Life Extension Magazine September 2013
New Longevity Benefits of Whey Protein
By Will Brink
Unique Protein Subfractions Modulate the Origins of Cardiovascular Disease
Figure 1: Whey Proteins are the Healthy Constituent of Milk.
The protein component of milk is composed of 20% whey and 80% casein. The whey fraction is made up of various protein components that each have their own unique benefits.6
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality in Western society, and the two main contributing factors are hypertension (high blood pressure) and dyslipidemia (elevated LDL/reduced HDL).59
Recent research demonstrates that whey-based peptides reduce both of these risk factors through various pathways.60,61 And food-derived peptides are considered far safer than anti-hypertension drugs.
Several whey peptides—including alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin—exhibit opioid-like activity. Endogenous opioid peptides have shown promise as blood-pressure modulators.60
And limited evidence suggests whey’s lactoferrin helps modulate platelet binding.60
Casein protein raises cholesterol—but whey protein shows the opposite effect!60,61 Two-generation feeding of rats with sphingolipids—a type of phospholipid found in whey—decreased blood cholesterol levels by about 30%!60 How? Scientists speculate whey inhibits synthesis of cholesterol in the liver.61
Research also demonstrated a marked lowering of LDL cholesterol in rats given whey, which may be mediated through a decrease in VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) fractions.60
Extremely interesting was the fact that reduction of LDL-cholesterol was not seen in animals fed amino acid mixtures that were identical in profile to whey protein—showing the benefits of whey are specific to its unique protein subfractions as opposed to its amino acid profile alone.61
Clearly, compounds in whey have cardioprotective effects that go beyond those of its amino acid profile!
Whey Defends Against Neurocognitive Decline During Aging
Serotonin levels in the body can decline with age.62,63 The rate of the brain’s serotonin synthesis normally depends on its concentration oftryptophan, serotonin’s essential amino acid precursor.64,65 Reinforcing this, dietary intake of tryptophan has been found to relieve depression and stress.66
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study indicated that whey’s alpha-lactalbumin increases the plasma ratio of tryptophan. And in subjects assessed as highly vulnerable to stress, this whey fraction raised brain serotonin activity and coping ability and improved mood under stress.66
Memory performance can decline under chronic stress, believed to result partially from reduced brain serotonin. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, whey significantly improved memory-test performance in stress-vulnerable subjects.67
Also, because it boosts glutathione levels,9,10 whey may protect against various age-related diseases—including neurocognitive disorders.13-19, 66-68
A 2012 review suggested that the peptides and alpha-lactalbumin found in whey may help protect against age-related cognitive decline and dementia during aging.68
Whey Components Protect Gastrointestinal Tissue and Boost Beneficial Bacteria
Because whey raises glutathione levels, it protects tissue against damage caused by inflammation.69,70 Lower levels of antioxidants—including glutathione—are associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).71
Also, glutamine is a preferred fuel source for support of epithelial cells lining the small intestine. It is rapidly utilized by tissues during catabolic states, such as gastrointestinal dysfunction among children.72
Dietary components that act as prebiotics can improve balance and persistence of beneficial colonic bacteria by providing substrates (growth surfaces). Whey lactose can be converted to galactooligosaccharides—indigestible ingredients that create a substrate that specifically enhances growth of bifidobacteria.73 These and other bacteria protect the intestine by secreting antimicrobial substances, modulating immune response, and influencing metabolic activities.74,75
In rats, the whey component alpha-lactalbumin showed dose-dependent protection against gastric injury caused by alcohol or stress.76 Researchers concluded that whey may help prevent gastric mucosal injury, ulcers, and other gastrointestinal pathologies—avoiding the need for antiulcer drugs, and their risks.76
Whey Proteins Rejuvenate and Optimize Immune Function!
Figure 2: Functional Properties of Whey.
Whey proteins provide a diverse array of functional properties that produce beneficial effects on many different biological processes and organ systems.6
Whey uniquely fortifies the overall immune system—so broadly that it’s remarkable!8
Major and minor whey fractions are established immune-enhancing constituents that modulate a full range of immune functions, including destruction of pathogens and elimination of toxins.8,77,78
Whey supplementation significantly improves primary and secondary antibody responses to a variety of vaccines.79
A key immunity pillar is the cell-mediated, adaptive immune system, which—through clonal expansion (proliferation)—builds up a pool of antigen-reactive bodies.8,77 Whey was found in an array of studies to be superior to other commercially available protein sources in improving adaptive immune reactivity.14,80-82
Mice supplemented with whey produced higher levels of white blood cells, lymphocytes, and cytokines—resulting in greater immune responsiveness and reduced infection severity.8,82
The antibody-mediated, humoral immune system needs to quickly produce antibodies in response to foreign microorganisms. Several studies found that, compared to other protein sources—soy, casein, wheat, corn, egg white, fish, beef, or spirulina maxima—whey proteins much more substantially boost production of both humoral immune response and antibodies.14,82,83 In fact, in some instances, the response was nearly five times greater than with other protein sources!14
Glutathione is the centerpiece of immune protection against endogenously created oxidative stress as well as that from exogenous sources such as pollution, toxins, exercise, and ultraviolet light exposure.11 And as mentioned, whey can greatly increase glutathione levels.9,10
An example of a condition characterized by glutathione deficiency—and greater oxidative stress—is HIV infection. Fortunately, whey supplements have been shown to dramatically increase glutathione levels in those with HIV!54
Whey is often viewed simply as a high-quality protein source for athletes. However, emerging evidence indicates that the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and other fractions found in whey mimic many of the longevity benefits of calorie restriction (CR).
Studies on various organisms, including middle-aged mice, demonstrate that supplementing with the BCAAs and other components in whey can increase median life span by up to the equivalent of 9.6 years in human terms!
This effect was modulated along typical CR pathways, including increases in mitochondrial biogenesis, reactive oxygen species (ROS) defense, cell signaling, and expression of sirtuin 1 (SIRT1)—the mammalian longevity gene induced by CR!
Whey offers a method to secure some of the anti-aging effects of calorie restriction without extreme food deprivation.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at 1-866-864-3027.