By : Apeksha Thakkar Clinical Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator and Nutrigenomic Counselor
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                                                 Whey Protein An Emerging Health Boon

 

Whey protein is used as supplementation alongside exercise to promote the growth of lean muscle mass. However, what exactly is it, and what are the benefits?

Milk is made of two proteins, casein and whey. In the cheese making process, enzymes added in the milk to curdle it. This forms the liquid whey and the solid curds (casein). This whey separate from solid curds, pasteurized and dried to make Whey protein powder.

(DOI: 10.5829/idosi.mejsr.2012.12.3.64227)

Nutritional Profile

They are readily digestible excellent protein source, which contains all 20 amino acids and high levels of all 9 essential amino acids critical for the human body.

Whey protein is rich in branched chain amino acids (BCAAs: valine, leucine, and isoleucine), which preserves muscles during intense exercise among other vital functions.

(https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/135.7.1609)

There are three primary types of whey protein:

Whey Protein Hydrolysate, Concentrate and Isolate. Whey Protein Isolates are the purest protein (90% protein), lactose free and fat free. These supplements have various applications in the food industry: It is used to make infant foods, nutritional supplements for athletes and clinical protein supplements. (https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/bc28/3f1572a2539fdf3795133cdae82fd8abce71.pdf?_ga=2.10020725.1185592373.1618309169-1218926567.1618309169)

Benefits of Whey Protein may include:

Whey protein is an excellent protein source to improve and maintain health of individuals of all ages.

Effect on muscles

Whey proteins are important for athletes, since they are a rich source of branched chain amino acids which aid in repairing and rebuilding lean muscle tissue, promote muscle protein synthesis and growth in athletes. (DOI: 10.5829/idosi.mejsr.2012.12.3.64227)

Role in Appetite

 Whey proteins can boost secretion of satiety hormones and reduce that of hunger hormones. They help you keep full, which reduces hunger pangs and the urge to eat unhealthy snacks.

(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464615004570#bib0425)

Several studies have shown an association between whey protein intake and a  significant decrease in appetite, blood glucose levels and food intake, and an increase in insulin levels.(https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2009.397)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Role in Weight Loss

Whey protein promotes weight loss by:

Suppressing the appetite which leads to reduced calorie intake.

Protein requires more calories for digestion, hence more calories are burned after a protein rich meal.

Helps to preserve the body's muscle mass as weight loss occurs. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2289832/)

Antioxidant Effect  

Whey proteins have all the essential amino acids including cysteine in optimal levels which is important for glutathione production ,a potent antioxidant. Glutathione protects cells against oxidative stress caused by pollution, toxins and UV exposure and cuts  the risk of various chronic diseases. (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2015.09.040)

Effect on Diabetes

Whey protein is beneficial in Type 2 Diabetes as it helps to decrease blood glucose, increase levels of insulin, restore muscle mass, and curb appetite-controlling hormones. Thus, it keeps a check on blood sugar and body weight which are risk factors in Type 2 Diabetes. 

Role in cardiovascular disease 

Several clinical studies have demonstrated the benefit of whey protein supplementation in reducing the cardiovascular risks by improving the HDL levels (good fat) in people undergoing resistance training.  (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464615004570#bib0060)

Whey protein, when consumed by individuals with hypertension, has shown to have significant effect in reducing blood pressure , a major risk factor for cardiac disease. (https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/104/6/1534/4564684)\

Effect on Cholesterol

Whey protein supplementation has been effective in maintaining total cholesterol and LDL levels in a number of clinical studies. (DOI:10.1017/S0007114510000991)

The functional components like BCAAs and sphingolipids present in whey protein inhibits cholesterol absorption in the intestine. (https://lipidworld.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12944-020-01384-7)

Effect on Immunity

Whey proteins contain high quality amino acids, BCAAs and individual proteins such as lactoferrin and immunoglobulins, all of which help in enhancing the immune system.  (https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.492.5234&rep=rep1&type=pdf)

Immunoglobulins are antibodies exhibiting antimicrobial action that provide effective protection against gastrointestinal infections in humans. (https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/bc28/3f1572a2539fdf3795133cdae82fd8abce71.pdf?ga=2.10020725.1185592373.1618309169-1218926567.1618309169)

How safe are Whey Protein supplements?

For an average person, protein requirement is 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day, which is achievable through diet.

Whereas, an athlete or bodybuilder may need 1.0 to 1.5 grams and sometimes-even 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight a day.                                 (http://ilsiindia.org/PDF/Nutrition_&_Hyd_Guidelines_for_Athletes_Final_report.pdf)

In people who are not physically very active, too much protein can be harmful as they lead to weight gain, excess calcium loss resulting in osteoporosis and added burden to kidneys (for excretion) which can cause possible kidney problems. (http://ilsiindia.org/PDF/Nutrition_&_Hyd_Guidelines_for_Athletes_Final_report.pdf)

Different whey protein powders vary in calories, fat and lactose content. Keep a check on the food labels.

Takeaway

Whey protein supplements are a healthy and effective source of protein, which is absorbable. With the myriad health benefits, it is emerging as a great nutritional supplement for both clinical use and in exercise and weight training. GRD - The Superior Protein (www.grdprotein.in) offers a range of protein powders for adults, pregnant women and diabetics which contains whey protein and essential vitamins and minerals.

Consult a doctor and a registered dietician before experimenting with supplements.

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