Protein Shakes

Can Protein Shakes Cause Joint Problems?

Protein shakes are a common supplemental form of protein and are part of a multibillion-dollar dietary supplement industry. They are known for their muscle-building properties and boast numerous health and wellness benefits. However, there are several side effects that are not advertised with the long and short-term use of protein shakes. Joint pain can be caused by increased protein levels in the blood from protein shakes, which may cause arthritis and osteoporosis, according to a 1999 study in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

Protein Shakes

Protein shakes are often added to the diet as a meal replacement or post-workout recovery aid. Because of their muscle building properties, protein shakes can be associated with improving the strength of muscles around joints, resulting in pain reduction, says the Iowa State University Extension.

However, too much protein intake through protein shakes can have the opposite reaction in the long run, according to a study published in the "Journal of Nutrition" conducted by the Nutrition Working Group of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. During a study about excessive dietary protein adversely affecting the body, it was seen that too much protein considerably changes the acid load in blood, even during short-term use. When protein supplements are added to the diet, calcium balance in the body usually becomes more negative. This may cause deterioration and weakening of the bones.

Since antibodies in the immune system recognize proteins as foreign substances, their successful removal is affected by prolonged and short-term excessive protein intake. When proteins are not appropriately removed from the body, they can attach to joints. This malfunction leads to pain and swelling in the joints.

Arthritis and Osteoporosis

According to September 2007 study published in Arthritis Research and Therapy, Rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation may be related to protein intake. In the study, higher consumption of total protein from food and supplement sources like protein shakes was linked to an increased risk for inflammatory arthritis. The protein levels in the fluids around aching joints are twice as high as those in pain-free joints, which may be related to increased protein consumption and supplementation through protein shakes.

Found in 1 to 4 percent of the population, RA is defined as a systemic inflammatory disease which manifests itself in multiple joints of the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is characterized by pain, swelling, and redness, yet the exact causes of RA are unknown.

Osteoporosis is a disease of the skeletal system characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue. Especially found in the compromised of skeletal system of the elderly, osteoporosis leads to an increase risk of bone fractures in the wrist, hip and spine.

A October 1999 study published in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery shows that increased serum protein levels in the blood may be related to osteoporosis. The rise in serum protein levels may be related to dietary protein intake from protein shakes. Increased protein levels in the body tend to raise the acidic content in blood. In turn, the body attempts to balance this reaction by taking away calcium from the bones. This causes tiny holes in the bones, making it more likely for them to break.


Joint pain from protein shakes can result in other health conditions, such as gout. According to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, cutting back on red meat and seafood and consuming more low-fat dairy products cuts the risk of developing this painful joint disease by almost half.

Protein supplements may not be necessary in the diet at all, according to the American Dietetic Association. There is little evidence in scientific research that shows a correlation between increased protein intake and increased muscle mass. The ADA states that if a person can consume enough calories to maintain normal weight, then there is most likely enough protein in that person's diet. Despite the hype of protein shake benefits, they are most likely not needed and can lack nutrients that are found only in whole foods. It is best to discuss any medication and supplement usage with a doctor or health-care professional.


"Arthritis Research and Therapy": Protein, iron, and meat consumption and risk for rheumatoid arthritis: a prospective cohort study.


"Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery"; Relationship between joint effusion, joint pain, and protein levels in joint lavage fluid of patients with internal derangement and osteoarthritis of the temporomandibular joint


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Osteoporosis


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Rheumatoid Arthritis


Iowa State University: Supplements


American Dietetic Association: Protein Shakes


Journal of Nutrition: Does Excess Dietary Protein Adversely Affect Bone? Symposium Overview


MayoClinic: Gout Diet


written by Catherine Conrad, RD, LDN, CLT(p) 10/2011


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