6 Ways Too Much Protein Can Be Harmful

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Man food is often manifested in protein, and lots of it. But getting the goods might not yield the results you’d expect. Yes, protein has great benefits. “Your body uses protein to grow and generate,” said Franceen Friefeld, R.D, L.D, P.H.Ec., “This essential nutrient forms the building blocks for muscles, new nails, hair, and skin. Protein also regulates many body functions, including maintaining fluid balance, and transporting nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. But contrary to popular belief, consuming too much protein can be harmful.” We had the experts weigh in on the matter to deliver these six ways too much protein can be harmful.

1. Excess weight gain

Although protein does help build muscle, too much of the stuff can lead to unwanted weight gain. It’s common knowledge that athletes are encouraged to up their protein intake for added benefits such as lasting energy and maximum strength, but too much protein can result in additional weight. Maggie Moon, MS, RDN, said, “For most people too much protein turns into excess calories. Just like extra calories from fat and carbs, extra protein calories also contribute to weight gain.”

2. Increased risk of gout

According to Rebecca Lee, RN and founder of the natural health resource, Remedies for Me, too much protein can cause a gout attack or excess protein waste buildup in patients with chronic renal failure. Caused by a buildup of uric acid in the blood, gout is a painful type of arthritis, commonly felt in a big toe. “Uric acid is produced by the body as it breaks down a chemical called purine, which is naturally made in the body and also found in some foods,” Lee said. “Your body is designed to remove excess uric acid from the body through the urine, but when it doesn’t, it causes a gout attack. Proteins from meats (chicken, red meat, fish) have a high content of uric acid.”

3. Nutrient deficiencies and bowel toxicity

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Too much protein can take a toll on your digestive system. “Too much protein can be harmful because most people have weak digestion and cannot synthesize protein properly, evidenced by foul smelling stool,” nutrition consultant Brian Brezinski told us. “This causes a viscous cycle. Impaired protein digestion causes nutrient deficiencies and often bowel toxicity. This further impairs protein digestion, which in turn worsens nutritional status and the cycle continues until death occurs.”

4. Risk of kidney disease

While protein is generally considered to be part of a healthy, balanced diet, keep in mind that, like most things in life, it is good in moderation. “For your body to break down protein, your kidneys are put to work — and too much of it can lead to kidney strain,” said David Greuner, MD, FASC, FICS. “Generally, this is not an issue but people with risk of kidney disease should moderate protein intake. Also, excess protein can lead to calcium depletion, which can lead to kidney stones and/or osteoporosis.”

5. Risk of cancer

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Greuner also told us, “In addition to the kidneys, studies have also linked high protein diets to increased risk of certain cancers. This is directly correlated with meat and dairy protein. If you are at risk of certain cancers that have this correlation, try sticking with plant-based proteins as they are less harmful.”

6. Crowding out other nutrients

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to assume that our stomachs have only so much space for food until we’re too full to have any more. According to Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, “Too much protein can be harmful because it crowds out other nutrients. If we have a lot of one thing on our plates and in our bellies, there is less room for something else. For example, I often see that people who eat lots of meat, eat too little fruits and vegetables, which leaves them vulnerable to poor intake of fiber, vitamin C, potassium magnesium and thousands — yes, thousands — of health-boosting phytochemicals.”

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