Whey is one of two major sources of protein found in milk. Casein constitutes approximately 80% of the total protein in bovine milk, and whey protein accounts for about 20%.
In the past decades, whey protein supplementation has gained immense popularity among athletes as it is reported to improve athletic performance, and promote the growth of lean muscle mass when used in conjunction with resistance exercises. Although whey protein is a high-quality protein source, with the highest biological value, and a very easy digestibility, it is more than just a simple protein. Whey contains specific smaller protein fractions with potent biological effects. Let’s look at some of the health benefits!
WHEY PROTEIN SUPPORTS IMMUNITY
Studies showed that specific components of whey demonstrate a wide range of immune-enhancing properties, including the improved production of antibodies, destruction of pathogens, decreasing of inflammation, and elimination of toxins.
In fact, a special report published in Therapy, researchers concluded that whey possesses immunomodulatory potential. This includes enhancing glutathione, natural killer cells, cytotoxic T-cells and the phagocytic process. This in turn leads to an enhancement in its capacity to defend against infections and many immune diseases, such as inflammatory disorders and autoimmune diseases. 1
In particular, three whey peptides are identified as boosting the immune system by increasing production of glutathione! Glutathione is the centerpiece of the body’s antioxidant defense system that protects our cells against free radical damage, pollution, toxins, and infection. Glutathione levels are typically depressed in individuals with cancer, HIV, or chronic fatigue syndrome. Glutathione also decreases after prolonged, exhaustive exercise. In a particular study, a 2-week supplementation of whey protein increased the glutathione levels of participants by 44% on average! 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
In addition, it has also been found that whey may improve the body capabilities to produce antibodies. Antibodies are protective proteins produced by the immune system in response to the presence of a foreign substance. They are designed to neutralize pathogens. It has been found, that whey supplementation may significantly improve primary and secondary antibody responses to a variety of vaccines, resulting in greater immune responsiveness and reduced infection severity. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
WHEY PROTEIN MAY IMPROVE WEIGHT-LOSS
Increasing protein consumption at the expense of carbohydrates and/or fats is found to be a simple and effective tool for decreasing fat deposits. In fact, over the past couple years, there have been six highly comprehensive meta-analyses concluding that greater reductions in body weight, fat mass, and/or preservation of lean body mass can be achievable with high-protein diets compared to standard protein diets. 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17
It may sound surprising, but different protein sources may have different effects! In a 12-week study, published in Nutrition & Metabolism, researchers found that people on a 500-calorie-reduced diet lost more body fat and preserved more lean muscle when taking a whey protein supplement 20 minutes before breakfast and 20 minutes before dinner.18
In another study performed at Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, overweight and obese participants were randomly supplemented with whey protein (~56 grams of protein per day), soy protein (with the same amount of protein), or isoenergetic amount of carbohydrates. Over 23 weeks, bringing protein intake up from 12% of the diet to 23% was able to reduce fat mass by 2.3 kg. But this effect was only seen in the whey protein group, while soy protein merely prevented an increase in weight seen with carbohydrate supplementation. 19
WHEY PROTEIN MAY IMPROVE BLOOD PRESSURE
Researchers found that whey protein contains a natural bioactive peptide called lactokine that may have an ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitory activity. ACE is a central component of a complex system which controls our blood pressure, ACE actually increases blood pressure by causing blood vessels to constrict.20
In a study published in International Dairy Journal, young adults with elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressure, consumed 28 grams per day of whey protein for six weeks. At the end of that period, systolic blood pressure was reduced by 8.0, diastolic blood pressure by 8.6, and mean arterial pressure by 6.4 mm Hg. 21
In another more recent study, 28 grams of whey protein two times daily for eight weeks caused a significant reduction in 24-h blood pressure (for systolic blood pressure: −3.9 mm Hg; for diastolic blood pressure: −2.5 mm Hg).22
WHEY PROTEIN MAY IMPROVE BLOOD LIPID PROFILE
Triglycerides as well as elevated LDL-cholesterol levels are considered an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Studies have suggested that whey supplementation may have beneficial effects on these markers. 23, 24, 25, 26
A comprehensive analysis that combined the results of 13 individual trials showed that whey supplementation may significantly reduce the circulating triglyceride level. 23
Although the cholesterol lowering effect of whey is not that conclusive, in a study from Curtin University of Technology, consuming 54 grams of whey protein per day in overweight individuals, for 12 weeks, led to a significant reduction in total cholesterol and LDL (the so-called “bad”) cholesterol. 24
WHEY PROTEIN MAY IMPROVE BONE HEALTH
Many epidemiological studies have found a significant positive relationship between protein intake and bone mass or density. Although positive effects of protein intake on bone health may only be beneficial under conditions of adequate calcium intake, in such cases high-protein intake may positively impact bone health by several mechanisms. These include calcium absorption, stimulation of the secretion of insulin-like growth factor-1, and enhancement of lean body mass. 27, 28
Early studies found that milk whey protein, especially its basic protein, promoted bone formation and suppressed bone resorption, while maintaining the balance of bone remodeling. 29, 30, 33 Lately It has been showed that lactoferrin (a smaller fraction of whey) is a potent regulator of bone cell activity and increases bone formation, while decreasing bone breakdown. 31, 32, 33
In addition, in a review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that some other fraction of whey provided protection against tooth tissue demineralization, while other whey components may exert favorable effects on dental plaque, because of their immunostimulatory effects. 33, 34
So, we can conclude that whey protein isn’t just for those seeking bigger muscles. It is among the best studied supplements in the world, and for good reason, as numerous scientific studies have revealed its health benefits. If you would like to enjoy these advantages, choose a high-quality whey protein formula.
- Beaulieu J, Dupont C, Lemieux P.: Whey proteins and peptides: beneficial effects on immune health. Therapy (2006) 3(1), 69-78, 10.1586/14750708.3.1.69, 2006 Future Drugs Ltd ISSN 1475-0708
- Ford JT, Wong CW, Colditz IG. Effects of dietary protein types on immune responses and levels of infection with Eimeria vermiformis in mice. Immunol Cell Biol 2001;79(1):23-8.
- Cross M L, Gill HS. Immunomodulatory properties of milk. Brit J Nutr. 2000;84:S81-9.
- Clare DA, Swaisgood HE. Bioactive milk peptides: A prospectus. J Dairy Sci. 2000;83:1187-95.
- Low PPL, Rutherford KJ, Gill HS, Cross ML. Effect of dietary whey protein concentrate on primary and secondary antibody responses in immunized BALB/C mice. Int Immunopharmacol. 2003;3:393-401.
- Kent KD, Harper WJ, Bomser JA. Effect of whey protein isolate on intracellular glutathione and oxidant-induced cell death in human prostate epithelial cells. Toxicol In Vitro. 2003 Feb;17(1):27-33.
- Bounous G, Gervais F, Amer V, Batist G, Gold P. The influence of dietary whey protein on tissue glutathione and the diseases of aging. Clin Invest Med. 1989;12:343-9.
- Townsend DM, Tew KD, Tapiero H. The importance of glutathione in human disease. Biomed Pharmacother. 2003 May-Jun;57(3-4):145-55.
- Wu G, Fang YZ, Yang S, Lupton JR, Turner ND. Glutathione metabolism and its implications for health. J Nutr. 2004 Mar;134(3):489-92.
- Katsanos CS, Chinkes DL, Paddon-Jones D, Zhang XJ, Aarsland A, Wolfe RR. Whey protein ingestion in elderly persons results in greater muscle protein accrual than ingestion of its constituent essential amino acid content. Nutr Res. 2008 Oct;28(10):651-8.
- Bounous G, Batist G, Gold P. Immunoenhancing property of dietary whey protein in mice: role of glutathione. Clin Invest Med. 1989 Jun;12(3):154-61.
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- Clifton PM, Condo D, Keogh JB: Long term weight maintenance after advice to consume low carbohydrate, higher protein diets–a systematic review and meta analysis. 2014 Nutr. Metab. Cardiovasc. Dis. 24(3): 224-235.
- Dong JY, Zhang Z.L., Wang, PY, Qin, LQ: Effects of high-protein diets on body weight, glycaemic control, blood lipids and blood pressure in type 2 diabetes: meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. 2013 Br. J. Nutr. 110(5): 781-789.
- Santesso N, Akl E.A., Bianchi M., Mente A., Mustafa R., Heels-Ansdell D., Schunemann H.J.:Effects of higher- versus lower-protein diets on health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. 2012 Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 66(7): 780-788.
- Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G: Comparison of high vs. normal/low protein diets on renal function in subjects without chronic kidney disease: a systematic review and meta- analysis. 2014 PLoS ONE. 9: e97656.
- Wycherley TP, Moran LJ, Clifton PM, Noakes M, Brinkworth GD.: Effects of energy-restricted high-protein, low-fat compared with standard-protein, low-fat diets: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Dec; 96(6):1281-98.
- Frestedt JL, Zenk JL, Kuskowski MA, Ward LS, Bastian ED. A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2008;5:8. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-5-8.
- Baer DJ, Stote KS, Paul DR, Harris GK, Rumpler WV, Clevidence BA. Whey Protein but Not Soy Protein Supplementation Alters Body Weight and Composition in Free-Living Overweight and Obese Adults. The Journal of Nutrition. 2011;141(8):1489-1494. doi:10.3945/jn.111.139840.
- FitzGerald RJ, Meisel H.: Lactokinins: whey protein-derived ACE inhibitory peptides. Nahrung. 1999 Jun;43(3):165-7.
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- Fekete ÁA, Giromini C, Chatzidiakou Y, Givens DI, Lovegrove JA. Whey protein lowers blood pressure and improves endothelial function and lipid biomarkers in adults with prehypertension and mild hypertension: results from the chronic Whey2Go randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016;104(6):1534-1544. doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.137919.
- Zhang JW, Tong X, Wan Z, Wang Y, Qin LQ1,, Szeto IM.: Effect of whey protein on blood lipid profiles: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2016 Aug;70(8):879-85. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2016.39. Epub 2016 Mar 30.
- Pal S, Ellis V.: The chronic effects of whey proteins on blood pressure, vascular function, and inflammatory markers in overweight individuals. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Jul;18(7):1354-9. doi: 10.1038/oby.2009.397. Epub 2009 Nov 5.
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- Mangano KM, Sahni S, Kerstetter JE. Dietary protein is beneficial to bone health under conditions of adequate calcium intake: an update on clinical research. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care. 2014;17(1):69-74. doi:10.1097/MCO.0000000000000013.
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