Whey Protein

Introduction to Whey Protein


Whey is one of the two major proteins derived from cow’s milk, as a by-product of the cheese manufacturing process. It is a naturally complete protein, which is quickly absorbed by the body, providing the muscles with rapid nourishment.

Bodybuilders have known the benefits of whey protein supplementation for many years, but scientific research has only just begun to catch up. There is now an ever growing body of research showing the many benefits that whey protein has to offer.

Whey Protein ExplainedReflex Instant Whey Protein


Scientific research is providing more and more evidence in favor of the many health promoting effects of a high protein diet, and as a result, the increasingly health conscious public are demanding cheap and convenient ways of increasing the amount of protein in their diets.

The supplements industry is a very lucrative one, and is constantly evolving new and improved ways of providing the consumer with the means to increase their protein intake; usually in the form of protein powders, shakes, flapjacks and bars. While this wide array of choice may be a good thing for the consumer, it is important to understand that supplement companies are in business, and will often cut corners when it comes to the quality of their ingredients in the interests of their profit margins. This process can involve the use of cheap, and potentially harmful ingredients, and this is particularly true in the case of whey protein.

For a long time, whey protein supplements have been synonymous with the bodybuilding community, on account of their muscle building properties. That is until recently – The real health promoting properties of whey protein are starting to become recognised, and more and more people are beginning to use whey to help with immune function, weight control, and in some cases, in the fight against cancer and HIV.

As with anything, as demand increases, so does supply. And with this increased supply, comes competition to produce cheaper products. These cheaper products may be easier on the pocket, but they often fail to deliver the full range of benfits available from whey protein. In this article, we will learn exactly how to choose good quality whey promoting supplements, and how to avoid the rubbish.

As previously mentioned, whey is one two major proteins found in cow’s milk, the other being casein. Cow’s milk is made up of around 20% whey and the remaining 80% is casein. This 20% of whey is split down further into different types, each with different benefits, all of which will be discussed later.

Health Benefits of Whey


Despite the fact that prior to the introduction of whey, soy protein was considered to be the holy grail of protein supplementation. But research has shown that the health benefits offered by a correctly prepared whey protein, far exceed those offered by all other types of protein. Some of the health benefits from whey supplementation include:

  • Increased glutathione. Glutathione is the human body’s main endogenous antioxidant. It neutralises toxins, heavy metals and other carcinogens. Studies have shown consistently that whey protein supplementation raises levels of glutathione more effectively than any other type of protein.
  • Prevention and treatment of a variety of cancers. Cancer cells have been shown to contain higher levels of glutathione than normal cells. Whey protein supplementation selectively depletes glutathione in cancer cells, rendering them increasingly sensitive to chemothereapy treatments.
  • Improved mechanisms for fighting infection.
  • Reduced muscle atrophy. In patients with muscle wasting diseases such as cancer and HIV, whey protein has been shown to reduce muscle atrophy.

Types of Whey Protein


Before whey protein was recognised for its’ health benefits, it existed only as a waste product from the production of cheddar type cheeses. In this state it is known as ‘Sweet Dairy Whey’ which is high in both fat and lactose and is of little nutritional value.

Eventually, the technology required to extract protein from sweet dairy whey was developed and whey as we know it now became an economically viable foodstuff. As technology has advanced further, improvements in equipment and techniques has advanced the quality of they whey protein that we see on the shelves.

The different techniques used to process whey greatly effect the finished product, and will dictate whether the end product will be one with fantastic health benefits, or one that is potentially damaging to your health.

There are three main types of whey protein:

  • Whey Protein CONCENTRATE. Typically has high levels of lactose, cholesterol, fat, and de-natured proteins. Usually very cheap.
  • Whey Protein ISOLATE. More towards a ‘pure’ whey protein. Has lower levels of lactose, cholestero, fat and de-natured proteins.
  • HYDROLYSED Whey Protein. An enzymatically pre-digested whey protein. Larger peptides and micro-fractions are broken down.

Whey Protein Concentrate


‘Concentrate’ is the term used to describe any whey protein which is ultra-filtered to achieve a protein content of between 25% – 85%, after pasteurisation.

In the past, some supplement companies have used whey protein concentrates with a protein content as low as 50% in their supplements, although this is uncommon. Today, the majority of whey protein used in the supplements market is known as ‘WPC 80′ (Whey Protein Concentrate 80% protein), which is not necessarily a good thing. WPC 80 is one of the cheapest dairy proteins, which is great for them as it increases their profit margins, but not so great for the unwitting consumer.  WPC 80 is not just a popular ingredient in supplements, it is also commonly found in pet foods, animal feed and as a filler in lots of commercial baked goods.

Another trick that supplement companies like to pull is to market their product as containing whey protein isolate, when in fact that product will only contain a tiny amount of isolate and will be packed out with concentrate.

This problem of ‘hidden ingredients’ is only made worse when companies disguise poor quality ingredients behind labels like ‘proprietary blend’. Using high quality ingredients is just not in the interests of the supplement companies, as in the vast majority of instances, the end user will be blissfully unaware of the difference between the two.Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Nutrition Facts

If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this:

If a supplement lists ‘Whey Protein Concentrate’ as an ingredient. DO NOT buy it!

If the whey protein you are currently using contains whey protein concentrate, take a look at the ‘Nutrition Facts’ label, and note how many milligrams of cholesterol are included in each serving. Some cheap whey protein supplements contain as much as 55mg or more in each 30g serving. When that is compared to a 30g serving of a product contaning a high percentage of isolate, which contains little to no cholesterol, you begin to appreciate the potential harm that cheap concentrate could be doing to you. Whey protein concentrate is a ‘filler’ and is not fit to be used as an ingredient in any health supplement.

Any significant amount of cholesterol in whey protein should alert you to the presence of whey protein concentrate.

What Other Junk is in Whey Concentrate?

It has been known for supplement companies to attempt to spin the cholesterol content of their whey protein so that it can be turned into a selling point. This is of course nonsensical. What they claimed was that the cholesterol found in whey protein contained growth factors that were of great benefit to the bodybuilding/fitness communities. Although there was some truth in these claims, all of the available micro-fractions in whey can now be kept, even as the cholesterol/fat is removed, which is how we end up with whey protein isolate which contains a minute amount of cholesterol by comparison.

Some of you may be wondering why cholesterol in whey is such a bad thing. Not all cholesterol is bad, right? The body needs it for a variety of essential processes. But the cholesterol we are talking about here is the powdered, oxidised type that is normally found in the likes of powdered eggs. This type of cholesterol provides no health benefits but plenty there are plenty of reasons why it is damaging to health and should be avoided. Oxidised cholesterol is responsible for the build up of plaque in the arteries. High temperature drying, the pasteurisation process and exposure to oxygen during normal storage will all serve to oxidise some or all of the cholesterol in whey. These factors may also lead to denatured proteins.

As we’ve already discussed, the vast majority of supplement companies favor the use of the cheapest possible whey in their supplements. The fact that this whey is cheap suggests to me that there will be no benefits to its’ cholesterol content. The golden rules is: The lower the cholesterol, the better.

Another suspicious ingredient that can be found in whey protein supplements is Lactose. Lactose is the sugar found in milk, and as many people are (sometimes unknowingly) deficient the enzyme required to digest it, it can be responsible for the bloating and wind often associated with whey supplementation. The only type of whey that can claim to be lactose free is isolate. It is for this reason that whey protein isolate is often so much easier to digest. If you have ever been the victim of bloating or wind whilst using whey, the chances are that your supplement contained low quality whey concentrate and large amounts of lactose.

Do The Types of Whey Differ in Protein Quality?

We’ve discussed the detrimental effects of cholesterol and lactose, but is there any difference in the actual protein quality between the different types of whey?

In short, yes. The large amounts of denatured proteins contained in whey concentrates translate to a drastically reduced biological value. When compared to casein, the whey portion of milk is very fragile and is easily damaged by the pasteurisation process. When is protein’s natural structure is modified or damaged, it is said to have been denatured.

Not all denatured proteins are a bad thing, for example: Egg whites turn white, and suppress the compound Advin (which reduced the absorption of the vitamin Biotin) when cooked. Although when it comes to whey, denaturation most definitely is a bad thing. Whey is made up of a mixture of man individual proteins, known as micro-fractions. These micro-fractions are responsible for the physical and health benefits of whey, and they must be in their native state in order to offer the full range of benefits available from whey. If these micro-fractions are damaged or denatured as part of processing, their health promoting value is lost. Denatured proteins are not only a waste of money, but have also been shown to be toxic to the body, and may damage kidney function.

Many available whey based protein supplements are treated to such harsh processing that the protein is rendered almost nutritionally worthless, and potentially toxic! Processes involving ultra high temperatures such as UHT (Ultra Heat Treatment) have been shown to denature whey proteins and produce foreign protein structures. Low temperature processing produces a product with a minimal amount of dentured proteins and a substantial amount of active micro-fractions.

Whey Micro-Fractions


Some of the micro-fractions found in whey and their benefits are:

Lactoferrin:

  • Antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal.
  • Antioxidant.
  • Promotes growth of beneficial bacteria.

Alpha Lactalbumin:

  • Source of branch chain (BCAAs) and essential amino acids.
  • Primary protein found in human breast milk.

Bovine Serum Albumin:

Beta-Lactoglobulin:

Glycomacropeptide:

  • Can reduce appetite via stimulation of CCK.
  • Functions as a pre-biotic.
  • Immunomodulator.

Immunoglobulins:

  • Primary protein found in colostrum.
  • Benefits immune system modulating.

Lactoperoxidase:

  • Inhibits growth of bacteria.

Whey Protein Isolate


Whey protein isolate can be loosely described as any whey supplement that contains greater than 90% whey. As a result of this high percentage of whey, isolate contains considerably less fat, less cholesterol, less lactose and fewer denatured proteins than its cheaper counterpart, whey protein concentrate.

There are two main types of processing used to produce whey protein isolate, each producing isolates with slightly different effects. These two types of processing are Ion Exchange and Micro-Filtration.

Ion Exchange

Historically, the ion exchange method was the first to produce a supplement free from lactose, cholesterol and fat, that had a protein content of greater than 90%. These methods of whey extraction have since been improved, and ultimately perfected.

The Ion Exchange process involves using an electrical charge to separate proteins in whey from other less desirable ingredients. This process produces a high protein ratio, but it comes at a price. In order to drive the chemical reaction required to isolate the protein, a severe change in pH is required, compromising the nature of the whey proteins. The Beta-Lactoglobulin micro-fraction (allergenic) becomes predominant, replacing Alpha-Lactalbumin, and many other micro-fractions are lost, including:

  • Lactoperoxidase.
  • Glycomacropeptides.
  • Lactoferrin.
  • Immunoglobulins.

Therefore, what is achieved as an end result is almost like a stripped down protein. Ion Exchange alters the ratios and quantities of proteins and produces a supplement that is missing many of the benefits that are available from filtered whey.

Micro-Filtration

Whey protein isolate usually contains in excess of 90% whey protein. Proper isolates retain the majority of their micro-fractions, in proper balance, and provide real functional benefits through usable, undenatured protein which stretches beyond just the amino acid profile.

In the micro-filtration process, only soluble proteins are able to pass through the filter membrane, which removes almost all of the unwanted fat, cholesterol, lactose and denatured proteins. Denatured proteins by comparison are insoluble, and as such are unable to pass through the filter. Once micro-filtration has occurred, whey isolates are ‘spray dried’ at low temperatures which helps to maintain the biological integrity of the structure of the protein.

Unfortunately, not all whey isolates are of the same quality. Some supplement companies user lower quality filters, and dry their protein at higher temperatures, compromising the quality of the final product. Although, on the flip side, when micro-filtration is carried out at low temperatures, using highly selective ceramic filters, the highest quality whey protein isolate that is currently available is produced.

The process by which the best whey protein isolate is produced has been patented by a company called Glanbia Nutritionals. The process they use is known as CFM®, and it is used to produced a whey isolate called Provon®. Purchasing supplements that contain CFM® ingredients, such as Provon, ensures that you’re buying the best quality whey protein isolate available.

Pros and Cons of Whey Protein Isolate

Pros Cons
Low in cholesterol. Expensive.
Contains less denatured proteins. Absorbed very quickly.
Contains more growth promoting
micro-fractions.
 
Mixes well.  
Nicer taste compared to whey
concentrate.
 
Free from lactose.  
Much higher protein content.  
Contains more immune system
boosting micro-fractions.
 
Is less allergenic.  

You should now be well aware of the reasons why whey protein isolate is so much better than any other type of protein. Those who ignore whey isolate in favor of other types whey, are either doing so through plain ignorance, or because they work in the supplement industry and stand to make some form of financial gain from promoting inferior whey proteins.

It is not uncommon to feel slightly angry when you finally learn the truth about supplement companies, i.e. that they have NO interest in ensuring that you get the best/most effective health products, and are only interested in using your goals to generate a profit for themselves. For years I believed (through what I had read) that I was giving myself an advantage by using supplements that contain whey concentrate, when in fact I was being sold low quality crap – and not at low quality prices!

Hydrolysed Whey Protein (Hydrolysate)

The term ‘hydrolysed’ refers to a protein in which the longer chains of amino acids  have been broken down, by enzymes, into smaller pieces known as peptides. Peptides can vary greatly in size, depending on the degree to which the protein has been hydrolysed. Different sized peptides can have very different effects on the body, and it is for this reason that the consumer of whey protein hydrolysate (hydrolysed whey) has no way of knowing exactly what size and variety of peptides will be present in their supplement.

Hydrolysed whey is sometimes said to be partially, or pre-digested. This is because the process through which it is manufactured uses enzymes to break down peptides in a similar way to the body during digestion. As a result, amino acids and peptides are readily available to the body.

Whey protein hydrolysate claims to have two main benefits over the other types of whey, although it is advised that at least one of these is taken with caution:

  • Faster absorption rate. Unfortunately, this is no more true than it is for any type of whey protein. Most of the hype around the absorption rate of hydrolysed whey is based on a study carried out on rats, which demonstrated greater nitrogen retention in those that took hydrolysed whey compared with those that took concentrate.
  • Less allergenic. This is a real benefit for individuals that suffer allergies to other types of whey.

One critical factor that you should consider when making your mind up about hydrolysate is that the hydrolysing process destroys many of the protein structures within whey, and with this, a great deal of the benefits of whey are lost. These benefits are reliant on the presence of structurally sound micro-fractions, and not just the presence of the relevant amino acid profile.

Protein Denaturation


The amount of protein bonds that have been broken down by enzymes is directly related to the degree of hydrolysis that whey protein is subjected to. This means that as the degree of hydrolysis increases, the average size of the protein fragments in that particular supplement, is reduced.

One of the main reasons for using hydrolysis is to reduce the allergenic impact of a variety of proteins, such as milk and soy. Hydrolysed proteins are even used in baby milk formula. Non protein bound amino acids are not commonly found in natural food, but are often formed as a result of certain processing techniques, one of which being hydrolysation. Free amino acids can have drastically different effects on the human body when compared to the very same amino acids when taken as whole food proteins.

Many amino acids are, or at least are pre-cursors to, brain chemicals called biogenic amines. Free amino acids have a direct effect on the central nervous system and the brain, by affecting the way that these chemicals function. Free amino acids, such as: Aspartic acid, Glutamic acid and Cysteine can act as excitotoxins which stimulate neurons to death, leading to varying degrees of brain damage. These substances should be avoided at all costs. They can be found in ingredients such as:

  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).
  • Aspartame (Artificial Sweetener).
  • Cysteine.
  • Aspartic acid.
  • Whey protein hydrolysate.

Proteins that are un-denatured contain an amino acid profile which can be metabolised efficiently by the body. Denatured proteins, on the other hand, and free amino acids often have some subtle but dangerous effects, especially in the case of exitotoxicity, where free amino acids can actually lead to the death of neurons.

Excitotoxicity is a huge subject, with continual research being carried out by researchers looking to understand Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases. Research on the excitotoxic nature of hydrolysates is far from complete, although there is some evidence which shows significant cause for concern. Some baby formula contains hydrolysed whey proteins which contain the free amino acids glutamic and aspartic acid, which are known to have excitotoxic effects.

Now that you are aware of the dangers presented by free amino acids, please consider that whey contains large amounts of aspartic acid, glutamic acid and cysteine, and potentially freeing these amino acids from their native protein structure, through hydrolysis, is asking for neurological trouble. Suppose we were to say that hydrolysed whey were not toxic. It would still suffer from compromised immunomodulating micro-fractions, as a result of any significant hydrolysation, and would still lack one of whey’s main benefits.

Hydrolysed whey may be easier for the body to absorb, but this comes at the cost of all the negative points discussed in this section. The rate at which hydrolysate is absorbed is purely academic, as intact whey is absorbed very quickly as it is.

As far as hydrolysed whey protein is concerned, the unanswered questions, risks and lack of research to demonstrate any of its’ real benefits, all outweigh the alleged benefits that it has to offer. Using hydrolysed whey means sacrificing almost all of the immune boosting effects of whey, which are so important for repair, recovery and growth of the body’s tissues. You are also putting yourself at risk of ingesting potentially dangerous excitotoxic amino acids. Is it really worth it? No.

Conclusion


It is almost oxymoronic that as the level of research into the vast array of benefits offered by whey grows, the quality of the average whey protein supplement is becoming worse. This is mainly due to consumer demand for lower prices, and the supplement companies driving hard for higher profits.

In the majority of cases, the consumer is unlikely to see any health benefits from their sub-standard whey protein supplement, unless of course they know what to look for. They should infact be more concerned with the potential harm that their cheap, low quality whey could be doing them. Although this is easily rectified, make sure that the whey protein that you purchase is ceramic filtered whey isolate, and you will get to see the real benefits of proper whey protein supplementation.

3 comments

  1. Sajid

    Hello, i have read you article about whey protein, can you please suggest the name of any protein which is best in your opinion.

    thanks,

  2. Fabiana

    I am 2 months pregnant and I would like to know if is safe take Reflex protein shake please?

    Are there heavy metals in it? which are they in percentage please?

    Thank you

  3. Andy

    I can only recommend what I personally use: Optimum Nutrition Hydro Builder (Post Workout), and Casein from the same company before bed.

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