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10 Health Benefits of Whey Protein

Whey protein is derived from milk during making of cheese, is well-known for its muscle-building and health benefits. It has a high nutritional content, and scientific research has found several health benefits.

Whey protein may offer the following health benefits:

1. Reduced Inflammation

Inflammation is a natural biological response of the body’s immune system to injury, infection, or damage. It’s a complex process involving various cells, chemicals, and tissues. Whey protein may reduce inflammation in several ways, including:

  • Antioxidative properties: Whey protein contains antioxidants that can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation (1).
  • Reducing inflammatory biomarkers: Whey protein supplementation may decrease levels of inflammatory biomarkers such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), interleukin 6 (IL-6), and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) (2).
  • Amino acid content: Whey protein contains amino acids like arginine, glycine, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which can help reduce inflammation and promote wound healing (3).

Chronic inflammation can be a risk factor for many chronic diseases. It might reflect fundamental medical issues or terrible lifestyle habits. Remember, whey protein is a supplement, not a replacement for medical treatment. If you’re experiencing chronic or severe inflammation, consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Whey protein can be a useful supplement for reducing inflammation, but it depends on various factors. However, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before using whey protein for inflammation, especially if you have Underlying medical conditions (e.g., kidney disease, liver disease, or allergies)

2. Improved Blood Sugar Control

Type 2 diabetes causes high blood sugar and impaired insulin function. Insulin is a hormone that reinforces the take-up of blood sugar into cells, keeping it within healthy limits. Whey protein can help reduce blood sugar levels in several ways:

  1. Slows down carbohydrate absorption: Whey protein can slow down the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream, reducing the spike in blood sugar levels (4).
  2. Stimulates insulin production: Whey protein can stimulate the production of insulin, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels.
  3. Improves insulin sensitivity: Whey protein can improve insulin sensitivity, making it easier for glucose to enter the cells (5).
  4. Increases glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1): Whey protein can increase the production of GLP-1, a hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar levels (4).

When compared with a unique source of protein, for example, egg white or fish, whey protein appears to have the best results in controlling blood sugar limits (6, 7). These benefits of whey protein are similar to those of other diabetic medicines, such as sulfonylureas.

Whey protein is effective at moderating blood sugar and may increase insulin sensitivity. The consumption of protein with a high-carb dinner may control blood sugar in both diabetic and nondiabetic people.

3. Convenient and Easy to Digest

Whey protein is a high quality protein that contains all of the essential amino acids. In addition, it is very digestible, absorbed quickly compared with other types of protein. Whey protein is convenient and easy to digest for several reasons:

  1. Quick Absorption: Whey protein is absorbed quickly by the body, making it ideal for post-workout recovery or as a snack between meals (8).
  2. Easy to Mix: Whey protein powder is easy to mix with water or other liquids, making it a convenient addition to your diet.
  3. Portable: Whey protein powder is lightweight and easy to carry, making it perfect for travel or on-the-go use.
  4. No Cooking Required: Whey protein does not require cooking, saving time and effort.
  5. Gentle on Stomach: Whey protein is generally easy on the stomach and can be digested by most people, even those with sensitive stomachs (9).
  6. Low in Lactose: Whey protein contains very little lactose, making it a good option for those with lactose intolerance (10).

However, it’s important to note that individual tolerance and digestive comfort can vary. Some people may experience bloating, gas, or stomach discomfort, especially if they are new to using whey protein or have specific dietary sensitivities.

Whey protein is a convenient and easy-to-digest supplement that can be easily incorporated into your diet, making it a great option for those looking to support muscle growth, recovery, and overall health

4. Muscle Building and Repair

Lean muscle mass decreases with age. This leads to increased body fat and raises the risk of many diseases. Exercise and a healthy diet can avoid this diversity in the body. However, whey protein helps with muscle building and repair in several ways:

  1. Provides Essential Amino Acids: Whey protein contains all nine essential amino acids necessary for muscle growth and repair (11).
  2. Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis: Whey protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis, which helps build new muscle tissue (11).
  3. Supports Muscle Recovery: Whey protein helps reduce muscle soreness and fatigue after exercise, supporting recovery (11).
  4. Promotes Muscle Growth: Whey protein provides the necessary building blocks for muscle growth and development (11).
  5. Helps with Muscle Repair: Whey protein helps repair damaged muscle tissue, promoting muscle recovery and growth (11).
  6. Supports Muscle Endurance: Whey protein helps improve muscle endurance, allowing for longer and more intense workouts (11).
  7. Reduces Muscle Breakdown: Whey protein helps reduce muscle breakdown during exercise, preserving muscle tissue (11).
  8. Supports Hormone Production: Whey protein helps support the production of hormones that promote muscle growth and development (12).
  9. Provides Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs): Whey protein contains Branched-Chain Amino Acids, which help promote muscle growth, recovery, and endurance (13).
  10. Supports Overall Muscle Health: Whey protein supports overall muscle health, helping to maintain muscle mass and function (14).

Remember, whey protein is a supplement to support muscle building and repair, and should be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Whey protein is a convenient and effective way to support muscle growth, recovery, and maintenance, making it a popular supplement among athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

5. Reduced Blood Pressure

Whey proteins may help people with high blood pressure. Various studies show that dairy products may reduce blood pressure (15, 16, 17, 18). These effects are because of a family of bioactive peptides in dairy, the so-called “angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors” (ACE inhibitors) (19, 20, 21). The ACE-inhibitors in whey proteins are called lactokinins, which are believed to regulate peripheral blood pressure (22). Whey protein reduces blood pressure in several ways:

  • Lactokinins: Whey protein contains bioactive peptides called lactokinins, which are angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors (ACE-inhibitors). ACE-inhibitors are known to help lower blood pressure (15).
  • Cardiovascular health: Whey protein may help lower cholesterol and improve overall cardiovascular health, which can contribute to lower blood pressure (23).
  • Antioxidant properties: Whey protein has antioxidant properties, which can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation that can contribute to high blood pressure (1).

Whey proteins may help people with high blood pressure. This is attributed to bioactive peptides known as lactokinins. However, whey protein is a dietary supplement, not a medication, and it should not be a replacement for blood pressure medication or to treat hypertension without consulting a healthcare professional.

While whey protein may have potential benefits for blood pressure, such as reducing systolic blood pressure and improving cardiovascular health, its effects are generally modest and may vary from person to person.

6. Weight Management

Whey protein can provide weight loss benefits and can have a dominant effect on satiety compared to other forms of protein. It may help you lose weight by suppressing appetite, promoting metabolism, and helping you preserve lean muscle mass (24, 25, 26, 27).

Whey protein can be a helpful supplement for weight management in several ways:

  1. Increases satiety: Whey protein can help you feel fuller for longer, reducing the likelihood of overeating or snacking between meals (24).
  2. Boosts metabolism: Whey protein requires more energy to digest than other proteins, which can increase your metabolism and help you burn more calories (24).
  3. Preserves muscle mass: Whey protein can help you maintain muscle mass while losing weight, which is important for overall health and metabolism (27).
  4. Improves body composition: Whey protein can help improve body composition, reducing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass (27).

Remember, whey protein is a supplement and should be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and regular exercise for sustainable weight loss.

Whey protein can help you lose weight because it is the most satiating macronutrient. Protein can increase energy expenditure by 80-100 calories per day, causing people to eat up to 441 less calories each day.

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7. Improved Bone Density

Milk basic protein (MBP) is a combination of many proteins found in whey protein. A pilot study discovered that 300 mg per day of MBP increased blood measurements of bone metabolism in men, indicating that more bone production was occurring than bone loss (28).

A double-blind study indicated that women who took 40 mg of MBP each day for six months gained more bone density than those who took a placebo (29, 30). However, no osteoporosis study has been conducted utilizing full whey protein mixes.

Here are some ways whey protein can improve bone density:

  • Bone Remodeling: Whey protein delivers essential amino acids necessary for the synthesis of collagen, which is crucial for bone remodeling (31).
  • Calcium Absorption: Whey protein is especially efficient at enhancing calcium absorption and utilization, which is crucial for bone health under conditions of adequate calcium intake (32).
  • Bioactive Components: Whey protein has bioactive components that may help in regulating bone metabolism and prevent bone loss in animals (33, 34).

However, we need more studies to confirm the relationship between whey protein and bone density.

Whey protein and calcium work together to strengthen bones. Calcium forms the hard, mineralized aspect of bone, while whey protein produces the matrix of collagen fibers that allows calcium to anchor itself and strengthen bone.

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8. Prevents Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease is a condition characterized by inflammation in the digestive tract. It is an aggregate term for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In both animal and human studies, whey protein supplementation has been found to provide benefits in preventing inflammatory bowel diseases (35, 36).

Whey protein prevents inflammatory bowel disease in the following ways:

  • Macrophage-Immunomodulatory Actions: Whey protein isolate, glycomacropeptide, and their in vitro and in vivo digests have been found to have immunomodulatory effects on macrophages, which are important for the prevention of inflammatory bowel disease (37).
  • Inhibition of Pro-Inflammatory Cytokines: Whey protein has been found to inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-α and IL-1β in animals, which are known to contribute to inflammatory bowel disease (38).
  • Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Whey protein has anti-inflammatory effects, which may help to reduce inflammation in the gut and prevent inflammatory bowel disease (39).
  • Prebiotic Activity: Whey protein can act as a prebiotic, promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, which can help to prevent inflammatory bowel disease (40).
  • Gut Barrier Function: Whey protein can help to maintain gut barrier function, which can prevent the onset of inflammatory bowel disease (41).

Overall, whey protein may be a useful adjunct therapy for managing IBD, but we need more research to confirm its effectiveness. Consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

Whey protein may reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. However, the accessible evidence is not complete, and we need further studies to make it a solid claim.

9. Improved Immune Function

Whey protein is a key ingredient that boosts immunity and offers your body the strength to fight diseases. Whey protein, may provide benefits by boosting the body’s natural antioxidant process (42, 43). Many human and animal studies show that whey protein may decrease oxidative stress and increase levels of glutathione in the body (44, 45, 46, 47).

Whey protein can improve immune function in several ways:

  1. Boosts Glutathione: Whey protein is a rich source of cysteine, which is necessary for the production of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage and supports immune function (44).
  2. Increases Immunoglobulins: Whey protein contains immunoglobulins, which are proteins that play a key role in the immune system by binding to pathogens and helping to remove them from the body (48).
  3. Enhances Natural Killer Cell Function: Whey protein may enhance the function of natural killer cells, which are a type of white blood cell that plays a key role in fighting off viral infections and cancer cells (48).
  4. Reduces Oxidative Stress: Whey protein has antioxidant properties, which can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which can weaken the immune system (2).

Overall, whey protein can be a valuable addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle to support immune function and overall health.

Whey protein is a well-known, complete protein source that contains all of the key amino acids that our bodies require. Whey proteins also contain specific proteins with immune-enhancing properties, such as lactoferrin and immunoglobulins. Remember to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice on using whey protein to support immune function.

10. Reduced Stress and Anxiety

Whey protein may reduce the amount of cortisol in the body, which is produced in reaction to stress, potentially alleviating some of the harmful consequences of stress and anxiety. Whey protein may have a positive impact on reducing stress and anxiety in several ways:

  1. Tryptophan content: Whey protein contains tryptophan, an amino acid crucial for the production of serotonin and melatonin in the brain, which helps regulate mood and reduce stress (49).
  2. Reduces cortisol levels: Whey protein may reduce cortisol levels, which can help alleviate stress and anxiety (50).

Overall, whey protein can be a useful supplement for reducing stress and anxiety, but it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

Whey protein can be a valuable supplement for stress and anxiety management, promoting a sense of calm and well-being.

Side Effects

Whey protein is generally safe and well-tolerated, but like any supplement, it can cause some side effects, especially when consumed in excess or by individuals with certain health conditions. Some common side effects of whey protein include:

  1. Digestive issues: Bloating, gas, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and nausea.
  2. Allergic reactions: Hives, itching, and difficulty breathing (rare).
  3. Kidney strain: Excessive protein intake can put a burden on kidney function.
  4. Electrolyte imbalance: Whey protein can cause an imbalance of electrolytes like potassium, sodium, and phosphorus.
  5. Interference with medication: Whey protein can interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners and diabetes medications.
  6. Increased urine production: Whey protein can increase urine production, leading to dehydration if not balanced with adequate fluid intake.
  7. Stomach pain and cramping: High doses of whey protein can cause stomach pain and cramping.
  8. Headaches: Some individuals may experience headaches due to whey protein consumption.
  9. Acne: Whey protein can cause acne in some individuals, particularly those with sensitive skin.
  10. Weight gain: Consuming excessive calories from whey protein can lead to weight gain.

To minimize side effects, it’s essential to:

  • Consult a healthcare professional before starting whey protein supplementation.
  • Follow the recommended dosage and guidelines.
  • Choose a high-quality whey protein powder from a reputable manufacturer.
  • Stay hydrated and balance your diet with a variety of nutrient-dense foods.

Remember that taking an excessive amount of whey protein is worthless. The body can only use a limited amount of protein at a time.

Excessive consumption may cause stomach related symptoms such as nausea, pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and flatulence.

Dosage

The recommended dosage of whey protein depends on your goals and activity level:

  • Weight loss:
    1. 10-20 grams for moderately active lifestyle
    2. 20-40 grams for highly active lifestyle
  • Building muscle:
    1. 20-48 grams of whey protein post-workout
    2. 1.6-2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight
  • General health:
    1. 0.4-0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight
    2. 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight (Dietary Reference Intake)

Conclusion

Whey protein is a rich source of essential amino acids, which can aid in weight loss, boost antioxidant defenses, lower blood pressure, reduce weight loss in individuals with hypertension, and aid in muscle growth. It also improves immune response and may reduce stress. We need further research to confirm these benefits.

Naeem Durrani BSc
I am a retired pharmacist, nutritionist, and food system expert. My interests include medical research and the scientific evidence around effective wellness practices that empower people to transform their lives.

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