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Are Protein Powders FDA Approved? – Shocking Discovery

Shocking Discovery

Protein supplements, or supplements in general, are known to be controversial in the fitness industry. A lot of questions are asked, and eyebrows are raised when people mention the consumption of protein powder. Why is that? Well, not until recently, something devious was found out about protein supplement companies. It has to do a lot with a lack of enforcement from the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA. This begs the question, are protein powders FDA approved? Are companies and manufacturers honest about their labeling on protein supplements? Let’s find out.

What Is The FDA?

Are Protein Powders FDA Approved? - Shocking Discovery

Created in 1906, the Food and Drug Administration began with the passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act that same year. The agency was created in response to the public outrage at the shockingly unhygienic conditions in which food was being packed and sold. An all too famous book written by author Upton Sinclair called “The Jungle” vividly portrays these working conditions. He observed the way food was being handled in the Chicago stockyards. Have a read at this quote from his book talking about the unsanitary conditions,

“This is no fairy story and no joke; the meat will be shoveled into carts and the man who did the shoveling will not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one.”

With the FDA being around, horror stories like those rarely exist today. The Food and Drug Administration not only regulates the sanitary conditions of food but that of also prescription drugs, vaccines for humans, bottled water, cosmetics, tobacco products, and many more. Their scope of regulatory authority is vast, and they often work in conjunction with other agencies to make sure their job is thorough. Agencies like the DEA, Drug Enforcement Agency, and USDA, United States Department of Agriculture, work with the FDA to regulate products.

Are Protein Powders FDA Approved? - Shocking Discovery

Things do get quite interesting when talking about dietary supplements and the FDA, almost shocking. Keep in mind that this agency does look over prescription drugs before they get exported out for consumer usage. They have a saying for drugs specifically, “they are considered unsafe until proven safe.” The same thing should go for supplements, right?

The FDA Can’t Touch Supplements

Yes, you heard that right. Dietary supplements are treated as “special foods” and not drugs, meaning they aren’t put through the same strict safety requirements. In 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, or DSHEA, put supplements into their own category. The phrase “considered unsafe until proven safe” is essentially flipped on itself, for supplements, it’s “considered safe until proven unsafe.

Wrap your head around that. For that reason, many supplements are made tainted illegally with dangerous substances free to be bought by anyone. The FDA can only regulate supplements if they are proven to cause evident harm to the consumer, whether it being illness or injury. However, the problem with this is that most supplements are self-prescribed, so there’s no real system to report bad reactions and side effects. Doctors may report problems if they prescribe the supplement. Still, the action taken after the discovery is nowhere near as fast as that of a dangerous drug. It could take a while.

Just to put into perspective of what some companies have been putting in their supplements, let me propose this situation to you. Let’s say you head to your local supplement shop and decide to try new protein powder. You look at the label, like I smart individual, and see one or two questions at best ingredients, maybe maltodextrin, or artificial flavoring. You decide you could probably live with those ingredients in your system. But in reality, the powder possesses way more harmful substances that aren’t even labeled. This is what has been found in some powders over the years,

  • Arsenic 
  • Pesticides 
  • Contaminants
  • Heavy Metals (Lead)
  • Terazosin
  • Dimethyamylamine (DMAA)
  • Toxins

Some of these you’ve probably never even heard of. I didn’t either before looking into some of them. Arsenic is a known chemical to cause cancer, and DMAA is a drug that puts you in such an intense rush that it may lead to a heart attack. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anything like that in my protein powder. Most people are just looking to add more protein in their diets, but are unaware of the list of other things that are inside damaging your body.

The Clean Label Project

Eventually, someone had to stand up for consumers and stop what manufacturers were doing with their products. A handful of people started a group called “The Clean Label Project,” which decided to check for themselves and expose what protein powder companies were hiding in their products. They conducted their study in 2018, and much like the section above mentioned, the results were shocking. Here’s a clear-cut infographic of what companies were trying to get away with.

A reoccurring theme going around in protein powders is having the substance lead. Imagine that, drinking lead. Do you know what else lead is used in? Batteries, ammunition, weights for lifting, and belts. It has shown that consuming lead is highly toxic to the brain and central nervous system, extremely dangerous. The Clean Label Project also has it out for plant-based protein powders, mainly because they claim to be organic while being far from it. About 75% of these powders tested positive for lead, that’s insane. Have a good hard look at that infographic for all the information.

So what action has the CLP taken to straighten out protein powder companies? Well, there aren’t too many things they can do, but the main thing they got going is a petition you can sign to urge the FDA to start tightening up supplement regulation. I’ll leave a link to that here if you’re on board with their actions. They also have a list of products on their site that have passed their tests and studies to ensure that they can call themselves safe to the public.

What Can You Do To Stay Safe?

Are Protein Powders FDA Approved? - Shocking Discovery

It can be hard to start trusting companies with their protein powders after absorbing all that information, but not every company is a snake. Many dietary supplements have spotless safety histories. Their manufacturers are careful with labeling, claims, and substances they incorporate in their products. However, they keep safe, here are a couple of things you should avoid. Don’t buy a supplement if…

  • They claim to work as a prescription drug. 
  • It is marketed in a foreign language. 
  • Promises weight-loss or enhanced sexual performance. 
  • It is compared to anabolic steroids. 

If you hear any of that from anything concerning your protein powder, stay away as far as possible. These were common themes of products that were shown to be lying about ingredients without mentioning the dangerous ones. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, do some research, and find the products that are known to be trusted. Big-name brands like Optimum Nutrition and Bodybuilding.com are giants in the industry, known for their honesty and transparency. I personally use one of their products, click here to check out which one I’m talking about.

Conclusion

In conclusion, are protein powders FDA approved? Not necessarily. Unless there is clear evidence that the product is shown to cause harm, it’s safe to be sold. Even if harm is proven, the action is taken rarely or slowly. Groups like The Clean Label Project are sticking up for consumers by exposing supplement companies urging the FDA to step up regulations. For you, however, do some research, follow what works, and stay safe.

4 Comments

  1. Edwin Bernard

    This is a very thought provoking article. Can you clarify what is the Federal Drug Administration? I Googled it and the only entity that came up was the Food and Drug Administration, which happens to be a Federal Agency. Maybe that is what you meant. Please confirm.

    I used to be a distributor of nutritional supplements for a major company. They made a big point in line about what you stated. That most supplements do not meet pharmaceutical standards and only meet those for foods. Since you correctly informed us that the supplement industry is only governed by the food standards. They had their own factory in the US and used strict standards for sourcing high quality ingredients and manufacturing them in labs to pharmaceutical standards. In fact, their factories had windows where you could go on a tour to see how the supplements were made.

    Unless a supplement company guarantees their products are manufactured to pharmaceutical standards, you cannot trust what you read on the label. Their quality control on the ingredients is lax and the amounts stated can vary widely. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

    Supplements that are available to pharmaceutical standards cost more than the cheap stuff found in Grocery Stores. It is not funny that most people shopping for supplements look for the cheapest available. Hard to believe what people are willing to ingest. Clearly, there is a market for this. So who is to blame? The consumer or those who peddle these substandard products? 

    Until supplements are regulated, nothing will change.

    Cheers.

    Edwin

    • Jose Gallegos

      Hey Edwin,

      Oh yeah, I totally dropped the ball on the one, thanks for mentioning that. I’m not really sure why I put Federal Drug, but I’ll make sure to change it ASAP.

      This is a huge issue for supplement consumers, like me! ALL protein powders should no doubt be regulated through pharmaceutical standards since manufacturers lie about what actually is in their products. Now that you mention who is to blame, I think it’s both the consumer and producer. Obviously the producer has to have some blame because they are the initial danger causers. They choose to add harmful/toxic substances in their powders without telling anybody since no one’s going to stop them.

      Then again, consumers know what dangers lie in protein powders, so why do they still buy them? They should stay far away from them, but the incentive that brings them back is the price. The consumer is between a rock and a hard place. 

      Thanks for your response,

      Jose G.

  2. Gyvinek

    You have really shed light on this topic. I for one wanted to try out supplements but was just afraid to do that because of maybe side effects that they may cause.

    i have only heard stories of how some people lost their sperm count because of using protein shakes or maybe it was steroids. I think that they maybe one and the same thing.

    So do you have specific brands that you think are safe ?  

    • Jose Gallegos

      Hey Gyvinek,

      You should still try supplements if that’s still one of your goals, as long as it’s from a trusted company. I personally never have heard of someone losing sperm count, but that could be a possibility, wouldn’t be surprised. Companies like Optimum Nutrition, Bodybuilding.com, Vega One are known to be trusted. Many others do exist, but those are just to get the ball rolling. 

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