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Building Immunity with Whey Protein

With everyone today concerned about maintaining a strong immune system, whey protein, which is one of the primary proteins in dairy products – a byproduct in cheese processing – provides significant amounts of essential amino acids to support muscle structure, wound healing, and immune function.

According to a 2004 monograph – Whey Proteins and Immunity – from the U.S. Diary Export Council in Arlington, Virginia – “whey proteins are unique in their ability to optimize a number of key aspects of immune function, although the exact mechanisms are not yet fully understood, whey proteins appear to modulate immune function by boosting glutathione (GSH) production in various tissues and preserving the muscle glutamine reservoir.

 GSH is the centerpiece of the body’s antioxidant defense system that regulates many aspects of immune function. Muscle glutamine is the essential fuel of the immune system, says the Dairy Export Council. 

Our immune system – a complex network of cells, organs and molecules – work together to defend the body against foreign microorganisms, such as bacteria, parasites and viruses. It can recognize millions of foreign invaders that trigger an immune response – antigens. This antigen defense involves the recruitment of the B cells and T cells (lymphocytes) – with the T cells remembering how to conquer past invaders, and therefore form the basis of our vaccines. 

With advanced age, this antigen response may be weakened – immunosenescence – especially if the immune system must contend with diseases such as, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer, while simultaneously being exposed to viruses like the flu.

Whey protein, notes the monograph, “is a collective term that encompasses a range of fractions including the major bovine proteins alpha- lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin, and minor fractions, such as serum proteins, lactoferrin, immunoglobulins, and tissue growth factors. Individually, these fractions are established immune-enhancing constituents that modulate a range of immune functions.”

Whey protein concentrates (WPC) and isolates (WPI) are fast acting – absorption providing essential amino acids to organs and tissue, especially after intense exercise or stress, as in wound healing or immuno-challenges. Another form is hydrolyzed (acid digest) WPI, which, “increased intracellular GSH by 64% and protected cells from oxidant-induced cell death.” A high concentration of GSH in cells boosts cellular antioxidant defenses that promote carcinogen detoxification.

Dietary sources of whey protein include cow’s milk (preferably low fat or skim), goat milk, yogurt, Ricotta cheese, other cheeses, cottage cheese, and whey protein powders, to name a few. 

There are potential contraindications to whey consumption, according to Whey protein taken with Albenza, a parasite killing drug, Fosamax to prevent or treat osteoporosis, and certain antibiotics like tetracycline, may affect absorption rates. Best to check with your prescribing physician, as to any medication conflicts

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