More than just a dietary supplement, whey protein is a functional food that can help regulate body weight, increase muscle mass and provide a number of health and well-being benefits. Many of the benefits of whey protein are directly related to its complete amino acid profile, which makes it a high-quality, easily digestible protein source. Whey protein powder also contains a number of antioxidant substances that give it potential to prevent disease and promote overall health .
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A Range of Benefits
A 2004 paper published in "Alternative Medicine Review" notes that whey protein possesses a number of components that have immune-enhancing properties. Among these include lactoferrin, glycomacropeptide, beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin and immunoglobulins. The authors also reference whey's ability to act as an antioxidant, antiviral and antibacterial agent. These properties give rise to a number of potential therapeutic applications for whey protein, including treatment of cancer, HIV, hepatitis B, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, whey protein has been proven successful in the area of exercise performance enhancement.
One of whey protein powder's most sought-after benefits is its ability to increase muscle mass when combined with resistance training. A study published in 2013 in the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition" demonstrated this point by comparing whey protein to another source of protein -- soy. The study concluded that daily supplementation of whey protein was more effective in promoting lean mass gains when compared to soy protein. According to the researchers, the high quality of whey and its rich concentrations of amino acids, particularly leucine, make it ideal for increasing protein synthesis – muscle building -- when combined with resistance training.
Weight Control and Fat Loss
High-protein diets are often effective in managing body weight. A study published in 2004 in "The Journal of Nutrition" tested the effects of a high-protein diet containing whey protein concentrate in an animal model. When compared to red meat, whey protein concentrate was more effective in reducing weight gain and insulin sensitivity. Whey protein supplements are also effective in increasing fat loss, while protecting lean muscle tissue. A study published in 2008 in "Nutrition and Metabolism" compared one group of participants, who took a whey protein supplement, with a control group. Both groups were on a 500-calorie-reduced diet. The result was a significantly higher percentage of body fat lost in the whey protein group.
Protect Your Cells
Among the lesser known benefits of whey protein is its potential to protect against cancer through its antioxidant-promoting properties. A study published in 2003 in "Toxicology In Vitro" tested whether a whey protein isolate supplement could increase concentrations of the potent antioxidant substance, glutathione, for the purpose of protecting cells in the human prostate. The result was a significant reduction in oxidant-induced prostate cell death. The researchers concluded that whey protein is effective in increasing glutathione concentrations, which protects human prostate cells and helps prevents cancer, through its antioxidant capacities.