What are the health risks of consuming too much protein?

Protein is a macronutrient crucial for various bodily functions, including muscle repair, hormone synthesis and immune system support.

However, consuming excessive amounts of protein can lead to several health risks that warrant attention [1]:

Compromised bone health

Contrary to popular belief, excessive protein consumption may adversely affect bone health. While protein is essential for bone formation and maintenance, excessive protein intake can increase urinary calcium excretion [2].

Over time, this calcium loss may compromise bone density and increase the risk of osteoporosis.

Cardiovascular issues

Studies have suggested a potential link between high-protein diets, particularly those rich in animal protein and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

These diets may elevate levels of certain risk factors, such as cholesterol and triglycerides, which can contribute to arterial plaque buildup and raise the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Digestive troubles

Consuming large quantities of protein, particularly from animal sources, can also challenge digestive health. High-protein diets may lack the necessary fiber content, leading to constipation and other gastrointestinal issues.

Additionally, excessive intake of certain types of protein, such as red and processed meats, has been linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer [3].

Kidney strain

One notable concern associated with overconsumption of protein is kidney strain. The kidneys play a pivotal role in filtering waste products from the blood, including the by-products of protein metabolism, such as urea and ammonia.

High protein intake can increase the kidney workload, potentially leading to kidney damage or exacerbating pre-existing conditions.

Nutritional imbalance

Focusing excessively on protein intake may lead to dietary imbalances, which can overshadow the importance of other essential nutrients.

Consuming a diet disproportionately high in protein may result in inadequate intake of carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals necessary for overall health and wellbeing [4].

Unwanted weight gain

Despite its reputation as a weight-loss aid, excessive protein consumption can contribute to weight gain if not balanced with overall caloric intake. Protein-rich foods are often accompanied by fats and carbohydrates, which can lead to excess calorie consumption if not carefully monitored.

Some protein supplements and high-protein processed foods may contain added sugars and unhealthy fats, further exacerbating the risk of weight gain and metabolic disorders.

While protein is crucial for optimal health, moderation is key to reaping its benefits without incurring potential risks.

Maintaining a balanced diet that includes a various protein sources, like lean meats, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds, can help ensure adequate intake while minimizing adverse health effects.

Consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian can provide personalized guidance on protein consumption based on individual health status, dietary preferences and lifestyle factors. 

Learn more about this topic in a new study published in Nature Metabolism.

[1] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2024/02/240219130901.htm
[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002916522033603
[3] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-guidelines-and-food-labels/red-meat-and-the-risk-of-bowel-cancer/#
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7071223/

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