Whey protein for immune health: What really matters

Whey protein continues to be popular among health-conscious consumers as athletes rely on these products to fuel the demands of their intense workouts.

Kathleen Dunn

May 21, 2015

3 Min Read
Whey protein for immune health: What really matters

There’s good reason why whey protein products enjoy such popularity among health-conscious consumers.  Athletes rely on them to fuel the demands of intense training thanks, in large part, to the naturally high levels of branched chain amino acids that maximize muscle protein synthesis. Dieters add whey protein products to their regular routine for the hunger-curbing benefits and to help preserve lean body mass as they work to shed excess body fat. Consumers looking for antioxidant support benefit as well. Whey protein delivers the amino acid building blocks for glutathione, which is arguably the body’s most powerful intracellular antioxidant.

Boosting the immune benefits of whey: Bioactive proteins

It’s tough to beat the versatility of whey protein, especially when it contains bioactive peptides. Why? These naturally occurring compounds extend the body benefits of this popular protein supplement to immune health. But, they are only found in whey that has been processed using gentle methods, often under low-temperature conditions. This preserves the 3-dimensional structure of these fragile immune-boosters. And structure, as they say in biology, determines function.

Benefits backed by research

A growing body of human research supports the immune benefits of whey bioactive peptides, especially lactoferrin. For example, at least two open-label studies testing 100 mg per day and 2 grams per day, respectively, found that bovine lactoferrin can positively influence immune health.1,2 One placebo-controlled study testing 2, 10 and 50 mg per day reports similar findings.3 Interestingly, in this study, the 10 mg dose of lactoferrin was associated with a greater immune response than the 2 mg or 50 mg dose. Another placebo-controlled study found that a whey protein concentrate enriched with lactoferrin and immunoglobulins (600 mg per day) significantly reduced the incidence and symptoms of the common cold compared to placebo.4

This preliminary research is intriguing enough that, when nutritionists recommend whey protein products, their go-to choice is typically a quality product that also fully discloses the amount of bioactive peptides on the label.

Simple solution for a best-in-class product

Extending the reach of whey protein to the immune health category is easy. An ingredient supplier can offer a quality raw material, gently processed to preserve the bioactive peptides, especially lactoferrin. (Don’t forget to include all the details–both the amounts and types of peptides–on the raw material specification.) A product manufacturer can fully disclose the amounts on the label in the Supplement Facts panel. Better yet, consider calling out the immune benefits on the front panel. That way, consumers–and nutritionists–will quickly see your whey protein product is best-in-class and a welcome addition to the immune health category.

1 Yamauchi K, Wakabayashi H, Hashimoto S, et al. Effects of orally administered bovine lactoferrin on the immune system of healthy volunteers. Adv Exp Med Biol 1998;443:261-265. PMID: 9781368
2 Mulder AM, Connellan PA, Oliver CJ, et al. Bovine lactoferrin supplementation supports immune and antioxidant status in healthy human males. Nutr Res. 2008;28(9):583-589. PMID: 19083463
3 Zimecki M, Spiegel K, Waszczyk A, et al. Lactoferrin increases the output of neutrophil precursors and attenuates the spontaneous production of TNF-alpha and IL-6 by peripheral blood cells. Arch Immunol Ther Exp. 1999;47(2):113-118. PMID: 10202564
4 Vitetta L, Coulson S, Beck SL, et al. The clinical efficacy of a bovine lactoferrin/whey protein Ig-rich fraction (Lf/IgF) for the common cold: a double blind randomized study. Complement Ther Med. 2013;21(3):164-171. PMID: 23642947

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