Studies on whey show that it is an even better protein supplement than previously thought. Although the health benefits of whey protein have only recently been elucidated, the use of whey protein for medicinal purposes has been prescribed since the time of Hippocrates. In fact, there are two old proverbs from the Italian city of Florence that say: “If you want to live a healthy and active life, drink buttermilk” and “If everyone grew up on buttermilk, doctors would be bankrupt.”
In previous issues, we’ve chronicled the extensive research showing the many potential health benefits of whey protein concentrate. Most of that research was done in the 1980s and early 1990s, and it was extremely persuasive. Scientists have continued their research on whey proteins with even more impressive results. What follows is some of the most current, interesting, and useful research on whey proteins.
Serum and Cancer
Additional animal studies regarding cancer-causing chemicals have been conducted to see what effect whey protein concentrate would have on cancer prevention or treatment. The scientists fed rats various proteins and then subjected them to the powerful carcinogen dimethylhydrazine.
As with previous research, rats fed whey protein concentrate showed fewer tumors and a reduced tumor pool area (tumor mass index). The researchers found that whey protein offered “considerable host protection” against other proteins, including soy. 1
Even more exciting, in vivo research on cancer and whey showed that whey protein concentrate inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells at low concentrations (Baruchel S. and Vaiu G., Anti Cancer Research, 1996). Finally, and most importantly, a fairly recent clinical study with cancer patients showed some patients’ tumors regressed when fed 30 grams of whey protein concentrate per day. two
Whey and Glutathione
This new research using whey protein concentrate led researchers to a surprising discovery about the relationship between cancer cells, glutathione (GSH), and whey protein concentrate. Whey protein concentrate was found to selectively deplete glutathione in cancer cells, making them more susceptible to cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy.
It has been found that cancer cells and normal cells will respond differently to nutrients and drugs that affect glutathione status. The most interesting thing to note is the fact that the concentration of glutathione in tumor cells is higher than that of the normal cells that surround them. This difference in glutathione status between normal cells and cancer cells is thought to be an important factor in the resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapy.
As the researchers put it, “GSH concentration in tumor cells may be among the determinants of cytotoxicity [poisonous to cells] of many chemotherapeutic agents and radiation, and an increase in GSH concentration appears to be at least one of the mechanisms of acquired resistance to chemotherapy drugs.
They further state, “It is well known that rapid GSH synthesis in tumor cells is associated with high rates of cell proliferation. Depletion of tumor GSH in vivo decreases the rate of cell proliferation and inhibits cancer growth.”
The problem is that it is difficult to reduce glutathione sufficiently in tumor cells without putting healthy tissue at risk and making the cancer patient worse off. What is needed is a compound that can selectively reduce glutathione in cancer cells, while increasing, or at least maintaining, glutathione levels in healthy cells.
This is exactly what whey protein seems to do. In this new research it was found that cancer cells subjected to whey protein were left without glutathione and their growth was inhibited, while normal cells had an increase in GSH and increased cell growth.
These effects were not seen with other proteins. As expected, the researchers concluded that “selective depletion of tumor GSH may, in fact, make cancer cells more vulnerable to the action of chemotherapy and ultimately protect normal tissue against the deleterious effects of chemotherapy.” “. The exact mechanism by which whey protein accomplishes this is not fully understood, but it appears to interfere with the normal feedback mechanism and regulation of glutathione in cancer cells.
Glutathione production is known to be negatively inhibited by its own synthesis. Since baseline glutathione levels in cancer cells are higher than those in normal cells, it is probably easier to reach the level of negative feedback inhibition at glutathione levels of cancer cells than at glutathione levels of cells. normal cells.
Serum and LDL cholesterol
The positive health benefits of whey protein concentrate do not end with its effects on immunity and cancer prevention and treatment. Whey protein concentrate was also found to be a potent inhibitor of oxidized low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Current research suggests that the conversion of LDL to oxidized LDL is the trigger that leads to atherogenesis… the formation of the plaque and lesions associated with atherosclerosis.
Therefore, any substance that prevents LDL oxidation is considered antiatherogenic. Although animal-derived proteins have traditionally been implicated as proatherogenic, whey proteins appear to be an exception to the rule. Whey protein is made up of various minor and major fractions, such as beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, albumin, lactoferrin, and immunoglobulin. It was found that the minor component responsible for whey protein concentrate’s ability to prevent LDL oxidation appears to be the lactoferrin fraction of the protein. 3
When lactoferrin was removed from the protein, the ability of whey protein concentrate to prevent LDL oxidation was greatly reduced, leading the researchers to speculate: “Our results suggest that LF (lactoferrin) is the main factor responsible for the inhibitory effect of whey protein (on LDL) and can work synergistically together with other factors in whey protein, for example, alpha-lactalbumin”.
Another rat study examined the effects of whey protein concentrate and casein on cholesterol and heart disease risk factors. Although casein (another milk-based protein commonly used in research) is known to raise cholesterol in humans and animals, whey protein has the opposite effect, leading the researchers to note: ” With a high level of protein in the diet [300 gram per kilogram of feed] whey protein significantly reduced plasma and liver cholesterol and also plasma triacylglycerols.”4
The cholesterol-lowering effects of whey protein concentrate in this study were also associated with a reduction in LDL cholesterol. What was most interesting was the fact that this effect on cholesterol was not seen when the animals were fed amino acid mixtures that simulated whey protein, so it is clear that there are properties within whey that have these effects beyond its amino acid profile.
Serum and bone growth
Finally, whey protein appears to play a direct role in bone growth. The researchers found that rats fed whey protein concentrate showed increased bone strength and bone protein such as collagen. This discovery prompted investigations to test whether or not whey protein directly stimulated the growth of osteoblasts (bone cells) in vitro.
Whey protein was found to dose-dependently stimulate total protein synthesis, DNA content, and increase the hydroxyproline content of bone cells. 5
It should be noted that not all whey protein concentrates are created equal. Processing whey protein to remove lactose and fat without losing its biological activity requires special care on the part of the manufacturer. The protein must be processed at low temperature and under low acid conditions so as not to “denature” the protein. Maintaining the natural state of the protein is essential for its biological activity.
These research findings, combined with the previous decade of study on whey protein, should convince anyone that whey protein concentrate truly is the protein that prolongs life.
Higher levels of glutathione and serum
A decade and a half of findings on the benefits of whey protein are far reaching.
Past studies include the following:
* Whey protein concentrate dramatically increases glutathione levels. Glutathione is an essential water-soluble antioxidant in the body that protects cells and serves as a primary detoxifier of harmful compounds such as peroxides, heavy metals, carcinogens, and other toxins.
* Glutathione is also closely related to immunity, and reduced glutathione levels have been associated with diseases such as AIDS, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease, to name just a few. In fact, glutathione levels seem to be a way to modulate immunity. 6
* Whey protein concentrate was found to consistently increase this extremely important immune-boosting antioxidant beyond any protein studied (including soy) to higher-than-normal levels in multiple animal studies. 7
A small pilot study of HIV-positive men who were fed whey protein concentrate found dramatic increases in glutathione levels in all study participants, with two out of three men reaching their ideal body weight. 8
In fact, several US and international patents have been granted for the treatment of AIDS and the enhancement of immunity with whey protein concentrates.
* Whey protein improves immune function and fights infections. Animals fed whey protein concentrate showed dramatic enhancement of both humoral and cellular immune responses to a variety of immune challenges, including salmonella, strep 9 pneumonia, and cancer-causing extreme chemicals. This effect on immunity was not seen with other proteins.
* Whey protein concentrate fights cancer. Animal feed whey protein.
1. (McIntosh GH, et al., Journal of Nutrition, 1995)
2. (Kennedy RS, Konok GP, Bounous G, Baruchel S, Lee TD, Cancer Research, 1995)
3. (M. Kajikawa et al. Biochemical and Biophysical Acta, 1994)
4. (Zhang X. and Beynen AC Brit. J. de Nutri., 1993)
5. (Takada Y, Aoe S, Kumegawa M, Biochemical Research Communications, 1996)
6. (Rosanne K., Fidelus and Min Fu Tsan. Cellular Immunology, 1986)
7. (Bounous G. and Gold P., Clin. Invest. Med. 1991)
8. (Bounous G, Baruchel S, Faiutz J, Gold P, Clin. Invest. Med. 1992)
9. (Bounous G, Konshavn P, Gold P, Clin. Invest. Med. 1988)