Whey protein is a dietary supplement that's derived from milk during the cheese-making process. In addition to providing protein, whey supplements may also have specific benefits for people with liver damage. If you have hepatitis or other liver diseases, consult your doctor before taking whey protein or any other supplement.
Whey contains large amounts of the amino acid called cysteine and branched-chain amino acids, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Whey protein is easy to digest, making it a rich supplemental source of protein. Your body uses the cysteine found in whey protein to make glutathione, a powerful natural antioxidant. Glutathione plays an important role in your body's "antioxidant defense system," the center adds, mainly working in your liver to protect your body from free radicals, harmful oxidation and toxins.
People with liver disease or liver damage due to hepatitis tend to have below-normal levels of glutathione, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center explains. Taking whey protein can increase glutathione levels in people with liver problems. Specifically, whey protein may help in treating viral hepatitis, the University of Michigan Health System adds. No conclusive medical research supports the use of whey protein for these purposes, however.
In addition to increasing glutathione levels and helping to treat liver disease, whey protein may also improve physical stamina and performance, boost your immune-system function and promote weight loss in obese individuals, the University of Michigan Health System reports. Whey protein is sometimes also recommended for helping to treat osteoporosis and stress. As a nutritional supplement, whey protein can benefit people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, as well as cancer and HIV/AIDS patients, adds the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Other potential medicinal uses for whey protein include treating diabetes and cataracts. Don't take whey protein supplements to prevent or treat any health problem without first consulting your doctor.
Although taking whey protein may help in some ways to treat liver damage due to hepatitis and liver diseases, the supplement won't necessarily cure the disease or reverse the damage, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center advises. In fact, the sole purpose of taking whey protein for liver conditions is to increase your glutathione levels. Even if you take whey protein, you'll likely still need to undergo other conventional treatments or take certain medications for your liver damage.
Don't stop taking any other prescribed medications or therapies for your liver damage when using whey protein. You should take whey protein powder only if your doctor recommends that you do so for your liver. Whey protein supplements are generally considered safe, because whey is a natural part of dairy products, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center explains. If you're allergic to milk or dairy, you'll likely have an allergic reaction to whey protein. Also, taking excessive amounts — typically more than 1.2 grams of whey protein for every 2.2 pounds of your body weight — could lead to diabetes in children, osteoporosis or kidney problems, warns the University of Michigan Health System.