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9 Whey Protein Health Benefits
Whey Protein is one of the most widely used nutrition supplements today. Whey protein is extensively researched and studied for its various health benefits.
Whey Protein is a type of protein obtained from milk. During cheese manufacturing liquid whey is separated. The liquid whey is then further filtered and dried to get whey protein.
Whey protein contains all the essential and non-essential amino acids. It also contains several micro-nutrients with different concentrations (1).
Since it is a product of milk, it carries all the goodness of milk with itself. It contains fractions that show several activities for treating various health conditions.
Various health benefits of whey are under study and most of the benefits are due to the protein fractions present in whey. These fractions are α-Lactalbumin, β-Lactoglobulin, Glycomacropeptide, Serum albumin, Immunoglobulin, and Lactoferrin (1).
Let’s take a look at some research-backed health benefits of whey proteins:
1. Whey is a rich source of protein
Whey protein contains anywhere from 35-90% protein by weight in its raw form. Most of the sports nutrition supplements are made from whey containing 80% protein.
Whey Protein Isolate contains about 90% of the protein in its raw form.
Whey protein has a very low amount of carbohydrates and fats. Whey protein contains a full spectrum of amino acids that stimulates muscle protein synthesis.
Whey is more effective and efficient than other sources of protein due to its higher purity.
Since it contains proteins with high purity, the user does not have to worry about the extra fats.
Whey protein is a convenient source of protein, being able to fulfill about 40% of the daily protein needs in a single scoop.
Whey protein is a highly digestible, bio-available, and high-quality source of proteins.
2. Role in muscle growth and maintenance of muscle mass
Proteins play an essential role in muscle growth. Proteins are also known as building blocks of muscles (2).
Muscle fibers when subjected to stress such as physical activity or exercise form micro-tears. In other words, muscle fibers get damaged when exposed to stress.
Protein helps repair these micro-tears and grow muscle. During this repair muscle fibers become larger increasing their cross-sectional area. This results in an increase in the size of individual fibers (2).
Proteins are essential for the repair and growth of muscle fibers.
Whey Proteins contain amino acids required to initiate and stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
Whey protein contains a high amount of Leucine. Leucine is one of the key stimulators of muscle protein synthesis.
Proteins not only stimulate muscle protein synthesis but keep it elevated with the release of amino acids.
Proteins also help maintain a positive nitrogen balance of the body and help avoid muscle breakdown (3).
Having a negative nitrogen balance leads to muscle wastage and loss of muscle mass (4). Consuming enough proteins prevents muscle breakdown.
3. Helps burn fat and lose weight
Whey protein may help burn fat and lose weight. Whey protein does that in several indirect ways.
Whey protein is a thermic food. It requires more calories than carbohydrates and fats for its absorption, metabolism, storage, and transport. Whey protein requires about 30% of its calories to get processed in the body. This results in increased calorie consumption of the body (5).
Whey protein suppresses hunger hormones and increases appetite-suppressing hormones in the body. This results in a feeling of being full for a longer time. The feeling of fullness avoids hunger and increases satiety.
Studies also show that whey protein consumption also decreased late-night food cravings (6).
Whey protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis. The process also consumes a significant amount of calories in the process (7).
Whey protein increases calorie consumption of the body and decreases hunger. The net effect can help lose weight and burn fat.
4. Anti-oxidant Property
Glutathione is an anti-oxidant made from amino acids cysteine, Glycine, and Glutamic acid in the body. It is chiefly made in the liver and is a part of various processes in the body.
Glutathione (GSH) protects the body from oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals. Increased oxidative stress can lead to various conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, and cancer.
Increased oxidative stress in the body leads to a decrease in the levels of GSH. Our body also makes glutathione but during its deficiency, whey protein can help. Whey protein is rich in Cysteine and Glycine and can help replenish Glutathione and correct its deficiency (1).
Whey also contains a high amount of sulfur-containing amino acids. These amino acids potentially increase the antioxidant capacity of the body (8).
Whey also raises levels of antioxidant enzymes and reduces oxidative stress markers (8).
Whey protein can help fight oxidative stress and increase the antioxidant capacity of the body.
5. Reduce Hunger and increase the feeling of satiety
When we are running low on the food our body releases a hunger hormone known as Ghrelin. This hunger hormone causes us to feel hungry and make us consume food and calories.
When we are full-body release appetite-reducing hormones. These appetite-reducing hormones produce a feeling of satiety. The release of these hormones can be modulated by different nutrients (9).
Proteins suppress the release of hunger hormones and also stimulates the appetite decreasing hormones.
Whey protein also produces a feeling of being full for a longer time and increases the feeling of satiety (9).
Whey protein when consumed with breakfast decreased hunger hormone and increased feeling of satiety than a carbohydrate-rich breakfast (10).
Whey protein can help during weight loss by keeping the hunger levels low and increasing the feeling of fullness.
6. Increases rate of metabolism
The basal metabolic rate of the body is the amount of energy required by the body to carry out normal day-to-day functions. These functions include breathing, thinking, digesting food, transporting nutrients and chemicals, etc.
Protein being a high thermic food requires more energy for its digestion, metabolism, and transport in the body (11).
Consumption of a high protein diet can result in an expenditure of a high amount of energy and calories. This higher expenditure results in an elevation of the metabolism rate.
Studies also show that proteins prevent a decrease in energy expenditure even during non-active periods (12).
Higher energy expenditure for routine activities results in more calories burned and less stored.
7. In HIV treatment
HIV patients show decreased levels of GSH. Whey protein with its high amount of cysteine and Glycine helps increase glutathione in the body.
Whey protein also shows inhibitory activity against HIV-1 enzymes possibly shortening the life cycle of the virus (8).
8. Help strengthen the immune system
Immunity is our body’s capability to fight against infection, foreign substances, toxins, and viruses (13).
Various fractions and bioactive components present in milk protein can help modulate the immune system of the body.
Fractions found in milk protein offer immunity against various infections and viruses.
The three immune-modulating fractions found in milk proteins are α-Lactalbumin, β-Lactoglobulin and Lactoferrin. These fractions boost immunity by increasing the production of Glutathione (1).
Antibodies present in the body help us defend against infections and viruses. The IgG antibodies constitute about 75% of the antibodies present in the body. Each liter of milk contains about 0.15 to 0.8 grams of IgG (13).
Milk proteins such as whey protein also contain immunoglobulins or antibodies. Whey proteins contain about 5-6% immunoglobulins of the total weight (1).
Whey protein and its macro-fractions play an important role in the formation of these antibodies in the body.
9. Anti-microbial and Anti-viral Activity
Various peptide fractions of milk proteins show anti-microbial and anti-viral properties.
Whey protein also produces peptides with anti-microbial properties during its transit through the gastrointestinal tract.
Whey protein fractions known as Lactoferrin and Lactoferricin are effective against the growth of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, yeast, fungi, and parasites (8).
They also show effectiveness against food-borne pathogens.
Whey protein is very well known as a bodybuilding supplement. Increasing awareness about proteins has seen its acceptance as a daily nutritional supplement. Besides muscle growth and being a rich protein source, whey proteins offer various health benefits due to their bioactive micro-fractions.
Whey protein supplementation along with a good diet can lead to better health and general well-being.
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