The Virtues of Whey Protein

We thought we’d reproduce a little piece on the virtues of whey protein powders that appeared in an early edition of NYBC’s newsletter THE SUPPLEMENT. This overview gives a good capsule history of the research that led to this supplement’s popularity far beyond the muscle-building crowd.

At NYBC, we’ve tried various whey protein powders over the years. Although the manufacturing processes have evolved and improved, not all wheys are created equal. For example, some manufacturers include too much sugar along with the whey protein powder, which is why we abandoned some brands a while back. Flavor is also important, actually not a minor consideration at all for something that you might want to use on a regular basis, so we have made some decisions based on that criterion as well.

NYBC’s currently stocks:

Ultimate Balance
–Jarrow’s Whey Protein in Vanilla or Caribbean Chocolate
Nutrivir, a fortified whey protein (NYBC staff and volunteers contributed suggestions to the formulators of this low-sugar protein powder blend, which also includes other nutrients.)

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WHEY PROTEIN POWDERS PRODUCE MANY HEALTH BENEFITS BY SUSTAINING THE BODY’S LEAN MUSCLE MASS AND BY MODULATING GLUTATHIONE LEVELS

Remember Little Miss Muffet of nursery rhyme fame, eating her “curds and whey”? It turns out that modern versions of her preferred snack have recently won attention from researchers interested in the health benefits of whey, a component of milk. (Yes, we know that body-builders were early adopters and enthusiasts of whey protein powders, and hope they won’t take offense at this reminder that Little Miss Muffet was one of their forerunners!)

In the 1980s and 1990s, several investigations of whey focused on its value as an easily absorbed protein source, especially helpful for building and sustaining the body’s lean muscle mass. In studies of HIV patients, both children and adults, whey protein proved to be a useful supplement to counter wasting and thereby improve overall health.

But research on whey also branched out to encompass other areas of health benefit besides muscle-building. Studies of the impact of whey protein on cancerous tumors, on atherosclerosis (accumulation of plaque in the arteries), and on compromised immune function have all yielded impressive results. Many of these investigations have suggested that whey protein’s ability to modulate levels of the antioxidant glutathione may help account for its wide-ranging beneficial effects. Interestingly, whey protein seems to decrease glutathione levels in tumor cells, thus weakening them or inhibiting their growth. But it also has the capacity to increase glutathione levels in cells depleted of this key antioxidant. In infections like HIV, where severe glutathione depletion is common, whey protein thus protects against oxidative damage to cells and organs and helps to improve immune function.

Special filtering techniques have been developed in recent decades to produce whey protein powders. These techniques ensure that unwanted elements like lactose and fat are left out, while proteins in their natural state (“undenatured proteins”) and crucial components linked to health benefits (such as lactoferrin) are kept in. The good news is that these techniques are now widely available, and that holds down costs!

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