Whey Protein

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One of the oldest functional foods available to mammals is milk. In human newborns, mothers milk has been the relied upon for nutrition. We often hear about the role of mothers milk in building the immune system in infants. There is much controversy about the role of milk (and thus, diary) as a source of nutrition. This series of articles aims to explain and clarify milk as a source of nutrition and its role physiologically in our body.

Milk contains 2 primary sources of protein, the caseins and whey. Whey components include beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, bovine serum albumin, lactoferrin, immunoglobulins, lactoperoxidase enzymes, glycomacropeptides, lactose and minerals. Whey from buttermilk also contains the lipid sphingomyelin.

The whey remains in an aqueous environment, while the caseins are responsible for making curds after processing. Today we often see whey used as a dietary supplement. Currently there are a number of various whey finished products available. For example: Whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, undenatured whey concentrate, hydrolyzed whey. These products often vary in the amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats. Whey protein isolate is 90-95% protein. It contains little if any lactose, fat and mineral content. Whey protein concentrate has a protein concentration of approximately 25-89 %. There is usually some fat, lactose and minerals. Hydrolyzed whey protein and undenatured whey concentrate vary in the amount of protein, fat, mineral and lactose content. These variables are important because each component has different therapeutic applications.

Whey proteins are complete proteins. They have all the essential amino acids, and are higher in concentration than those of vegetable protein sources. They are also absorbed and utilized efficiently. Furthermore, whey proteins are rich in sulphur containing amino acids cysteine and methionine, which enhances immune function.

Components good for the immune system-
There are a number of components found in whey protein, one of the two primary proteins found in milk — The second protein being caseinate.

1. The first component, beta lactoglobulin constitutes about 50% of the whey protein. It is the primary source of essential and branched chain amino acids.It also ontains a retinol binding protein and thus is thought to potentiate lymphatic response. Human milk contains no beta-lactoglobulin.

2. Approximately 20-25 % of whey protein is alpha lactalbumin. This component is also a source of a wide variety of essential and branched amino acids. Interestingly, this is purified and most commonly used in infant formulas as it is structurally most similiar to breast milk. These formulas however also contain demineralized beta actogloblins due to cost saving measures. Therefore, ulimately the formulas end up less sililiar to breast milk. The alpha lactalbumin has a direct effect on the immune system. Specifically on the B lymphocytic function, T cells and enhanced antibody response to systemic antigen stimulation. It has also been shown to chelate heavy metals and reduce oxidative stress due to its iron-chelating properties.

3. The third component is immunoglobulins. These make up about 10-15% of whey protein. This is the primary component of colostrum. These function as immune modulating proteins.

4. Lactoferrins make up approximately 1-2% of the whey proteins. These are antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal. These promote growth of benficial bacteria and occur naturally in breast milk, tears, saliva, bile, blood, and mucus. Studies on mice have shown lactoferrin demonstrates anti-inflammatory properties. 

5. Lactoperoxidase is an important enzyme in the whey fraction of milk. Although is makes up only 0.5% of the total proteins found in whey, is is a very biologivallay significant component. It has the ability to catalyze (change) certain moleculesand therefore can inhibit or kill various bacterial species.

6. Bovine Serum albumin is a large protein and makes up about 5-10% of whey protein. It is a source of essential amino acids.

7. Glycomacropeptide (GMP)is the final component of whey protein and makes up approximately 10-15% of whey protein. It is also known as casein macropeptide. This component does not contain phenlalanine, tryptophan and tyrosine. Therefore is one of the few naturally occurring proteins safe for people with phenylketonuria (PKU).

Clinical Indications of Whey protein-
We have learned that the individual components of whey are beneficial to the immune system. There are, however, specific conditions in which whey protein may be therapeutically indicated.

1. Cancer: Studies have explored the relationship of glutathione and the primary immune-modulating mechaniam and found the immune precursors to glutathione in whey. Thus there may be a connection between the anti-tumor and anti-carcinogenic potential of whey. Whey also binds iron, perhaps thus contributing to anticancer potential. Iron may act mutagenic in its capacity to cause oxidative damage to tissues. In animal studies in which colon cancer was induced, whey demonstrated significantly lower number of tumors and fewer aberant crypts. To date few clinical trials on whey and cancer have been conducted. However, for cancer patients whey supplementation may be indicated.

2. Hepititis: In an open study of 25 patients with either Hepatitis B or C patients were given 12 g of IMMUNOCAL (whey). The trial showed promise for the use of whey in the treatment of Hepatitis B virus.

3. HIV: Glutathione is a common deficiency in HIV patients. In a study of 30 subjects receiving Protectamin, a whey source, participants had an increase in Glutathione levels. Glutathione is known as a potent intracellular antioxidant. Furthermore, Glutathione as an antioxidant component of whey, is being investigated as an anti-aging agent.

4. Antimicrobial: In patients diagnosed with H. pylori infection and children suffering from chronic pharyngitis, the addition of the lactoferrin with the antibiotic regime revealed remarkable treatment success rates.. Lactoferrin has also demonstrated antifungal activity towards Candida albicans.

5. Cardiovascular Disease: A small study was done using fermented milk and whey protein supplementationto investgate whether serum lipids and blood pressure would be affected. An increase in HDL, decrease in triglycerides and systolic blood pressure and total cholesterol was seen.

6. Exercise: Whey protein supplementation have been commonplace in the consumer market because of the high protein quality content and high percentage of branch chain amino acids. The BCAA,s are the substrates for synthesizing new proteins. Once again, human studies documenting the use of whey supplementation on muscle size and strength are limited. However, the increase in lean body mass increases with resistance training and with the addition of whey protein. The amino acid content of whey favors protein synthesis and muscle growth. Furthermore, intense athletic training has been shown to stress the immune system due to increased free radical production and increased inflammatory activity. Whey, by donating cysteine ( an amino acid) increases the availability of intracelluler glutathione.

7. Infant formula and infant colic: A climically significant study showed that the infants in the whey formula group had a crying time reduced than was observed in the cow's milk formula group.

8. Osteoporosis: Increased radial bone density was seen to be increased in a study of 30 women given 40 mg/day of Milk basic protein (MBP) a fractionated component of whey which contains 98 % protein, lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, and other minor components.

9. Other uses of Whey protein: Due to the wide range of essential amino acids, minerals, biologically active proteins, fats, whey supplementation may play a significant role in clinical nutrition in many conditions and diseases. Adequate protein intake is essential in wound healing, timely, and completely. Trypophan, and amino acid is known to increase brain serotonin levels, perhaps improving cognitive, and coping abilities in highly stressed individuals.

As research continues, the already wide range of therapeutic applications of whey protein will continue to grow.

 Health benefits from dairy products-
Milk is one of the oldest foods available to mammals. In human newborns it is relied upon for nutrition. Scientists are beginning to understand the various components of milk, including whey, and their nutritional and therapeutic applications in health and disease. 

In my practice I have seen many individuals eliminate dairy from their diets. In the absence of gastrointestinal symptoms, and/or sensitivities, this may not in fact be clinically indicated. As we have seen, the research in to the therapeutic benefits of whey, and the other components of milk play a significant role in maximizing and maintaining health and wellness. The biological components of whey have the ability to act as antioxidants, anti-hypertensives,
anti-tumor, antivirus and antibacterial, a wide range of immune enhancing properties.

If an individual suspects some sensitivity to milk products, further evaluation may be indicated. The actual sensitivity may in fact be to casein, or lactose. Many people can tolerate whey products if the casein, and/or lactose has been removed. The hydrolyzed whey protein products providing readily available di-and tri- peptide fractions, are low allergenicity and are often favored by athletes.