|LE Magazine October 1998 |
Unlocking the Secrets to Health & Fitness
Protein is the building block of life. Essential to a balanced diet and strong muscles, both serious athletes and serious life extensionists use protein to enhance their health and performance.
Because so much evidence supports the benefits of whey as a fitness, strength and health enhancer, there should be every effort made to find the best. And it is whey protein that is increasingly coming to the public's attention as one of the most comprehensive forms of protein available.
In fact, in many aspects, whey protein, which is often mixed into a delicious shake, is even superior to soy.
Whey protein is a potent ally to the general immune system. The protein in whey has been shown to dramatically raise glutathione levels, which is an essential water-soluble antioxidant that protects cells and serves to neutralize toxins such as peroxides, heavy metals, carcinogens, and many others. In animal studies, whey protein concentrate consistently raised glutathione levels beyond those of any other protein studied, including soy (Bounous G. and Gold P., Clin. Invest. Med. 1991).
In fact, glutathione is so necessary to a healthy immune system that it appears immunity itself can be modulated by glutathione levels (Rosanne K., Fidelus and Min Fu Tsan. Cellular Immunology, 1986). Sufferers of diseases such as AIDS, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's often exhibit reduced glutathione levels; however, a small pilot study of HIV-positive men who ate whey protein found dramatic increases in glutathione levels, with two out of the three men reaching an ideal weight (Bounous G., Baruchel S., Faiutz J., Gold P., Clin. Invest. Med. 1992).
In its ability to enhance the immune system, whey protein also fights infections. Animals fed whey protein showed increased response from both the humoral and cellular immune systems to a variety of challenges, such as salmonella and streptococcus pneumonia (Bounous G., Konshavn P., Gold P. Clin. Invest. Med. 1988). Again, this effect was not seen with other proteins.
Perhaps the most exciting potential of whey protein is its ability to fight cancer. In vitro research has shown that the growth of breast cancer cells is strongly inhibited when exposed to low concentrations of whey protein (Baruchel S. and Vaiu G., Anti Cancer Research 1996).
Another recent clinical study showed a regression in some cancerous tumors when patients were administered 30 grams per day of whey protein powder (Kennedy R.S., Konok G.P., Bounous G., Baruchel S., Lee T.D., Anti Cancer Research 1995). Likewise, animals fed whey protein before being subjected to dimethylhydrazine (DMH), a strong cancer-causing agent, mounted a much more vigorous immune response than animals fed any other type of protein. More importantly, any resulting tumors were smaller and far fewer in number in the animals fed whey protein (Bounous G., Clin. Invest. Med. 1988).
This study was confirmed by additional research showing that rats subjected to DMH and fed whey protein showed fewer tumors and a reduced pooled area of tumors. The researchers concluded that whey protein offered "considerable protection to the host," compared with other proteins, including soy (McIntosh G.H., et al. Journal of Nutrition 1995).
It is interesting to note that the concentration of glutathione in tumor cells is often much higher than in surrounding normal cells, meaning that cancer cells will respond differently to nutrients and drugs that alter glutathione status. This discrepancy in glutathione status between normal cells and cancer cells also makes it harder to kill cancer cells with chemotherapy. Because the surrounding cells have lower levels of glutathione to begin with, anything that further suppresses glutathione puts normal healthy cells in danger long before cancer cells are affected.
Instead, cancer patients need a compound that can target cancer cells and deplete only their glutathione. Whey protein appears to be just such a compound. When introduced in studies, cancer cells responded to whey protein by losing glutathione, while normal cells actually increased in glutathione and cellular growth (Baruchel S. and Vaiu G., Anti Cancer Research 1996). No other protein reported the same effect. Even the mechanism by which whey protein acts is not fully understood. It appears that whey protein interferes with the cancer cells' ability to regulate glutathione.
Whey protein is effective because of its abnormally high biological value, which is a measure of the nitrogen retained for growth or maintenance, expressed as a percentage of the nitrogen absorbed (Renner E., 1983). Whey, with the highest biological value of any protein, is absorbed, utilized and retained in the body better than other proteins. This has caused athletes to make whey protein concentrate a best-seller. In fact, one recent pilot study found whey protein isolate corrected the immune suppression often seen in athletes suffering from over-training syndrome (C.M. Colker, D. Kalman, W.D. Brink, and L.G. Maharam. Med. Sci. in Sports in Exercise 1998)
Amd proteins with a high biological value are more tissue-sparing, making whey protein concentrate a good choice for people suffering from wasting diseases such as AIDS, cancer, and/or aging-related muscle losses.
In addition, some animal research suggests whey can prevent atherogenesis by preventing LDL cholesterol from oxidizing (M.Kajikawa et al. Biochemica et Biophysica Acta 1994). A complementary study found that whey may reduce LDL levels as well as triglycerides (Zhang X. and Beynen A.C. Brit. J. of Nutri. 1993). Whey also appears to have a direct in vitro effect on bone cell growth. It was found to stimulate protein synthesis, DNA content, and increased hydroxyproline contents of bone cells (Takada Y., Aoe S., Kumegawa M., Biochemical Research Communications 1996).
Coupled with the observation that animals fed whey protein powder had stronger bones, researchers concluded, "These findings suggest that whey protein contains active components that can activate osteoblast cell proliferation and differentiation. Also these active components can probably permeate or be absorbed by the intestines. We propose the possibility that the active component in the whey protein plays an important role in bone formation by activating osteoblasts."
Finally, whey is a highly complex protein that is made up of many sub-fractions, including beta-lactoglobulin, immuno-globulins, bovine serum albumin (BSA), lactoperoxidases, lysozyme, lactoferrin and others. Each of these subfractions has its own unique biological properties and benefits.
Even a brief discussion of lactoferrin, for instance, illustrates the many positive effects of this one sub-fraction. Lactoferrin is found in tiny amounts in the human body, yet appears to be a first-line immune system defense. It binds to iron so strongly that it inhibits the growth of iron-dependent bacteria (Oram, J., Reiter, B. Biochem. Biophys. Acta, 1968), and can block the growth of many pathogenic bacteria and yeast (Bellamy W. et al., J. Appl. Bacteriol. 1992). Its antimicrobial action may even improve antibiotics (Ellison, R.T., Infect. and Immun. 1988).
In the digestive tract, lactoferrin may help by stimulating intestinal cell growth (Hagiwara, T., et al., Biosci. Biotech. Biochem. 1995), and enhancing the growth of "good" intestinal microflora (Petschow, B., et al., Pediat. Res. 1991). A strong antioxidant, lactoferrin has positive immunomodulatory effects and scavenges free iron, which prevents uncontrolled iron-based free radical reactions (Eugine. P. et al., 1993) and protects certain cells from lipid peroxidation (Gutteridge et al., 1981).
It would be wise to incorporate whey protein into a supplement program just to receive the benefits of lactoferrin. But when these positive influences are combined with whey protein's many other strengths, including helping the immune system and fighting cancer, it should become a valuable element of any program.