Heavy Metals in Protein Powders

For the longest time, adding protein powder to your smoothie or drink has been simple but effective health boost. It has been an easy way to supplement protein intake, especially in adults looking to build a bit of muscle.

The benefits of this supplement are at risk, as today it has become difficult to find any protein powder without heavy metals tainting it. Consumption of heavy metals has been linked to life threatening diseases such as cancer, organ damage and even death.


So how do heavy metals end up in your protein powder?


Plant-Sourced Heavy Metals

Plants rely on the soil for nutrients, and the soil can sometimes become contaminated with heavy metals. Examples of sources that could contaminate the soil include waste from metal mining, effluent from industries making their ways into rivers and eventually into the soil, and even pesticides used in agriculture that end up soaking into the soil. Plants then absorb the heavy metals only to end up consumed by animals whose byproducts are used to make whey protein.


Solvent Sourced Heavy Metals

The other way in which heavy metals make their way into whey protein is through the manufacturing process. Some of the solvents that are used in the manufacturing process can end up introducing heavy metals into the end products.

In early 2018, the nonprofit group Clean Label Project released a damning report detailing the toxins within protein powders that many consumers had not been aware of. The report described comprehensive screening that revealed powders to contain heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium. This isn’t even the first organization to discover dangerous toxins in whey protein. As far back as 2010, Consumer Reports protein powders testing revealed detected high levels arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury in whey protein powder samples. Throughout all these studies, some very popular brands were found to contain shocking amounts of heavy metals, ranking poorly in overall testing.


Understanding The Prop 65 Warning On Protein Powder Labels

Known fully as California Proposition 65, it is an act that requires businesses in California to provide warnings about significant exposures to elements or toxins in their products on the labels. The act lists all of the potentially harmful toxins that could be found in regularly consumed products, and it includes heavy metals. Currently the Prop 65 safe harbor limit for lead in protein powders is one half part per billion (.5ppb) which is 10x lower than the 5ppb allowable limit of lead in bottled water. While we applaud the overarching concept of Prop 65 to boost consumer awareness, the daily limit on lead for protein powders represents a unreasonable standard.

Take for example our chocolate flavored protein powders which contain cocoa. Since cocoa is widely know to be a natural source of lead, the presence of cocoa alone make it unfeasible to consistently meet the Prop 65 standard of .5ppb. Even when we source our protein from grass fed cows and cold filter the protein to reduce the exposure to heavy metals, there is just too much variance in soil conditions to yield 100 percent conformity.

In addition, some of the larger industries, such as cocoa, have successfully legislated exemption from Prop 65 compliance. If you purchase cocoa from your local grocer, you are unlikely to see a Prop 65 warning on the label but if you purchase a protein powder with cocoa then a warning will most likely be required. Same cocoa just different rules!


Low Heavy Metal Verification; How Nutrology Stands Out

In order to ensure that our consumers are getting completely safe products, Nutrology conforms to the standards set by It is these standards that we apply to testing our very own protein powders, ensuring that you get to enjoy the benefits of protein powder with low heavy metals.

Joanne Tull, former Fitness America, Fitness Canada and Fitness Universe finalist. Joanne is a Co-Founder of Nutrology, the naturally based sports nutrition company that has innovated clean label nutritional products used by thousands of athletes, including elites in the NFL, MLB, NHL and Professional Boxing. Having appeared on ESPN, Fox Sports and TSN after finishing a storied athletic career as a state champion, collegiate and national level gymnast. Joanne’s common sense approach to nutrition will educate and motivate people on how to live a healthy lifestyle while balancing career, kids and fitness goals.



Vhahangwele Masindi, Khathutshelo L. Muedi, (2017): “Environmental Contamination by Heavy Metals”. Retrieved from

Harvard Health Publishing, (2018): “The hidden dangers of protein powders”. Retrieved from

Jesse Hirsch, (2018): “Arsenic, Lead Found in Popular Protein Supplements”. Retrieved from

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