The Whey to Good Health

by Dr. David Williams
Filed Under: General Health, Immune Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

I get a lot of questions about whey protein powder. I use it every day, and think everyone should. It is probably one of the most underutilized tools you can use to improve and protect your health.

Whey is the translucent liquid that separates from the curd when milk coagulates during the cheese-making process. It has grown in popularity because weightlifters and body builders use high-protein diets to achieve increased muscle mass and size, and one of the fastest ways to get that protein is by consuming whey powder. In fact, the majority of the benefits of whey can be attributed to its dense content of high-quality protein components. 

Whey is called a complete and balanced protein because it contains all the “essential” amino acids (as well as additional amino acids). Most of the isolated amino acids that are now being touted and sold in the health market are naturally contained in whey protein.

Here are just a few of the more common problems where research has indicated that whey can play an important and pivotal role.

  • Antimicrobial and antiviral activity: Several components of whey—including the immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, lactoferricin, sphingolipids, lactoperoxidase, and glycomacropeptides—can inhibit the growth of a wide range of bacteria, fungi, yeast, and protozoa. In particular, lactoferrin has been shown to stop the growth of two pathogens commonly associated with food poisoning: E. coli and Listeria monocytogenes
  • Immunity: The body’s level of glutathione is a pretty good indicator of overall health and the ability of your immune system to fight off disease and counter the effects of aging. Whey has a very high content of sulfur-containing amino acids (such as cysteine) that are necessary for the biosynthesis of glutathione. And studies have shown that you can effectively raise your gluthathione levels through the consumption of whey protein. 
  • Heart health: Whey proteins inhibit the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE). I’m sure you’ve heard of the class of blood pressure–lowering drugs called ACE inhibitors that do the same thing. A combination of components in whey powder provides this blood pressure–lowering benefit and vascular relaxation without the side effects of drugs. Other proteins in whey reduce the stickiness of blood platelets and the risk of thrombosis, which can trigger both heart attack and stroke. The consumption of whey protein also helps reduce high levels of LDL cholesterol, increase the beneficial HDL form, and reduce triglycerides. 
  • Osteoporosis: In addition to minerals necessary for bone growth, whey contains a protein called lactoferrin, which is associated with a wide range of benefits including immune support, anti-inflammatory action, cancer prevention, infection fighting, and wound healing. Research has now determined that lactoferrin is able to increase the production of new bone, which could have enormous impact on the treatment of osteoporosis and non-healing bone fractures. 
  • Prebiotic activity: You may already know about my fondness for fermented foods and probiotics—items that improve the balance of bacterial flora in the intestinal tract. Prebiotics are somewhat different. In a nutshell, prebiotics are foods or compounds that are fermented by bacteria in the colon after they’ve entered the system. You can either supply your colon with additional beneficial bacteria through the use of probiotics, or you can feed the beneficial bacteria already present with specific compounds to help them multiply in number and become more dominant. When used in combination with a good probiotic, whey proteins and its other components act as a prebiotic to provide added assurance that your “second immune system” (your gut) is getting the help it needs. 

Which Whey to Choose

I routinely use and recommend a product called Designer Whey Protein. It’s a quality product that can be found in most health food stores and mail-order suppliers.

Obviously, the recommended amount of protein per day varies from individual to individual depending on the other protein in the diet, the degree of physical activity, and what one is trying to accomplish.

As a general daily dose, I recommend that most people take about 18 grams of high-quality whey protein a day. The easiest method I’ve found is to mix the powder into a shake first thing in the morning, like I do. It’s simple, painless, and a great way to start your morning.

Now it's your turn: Do you use whey?

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