I love this cartoon by Dan Piraro, which cleverly points to the irony of the protein debate. In case you’re wondering, gorilla’s, as big, buff and built as they are, are actually mostly herbivores. In fact, the amount of protein that most people are consuming is generally causing more harm than good. This is the second post in this protein series, answering all your questions about protein and debunking many popular protein myths.
In this post we will look at the health consequences of eating too much protein. In the previous post in this protein series, we looked at what we actually need for protein intake. We only need between 5%-10% of total calories to come from protein on any healthy diet.
We also discussed that the average intake of protein consumption for the average American is roughly 15-16% – much higher than the more realistic requirement range of 5-6% that Dr. Campbell, Dr. Douglas Graham, the World Health Organization and even the RDA recommend.
At the 5-10% range of protein intake, depending on size, weight and activity level, we would need a ballpark range of 30-60 grams of protein. In the 15%-16% range we start to see protein weigh in at roughly 70-100 grams and upwards.
How does our body handle this much protein and what are the health consequences of consuming double what our body actually needs? Is 15-20% protein consumption too high – is there such a thing as too much protein?
There is definite concern that industrialized countries are overconsuming protein.[i] Research is pointing in the direction of increased health consequences, specifically increased risk of cancer once we surpass the amount of dietary protein needed to satisfy our body’s growth rate.[ii]
What The Experts Say on Excess Protein
Consider what some of the top experts in the field of nutrition have to say about consuming excess protein:
- According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, there is “a strong correlation between dietary protein intake and cancer of the breast, prostate, pancreas, and colon.”
- According to Dr. Douglas Graham, a leading authority in the field of nutrition: “Too much protein in our diets is associated with all manner of health impairments, including such symptoms as constipation and other digestive disorders that often lead to toxemia (toxic blood and tissues) and eventually, cancer. Autoimmune dysfunction, arthritis, and all other autoimmune conditions, premature aging, impaired liver function, kidney failure, osteoporosis, and many other pathogenic conditions result from eating more protein than we need.”[iii]
- According to Dr. Gabriel Cousens in his book Conscious Eating “An excess protein diet has also been found to cause a deficiency of B6 and B3. Protein has also been found to leach out calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium from the system.”[iv]
- The late nutrition expert, Paavo Airola, Ph.D., stated that overeating protein “contributes to the development of many of our most common and serious diseases, such as arthritis, kidney damage, pyorrhea, schizophrenia, osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and cancer: and that a “high protein diet causes premature aging and lowers life expectancy.”
- Dr. M. Ted Morter Jr., author of “Your Health, Your Choice” also believes that excess protein (in excess of what our bodies require) wreaks havoc on our health. He says that “Too much protein – that time-honored foundation of nutrition – puts such radical physiological stress on the body that the healing process is sabotaged. This, in turn sets us up for developing the chronic diseases that plague our population.”
Why Does Excess Protein Lead to Disease?
Excess Proteins Clog Basement Membranes
There are a number of explanations for why too much protein isn’t in our best interests. One of the explanations has to do with the basement membranes of our cells. A family of research physicians, the Wednts, showed that excess protein results in clogging the basement membranes. Why would this matter? Because the basement membranes are how nutrients and oxygen filter into the cells and how waste products filter out. When the basement membranes get clogged with protein, nutrients and oxygen can’t filter in, and toxins can’t filter out, resulting in cell anoxia (meaning decreased oxygen in the cell) and malnutrition.[v] In Your Health, Your Choice, Dr. Morter writes, “The unrelenting consumption of excess dietary protein congests your cells and forces the pH of your life-sustaining fluids down to cell-stifling, disease-producing levels. Cells overburdened with protein become toxic.”
Excess Proteins Increase Acidity
Protein foods also tend to be more acidic, this is because the acidic minerals including choline, phosphorus and sulfur predominate. Our blood’s optimal pH is slightly alkaline. The body also always strives to maintain homeostasis, the tendency for a relatively stable equilibrium. So when we eat higher acidic foods, our bodies immediately get to work, compensating for the higher levels of acidity and trying to bring the blood back to slightly alkaline. How does the body bring the blood back to slightly alkaline? It leaches alkaline minerals, particularly calcium from our bones and teeth to achieve the desired homeostasis. This is why osteoporosis is on the radar of potential health consequences from excess protein consumption.
Excess Protein Strains the Kidneys
Excess protein can’t be stored in the body, and thus, must be excreted out and eliminated. Excess protein is filtered from the blood by the kidneys and put into the urine for elimination. Over time, this puts a tremendous amount of strain on the kidneys and can accelerate the loss of kidney function, also leading to kidney disease.
Luckily, these conditions can be reversed and prevented with a low-fat, raw vegan diet, by eliminating flesh foods in the diet and replacing them with whole, organic living foods, inherently providing us with the optimal range of protein in the 5-10% range of total calories.
As we will see, not all proteins are created equal and there is indeed a difference between plant based protein and animal based protein. We will take a look at the misconceptions about ‘superior quality’ complete proteins versus ‘lower quality incomplete’ proteins as well as discover the truth about wether animal protein is of better quality than plant protein. You may be surprised to find which one of these is actually higher quality.
Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii,
Laura Dawn, Registered Holistic Nutritionist
[i] Elson M. Hass, MD Stayong Healthy with Nutrition – The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine
[ii] The China Study Startling implications for diet, weight-loss and long term health. Page 58.
[iii] Dr. Douglas Graham, The 80/10/10 Diet page 106
[iv] Gabriel Cousens, MD Conscious Eating page 314
[v] Gabriel Cousens, MD Conscious Eating page 314