Whey protein is among the best-studied supplements globally, for good reason. It has a very high nutritional value, and scientific studies have revealed numerous health benefits.
Here are ten health benefits of whey protein supported by human studies.
1. Whey is an excellent source of high-quality protein
Whey is a liquid that separates from milk during cheese production. The protein part of whey is called whey protein.
It is a complete, high-quality protein containing all essential amino acids. In addition, it is very digestible and absorbed from your gut quickly compared with other types of protein.
These qualities make it one of the best dietary sources of protein available.
There are three main types of whey protein powder:
- concentrate (WPC)
- isolate (WPI)
- hydrolysate (WPH)
The concentrate is the most common type, and it is also the cheapest.
As a dietary supplement, whey protein is widely popular among bodybuilders, athletes, and others who want additional protein.
Summary: Whey protein has a very high nutritional value and is one of the best dietary sources of high-quality protein. It is highly digestible and absorbed quickly compared to other proteins.
2. Whey protein promotes muscle growth
Muscle mass naturally declines with age.
This usually leads to fat gain and raises the risk of many chronic diseases.
However, this adverse change in body composition can be partly slowed, prevented, or reversed with a combination of strength training and an adequate diet.
Strength training and consuming high-protein foods or protein supplements is an effective preventive strategy.
Particularly effective are high-quality protein sources, such as whey.
Whey is rich in a branched-chain amino acid called leucine. Leucine is the most growth-promoting (anabolic) of amino acids.
For this reason, whey protein is effective for the prevention of age-related muscle loss, as well as for improved strength.
For muscle growth, some studies show that whey protein may be slightly better than other types of protein, such as casein or soy.
However, supplements probably won’t make a big difference unless your diet is already lacking in protein.
Summary: Whey protein is excellent for promoting muscle growth and maintenance when coupled with strength training.
3. Whey protein may lower blood pressure
Abnormally high blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease.
Numerous studies have linked the consumption of dairy products with reduced blood pressure.
This effect has been attributed to a family of bioactive peptides in dairy, so-called angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors (ACE-inhibitors).
In whey proteins, the ACE-inhibitors are called lactokinins. Several animal studies have demonstrated their beneficial effects on blood pressure.
A limited number of human studies have investigated the effect of whey proteins on blood pressure, and many experts consider the evidence inconclusive.
One study in overweight individuals showed that whey protein supplementation, 54 g/day for 12 weeks, lowered systolic blood pressure by 4%. Other milk proteins (casein) had similar effects.
This is supported by another study that found significant effects when participants were given whey protein concentrate (22 g/day) for six weeks.
However, blood pressure decreased only in those that had high or slightly elevated blood pressure to begin with.
No significant effects on blood pressure were detected in a study that used much lower amounts of whey protein (less than 3.25 g/day) mixed in a milk drink.
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Summary: Whey proteins may lower blood pressure in people with elevated blood pressure. This is due to bioactive peptides called lactokinins.
4. Whey protein may help treat type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by high blood sugar and impaired insulin function.
Insulin is a hormone that stimulates blood sugar uptake into cells, keeping it within healthy limits.
Whey protein effectively moderates blood sugar, increasing insulin levels and sensitivity to its effects.
Whey protein seems to have the upper hand compared with other protein sources, such as egg white or fish.
These properties of whey protein may even be comparable to those of medications for diabetes, such as sulfonylurea.
As a result, whey protein can be effectively used as a supplementary treatment for type 2 diabetes.
Taking a whey protein supplement before or with a high-carb meal has been shown to moderate blood sugar in healthy people and those with type 2 diabetes.
Summary: Whey protein moderates blood sugar levels, especially when taken before or with high-carb meals. It may be particularly useful for people with type 2 diabetes.
5. Whey protein may help reduce inflammation
Inflammation is part of the body’s response to damage. Short-term inflammation can be beneficial, but it may become chronic under certain circumstances.
Chronic inflammation can be harmful and is a risk factor for many diseases. It may reflect underlying health conditions or lifestyle habits that hurt your health.
A large review study found that high doses (greater than or equal to 20 grams/day) of whey protein supplements significantly reduced C-reactive protein (CRP), a key marker of inflammation in the body.
Summary: High doses of whey protein have been shown to reduce blood levels of C-reactive protein, indicating that it can help reduce inflammation.
6. Whey protein may be beneficial for inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is characterized by chronic inflammation in the lining of the digestive tract. It is a collective term for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
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In both rodents and humans, whey protein supplementation has been found to benefit IBD.
However, the available evidence is weak, and further studies are needed before any strong claims can be made.
Summary: Whey protein supplements may benefit IBD.
7. Whey protein may enhance the body’s antioxidant defenses
Antioxidants are substances that act against oxidation in the body. This means they reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of various chronic diseases.
One of the most important antioxidants in humans is glutathione. Unlike most antioxidants you get from your diet, your body produces glutathione.
In the body, glutathione production depends on the supply of several amino acids, such as cysteine, which is sometimes limited.
For this reason, high cysteine foods, such as whey protein, may boost the body’s natural antioxidant defenses.
Several studies in both humans and rodents have found that whey proteins may reduce oxidative stress and increase levels of glutathione.
Summary: Whey protein supplementation may strengthen the body’s antioxidant defenses by promoting the formation of glutathione, one of the body’s main antioxidants.
8. Whey protein may have beneficial effects on blood fats
High cholesterol, especially LDL (bad) cholesterol, is a risk factor for heart disease.
In one study on overweight individuals, 65 grams of whey protein per day for 12 weeks significantly reduced total and LDL cholesterol.
Other studies did not find similar effects on blood cholesterol.
The lack of effect might be due to differences in study design. Ultimately, further studies are needed before any conclusions can be made.
Summary: Long-term, high-dose whey protein supplementation may lower cholesterol levels. The evidence is very limited at this point.
9. Whey protein is highly satiating (filling), which may help reduce hunger
Satiety is a term used to describe the feeling of fullness we experience after eating a meal. It is the opposite of appetite and hunger, and it should suppress cravings for food and the desire to eat.
Some foods are more satiating than others, an effect which partly depends on their macronutrient (protein, carb, fat) composition.
Protein is by far the most filling of the three macronutrients.
However, not all proteins have the same effect on satiety. Whey protein appears to be more satiating than other types of protein, such as casein and soy.
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These properties make it particularly useful for those who need to eat fewer calories and lose weight.
Summary: Whey protein is very satiating (filling), even more so than other types of protein. This makes it a useful addition to a weight-loss diet.
10. Whey protein can help you lose weight
Increased consumption of protein is a well-known weight loss strategy.
Eating more protein may promote fat loss by:
- suppressing appetite, leading to reduced calorie intake
- boosting metabolism, helping you burn more calories
- helping to maintain muscle mass when losing weight
Whey protein is particularly effective, and it may have a superior effect on fat-burning and satiety than other protein types.
Summary: Eating plenty of protein is a very effective way to lose weight, and some studies show that whey protein may have even greater effects than other types of protein.
Side effects, dosage, and how to use whey protein
Whey protein is very easy to incorporate into your diet.
It is sold as a powder that can be added to smoothies or yogurts or simply mixed with water or milk. There is a wide selection available on Amazon.
A commonly recommended dosage is 25-50 grams per day (1-2 scoops), but some products will include other recommendations on the packaging.
Keep in mind that taking too much protein is not beneficial. Excessive consumption may also cause digestive problems, such as:
However, moderate consumption of whey protein supplements is well tolerated by most people, with a few exceptions.
If you are lactose intolerant, whey protein hydrolysate or isolate may be more suitable than concentrate. If you have ever had liver or kidney problems, consult a doctor before taking a protein supplement.
At the end of the day, whey protein is not just a convenient way to boost your protein intake; it may also have some powerful health benefits.