People commonly use whey as a supplement, along with resistance exercise, to help improve muscle protein synthesis and promote the growth of lean muscle mass. But what is it and what are the benefits of using it?
Milk is made of two proteins, casein and whey. Whey protein can be separated from the casein in milk or it can be formed as a by-product of cheese making. Whey protein is considered a complete protein as it contains all 9 essential amino acids and is low in lactose.
There are many benefits associated with consuming whey protein, and researchers are constantly finding new potential therapeutic properties. Here, we explain what the benefits might be and look at some of the potential side effects and risks.
Benefits of whey protein
- Helps with weight loss: In a study of 158 people, published in Nutrition & Metabolism, those who received whey “lost significantly more body fat and showed greater preservation of lean muscle compared to subjects who consumed the control drink ”.
- Anti-Cancer Properties: Promising results were published in the journal Anticancer Research on the use of whey protein concentrate in the treatment of cancer. More research is needed.
- Cholesterol lowering: One study, published in The British Journal of Nutrition, provided 70 overweight men and women with serum supplements for 12 weeks and measured a number of parameters, such as lipid and insulin levels. They found that “there was a significant decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol at week 12 in the serum group compared to casein (group).”
- Asthma: Whey protein may enhance the immune response in children with asthma. A small study with 11 children, published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, found that children with asthma who were supplemented with 10 grams of whey protein twice a day for 1 month had a better immune response.
- Blood pressure and cardiovascular disease : Research published in the International Dairy Journal found that beverages supplemented with whey protein significantly lowered blood pressure in hypertensive patients; their risk of developing heart disease or stroke was also lower.
- Reduce weight loss in people with HIV: A study published in the journal Clinical and Investigative Medicine found that whey protein can help reduce weight loss among HIV patients.
Possible dangers of Whey protein
Some people who are allergic to milk may be specifically allergic to buttermilk. In moderate doses, whey protein does not usually cause any adverse events. However, consuming very high doses can cause:
- stomach aches
- reduced appetite
Constant high doses of whey protein can also cause acne. From a nutritional point of view, whey protein is very unusual and has no natural equivalent. Some people believe there are risks to nutritionally refined foods like these, because even though they contain many nutrients, the balance is heavily skewed toward protein.
Types of whey proteins
There are three main types of whey protein; whey protein concentrate (WPC), whey protein isolate (WPI) and hydrolyzed whey protein (WPH).
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
- Whey Protein Concentrate – WPC contains low levels of fat and low levels of carbohydrates. The percentage of protein in WPC depends on how concentrated it is. Low end concentrates tend to be 30 percent protein and up to 90 percent high.
- Whey Protein Isolate – WPIs are processed to remove all fat and lactose. WPI is generally at least 90 percent protein.
- Hydrolyzed Whey Protein – WPH is considered to be the “predigested” form of whey protein, as it has already undergone partial hydrolysis, a process necessary for the body to absorb protein. WPH does not require as much digestion as the other two forms of whey protein.
Additionally, WPH is commonly used in medical protein supplements and infant formulas due to its improved digestibility and reduced allergen potential.
Facts about whey protein
- Many of the potential benefits are based on unique studies and more evidence is required before a final judgment is made.
- Whey protein is a mixture of beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, bovine serum albumin, and immunoglobulins.
- Possible benefits include weight loss and lowering cholesterol.
- Possible dangers include nausea and headaches, but at moderate doses, whey protein is not considered dangerous.
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Dr. Samantha Robson ( CRN: 0510146-5) is a nutritionist and website content reviewer related to her area of expertise. With a postgraduate degree in Nutrition from The University of Arizona, she is a specialist in Sports Nutrition from Oxford University and is also a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.