.
Symptoms to Look For with an Intolerance or Allergy to Whey
Everyone is different, the way one person reacts to an intolerance or allergy can be extremely different from the next person. If trying to discover if you have an intolerance or allergy to whey, it is suggested to log in a food journal in order to track when whey is consumed and when the symptoms are presented.3 It is also strongly suggested to consult a licensed health care practitioner for allergy and intolerance testing. Here are an array of symptoms to look for listed below.
Intolerance to Whey: