Q: Is it safe for someone with gout to take whey protein supplements?

A: Whey protein supplements are popular among athletes and bodybuilders because the supplements are often marketed as a means of building and maintaining muscle following workouts during which amino acids are depleted.

Whey proteins are a mixture of proteins that can be isolated from whey, a byproduct of cheese making. Whey proteins are considered complete proteins – that is, they include all the essential amino acids.

Gout is a form of arthritis stemming from an inborn error in the metabolism of the bodily waste product uric acid. Excess uric acid circulating in the blood seeps out and forms crystals in and around the joints. Historically, gout causes or contributing factors have included the consumption of a “rich” diet and the presence of a high level of purines. Purines, like proteins, include nitrogen and ultimately are excreted by the kidney as uric acid.

Whey proteins may not be linked directly with gout. However, people with gout should exercise caution before increasing the protein load from whey. The burden on the kidneys to excrete or clear the whey products might become excessive, especially if the kidneys are already compromised.

When deciding whether to use nutritional supplements, including whey protein supplements, discuss the pros and cons with your doctor. He or she will have the information needed about your kidney status, is familiar with the medications you are taking to treat gout and can evaluate your muscle status.

Mary Fran Sowers, PhD, RD, Registered Dietitian and Epidemiologist