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This is Scary!

What Exactly is Cadmium and Why is it in Muscle Milk — and Spinach?!

Remember the huge news story about McDonald’s recalling 12 million Shrek drinking glasses that were made in China? Here’s a link, in case you missed it. Anyway,  it was discovered that the glasses contained “elevated levels of cadmium.”

Cadmium is the same metal that is present in nickel-cadmium batteries. It is toxic.

“Cadmium occurs naturally in small amounts in soil and some foods but is carcinogenic to humans and can result in negative health effects such as bone softening if ingested,” wrote Elana Schor of Greenwire. Wait… did she say that it’s in “some foods”?!

Did you know, the average American eats food containing roughly 30 micrograms (ug) of cadmium each day? According to The Toxicology Profile for Cadmium (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry), “If you do not eat foods that contain enough iron or other nutrients, you are likely to take up more cadmium from your food than usual.”

In fact, according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “Dietary deficiencies of calcium, iron, and zinc enhance the effects of [metals] on cognitive and behavioral development.”

Cadmium does, however, leave your body, via urine and feces, but too much can cause damage (Google “Nephrotoxicity“).

Mommy, How much is too much cadmium?

The Department of Health and Human Services concluded that there were sufficient human and animal data to conclude that cadmium is a known human carcinogen. The FDA has determined that cadmium levels in bottled water, for instance, should not exceed 0.005 mg/L. However, the EPA has determined that lifetime exposure to 0.005 mg/L cadmium in drinking water is not expected to cause any adverse effects. Why are both of these amounts the same? The FDA advised on per unit of bottled water and the EPA, over a lifetime. Frustrating.

Cadmium in Our Food

Cadmium binds to organic matter (soil) and is eventually absorbed by plants, thus entering the food supply. In the United States, people who regularly consume shellfish and organ meats will have higher exposures. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach, potatoes and grains, peanuts, soybeans, and sunflower seeds contain high levels of cadmium. According to a “public health” white paper put out by The Agency for Toxic Substances, some of these foods are: dry roasted peanuts (0.051 mg/kg); smooth peanut butter (0.056 mg/kg); shredded wheat cereal (0.057 mg/kg); boiled spinach (0.125 mg/kg) and potato chips (0.062 mg/kg). If you’re concerned, a blood test will show your recent exposure to cadmium and a urine test will show both your recent and your past exposure.

Cadmium in Muscle Milk, EAS Myoplex and Other Protein Drinks

The impetus for this story were the shocking — and disturbing — findings released by Consumer Reports (What’s in Your Protein Drink?). EAS Myoplex Original Rich Dark Chocolate contained 5.1 micrograms (based on three servings) and Muscle Milk was found to contain 5.6 micrograms. It should be noted that according to Consumer Reports, in certain samples of EAS products, traces of cadmium were “below measurable.” Incidentally, EAS did in fact, send me a recall notice late last year. But why is it present in the first place and 5.0 micrograms, seems high.

As cadmium is naturally occurring, Tod Cooperman, President of, an independent testing facility specifically for dietary supplements including cadmium advised that according to WHO’s Quality Control Methods for Medicinal Plant Material, the “Product must contain less than 0.3 parts per million (or micrograms per gram) of cadmium or less than 0.1 parts per million for extracts.” Moreover, Mercy Hospital dietitian, Kelly O’Connor, told me simply, via email, that cadmium,has no nutritional value and is not something that we generally promote.”

A spokesperson for Abbott Nutrition in Columbus OH (makers of Myoplex) sent me this message in June of 2011, in an email:  “The results in Consumer Reports are misleading. They ignored recommended label usage for Myoplex (2 servings a day) and did not use established or approved safety standards. Thirdly, the report did not provide consumers with a baseline of everyday foods that also carry these same existing metals to put the results in context — these metals are present everywhere in the environment and in our food supply.”

So, if cadmium was undetectable in certain EAS brands, why is it detectable in Original Rich Dark Chocolate and if the suggested serving is two (and not three), does drinking three mean that you are now exposed to harmful levels? “Be assured, there is no safety risk from these trace amounts in our Myoplex shakes,” the Abbott spokesperson wrote.

Speaking of “trace amounts” here’s what’s in Muscle Milk (FYI: some of these ingredients were originally here but have now mysteriously vanished. They remain on partner distributors’ websites.

Maltodextrin (the second ingredient) – a crispness enhancer and textile finishing agent. Some forms are also used as a binding agent in paper coating formulations.

Microcrystalline cellulose – a filler used as a thickener in processed foods. Some derivatives are used in wallpaper paste.

Sodium hexametaphosphate – a complex compound used to soften water and some detergents. Applications include agriculture use to break down clay and other soil types.

Cholecalciferol – similar in structure to testosterone, cortisol and cholesterol all three are also commonly known as steroids.

The majority of the ingredients in most popular, body building supplements (which is what Muscle Milk is) are synthetic.

I suppose ingesting in small quantities may be harmless, but I can assert that the brilliant name alone is responsible for many guys’ consumption in a fervent pursuit for instant muscles. Moreover, Muscle Milk contains a whopping 340 calories, 150 of which come from fat (there is approximately 185 calories in one plain donut).

Here’s the Nutrition Facts label from a Muscle Milk product taken July 7, 2011

As of January 1, 2012, cadmium falls under the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (California) Proposition 65 (

No one from CytoSport, the makers of Muscle Milk, responded to my inquiry.

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  • “@stefanpinto: What Exactly is Cadmium and Why is it in Muscle Milk?!: via @AddThis”

  • What Exactly is Cadmium and Why is it in Muscle Milk — and other protein drinks?! Another reason to B’more Organic

    B'more Organic (@BmoreOrganic)

    12:23 pm

  • I am so glad I stopped drinking MuscleMilk because it was high in fat. Def not going to drink and will tell others too.

    Ara Kazarian

    10:34 pm

  • What Exactly is Cadmium and Why is it in Muscle Milk — and Spinach?! via @stefanpinto

  • Stefan, this is very troubling information. I don’t drink protein shakes but I know you do and some of my other friends. Is there regulations on cadmium?

    Rona E

    7:06 pm

  • Interesting data. I have been buying myoplex shakes for my teenage son to drink. I use the APEX fit chocolate whey and the Syntha-6 vanilla ice cream whey by another company. I actually take selenium capsules as I read in a supplement book that it is good for the skin and I have eczema. Hard to know what to believe anymore since in the autism community they say the vaccines caused autism and in my case it is in the genes. People also call it mercury poisoning. I tend to focus on the transition into adulthood instead of how and why they developed autism.

    Bonnie Sayers

    6:56 pm

  • What Exactly is Cadmium and Why is it in Muscle Milk — and Spinach?! via @stefanpinto

    Leah Segedie (@bookieboo)

    5:25 pm

  • oh no, yuck….. i just had the chocolate muscle milk this weekend after my tennis workout. time to throw away the vanilla banana. So tell me, what should I drink after a work out? what are my options??

    Team Melba Christine

    Melba Christine

    4:33 pm

  • This is a great article Stefan

    Adam Kastoria

    3:56 pm

  • I have just read your comment on selenium, dairy farmers add selenium to the the grass, for the cows to graze on, if the farmer feels that his cows are not getting enough.

    barbara smith

    3:52 pm

  • Cadmium is a metal, and poisonous. Why it is present in some powders,may depend o a number of reasons. Where they get their milk from, what kind of land the cows are grazing on, what they are fed on, or possibly down to the dairy as well!

    Spinach as well, may depend on where it is growing, as not all spinach will be high in cadmium.

    Cadmium is present in the earths crust in varying levels, it is also used to coat metals, in order to make them rust resistant. consequently, if a dairy has cadmium coated metal that would increase the risk, but more worryingly, it is used in reactors, and japan had a reactor explode, and it could be carried in the air.

    barbara smith

    3:49 pm

  • Someone smartly asked me on Facebook what decreases the effects of cadmium.

    I found this in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “it has been noted that vitamin E and other antioxidants also decrease mercury toxicity, prompting the hypothesis that selenium may decrease mercury toxicity by counteracting the effects of free radicals generated by mercury toxicity to cell membranes.”

    Stefan Pinto

    12:39 pm

  • They say taking in other metals will reduce the amount of cadmium absorbed. So is the iron is spinach enough to cancel out the cadmium in it?

    ( Wallpaper paste, paper coating and cadmium – which is in cadmium red, yellow and blue paint – makes it sound like their marketing it wrong. Should be ‘decorator milk. Scary.)


    5:34 am

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