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Fighting Cancer With Whey
Research on whey has shown that it is a better protein supplement than previously thought. Although the health benefits of whey protein have only recently been elucidated, whey protein has been prescribed for medical purposes since the days of Hippocrates. In fact, there are two old sayings in Florence, Italy, “If you want to live a healthy and active life, drink whey” and “If everyone grew up on whey, the doctors would go out of business.”
In previous installments, we’ve documented the extensive research that has shown the many potential health benefits of whey protein concentrate. Most of the research was done in the 1980s and early 1990s, and it’s very convincing. Scientists have continued their research on whey protein with even more impressive results. Here are some of the latest, interesting and useful research on whey protein.
Whey and Cancer
Other studies of cancer-causing chemicals have been done in animals to see how whey protein concentrate might affect cancer prevention or treatment. Scientists fed mice various proteins and then exposed them to the potent carcinogen dimethylhydrazine.
As in previous studies, rats fed whey protein concentrate showed fewer tumors and reduced tumor pooling area (tumor mass index). The researchers found that whey protein offered “considerable protection” to the host compared to other proteins such as soy. 1
Even more exciting, in vivo studies on cancer and whey showed that whey protein concentrate inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells at low concentrations (Baruchel S. and Vaiu G., Anti Cancer Research, 1996). Last but not least, a recent clinical study of cancer patients showed that when fed 30 grams of whey protein concentrate per day, tumors in some patients regressed. 2
Whey and Glutathione
This new study using whey protein concentrate led researchers to a surprising discovery about the relationship between cancer cells, glutathione (GSH) and whey protein concentrate. It was found that whey protein concentrate selectively depleted glutathione in cancer cells, thereby making them more susceptible to cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy.
Cancer cells and normal cells have been found to respond differently to nutrients and drugs that affect glutathione status. Most notably, the concentration of glutathione in the tumor cells was higher than that in the normal cells surrounding them. This difference in glutathione status between normal and cancer cells is thought to be an important factor in the development of cancer cell resistance to chemotherapy.
As the researchers put it, “Tumor cell GSH concentration may be one of the determinants of cytotoxicity [poisonous to cells] The effects of many chemotherapeutic agents and radiotherapy, and increased GSH concentrations appear to be at least one of the mechanisms of resistance to chemotherapy. “
They further stated, “Rapid synthesis of GSH in tumor cells is known to be associated with high proliferation rates of cells. Depletion of tumor GSH in vivo reduces cell proliferation rates and inhibits cancer growth.”
The problem is, it’s difficult to reduce glutathione in tumor cells sufficiently without putting healthy tissue at risk and making cancer patients worse off. What is needed is a compound that can selectively deplete glutathione in cancer cells while increasing or at least maintaining glutathione levels in healthy cells.
This is exactly what whey protein does. In the new study, it was found that cancer cells treated with whey protein were depleted of glutathione and their growth was inhibited, while normal cells had increased GSH and promoted cell growth.
These effects were not seen with other proteins. Not surprisingly, the researchers concluded that “selective depletion of tumor GSH may actually render cancer cells more susceptible to chemotherapy and ultimately protect normal tissues from the deleterious effects of chemotherapy.” Whey protein achieves this The exact mechanism by which this target is not fully understood, but it appears to interfere with the normal feedback mechanism and regulation of glutathione in cancer cells.
It is well known that glutathione production is negatively inhibited by its own synthesis. Since baseline glutathione levels in cancer cells are higher than in normal cells, cancer cell glutathione levels may be more likely to reach levels of negative feedback inhibition than normal cell glutathione levels.
Whey and LDL Cholesterol
The positive health benefits of whey protein concentrate don’t stop with its effects on immunity and cancer prevention and treatment. Whey protein concentrate was also found to be a potent inhibitor of oxidized LDL cholesterol. Current research suggests that the conversion of LDL to oxidized LDL is a contributor to atherosclerosis…the formation of plaque and lesions associated with atherosclerosis.
Therefore, anything that prevents the oxidation of LDL is considered anti-atherogenic. While animal-based proteins have traditionally been considered proatherogenic, whey protein appears to be an exception. Whey protein is composed of several minor and major fractions, such as beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, albumin, lactoferrin, and immunoglobulin. The minor component found to be responsible for the ability of whey protein concentrate to prevent LDL oxidation appears to be the lactoferrin portion of the protein. 3
lactoferrin in whey
When lactoferrin was removed from the protein, the ability of whey protein concentrate to prevent LDL oxidation was greatly reduced, leading the researchers to speculate, “Our results suggest that LF (lactoferrin) is responsible for the inhibition of LDL oxidation The main factor in whey protein (low-density lipoprotein), which may work synergistically with other factors in whey protein, such as alpha-lactalbumin.”
Another study using rats examined the effects of whey protein concentrate and casein on cholesterol and heart disease risk factors.While casein (another milk-based protein commonly used in research) is known to increase cholesterol in humans and animals, whey protein has the opposite effect, leading the researchers to note that “at high dietary protein levels [300 gram per kilogram of feed] Whey protein significantly lowered plasma and liver cholesterol and plasma triacylglycerols. “4
The cholesterol-lowering effects of whey protein concentrate were also associated with lower LDL cholesterol in this study. Most interestingly, this effect on cholesterol was not seen when the animals were fed an amino acid blend that mimics whey protein, so clearly there are properties in whey that have these effects beyond its amino acid composition.
Whey and Bone Growth
Finally, whey protein appears to play a direct role in bone growth. The researchers found that mice fed whey protein concentrate showed increases in bone strength and bone proteins such as collagen. This finding led the researchers to test whether whey protein directly stimulates the growth of osteoblasts (bone cells) in vitro.
Whey protein was found to dose-dependently stimulate total protein synthesis, DNA content and increase hydroxyproline content of bone cells. 5
It should be noted that not all whey protein concentrates are created equal. Processing whey protein to remove lactose and fat without losing its biological activity requires special attention from the manufacturer. Proteins must be processed at low temperatures and low acid conditions so that the proteins do not “denature”. Preserving proteins in their natural state is critical to their biological activity.
These findings, combined with the past decade of whey protein research, should convince anyone that whey protein concentrate is a true life-extending protein.
Higher Glutathione Levels and Whey
Fifteen years on, the research findings on the benefits of whey protein are far-reaching.
Previous research has included the following:
* Whey Protein Concentrate significantly increases glutathione levels. Glutathione is an essential water-soluble antioxidant that protects cells and acts as a primary detoxifier for harmful compounds such as peroxides, heavy metals, carcinogens and other toxins.
*Glutathione is also closely related to immunity, with lowered levels of glutathione linked to diseases such as AIDS, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease, just to name a few. In fact, glutathione levels appear to be a way of regulating immunity. 6
* In multiple animal studies, whey protein concentrate was found to consistently boost this critically important immune-stimulating antioxidant to levels higher than any protein studied, including soy. 7
A small pilot study of HIV-positive men fed whey protein concentrate found that glutathione levels increased significantly in all study participants, and two-thirds of the men achieved their ideal body weight. 8
In fact, several U.S. and international patents have been granted for treating AIDS and improving immunity with whey protein concentrate.
* Whey protein boosts immune function and fights infections. Animals fed whey protein concentrate consistently showed significantly enhanced humoral and cellular immune responses to various immune challenges such as Salmonella, Streptococcus pneumoniae 9, and extreme carcinogenic chemicals. This effect on immunity was not observed for other proteins.
* Concentrated whey protein fights cancer. Animals were fed whey protein.
1. (McIntosh GH,. et al., Journal of Nutrition, 1995)
2. (Kennedy RS, Konok GP, Bounous G., Baruchel S., Lee TD, Anti Cancer Research, 1995)
3. (M. Kajikawa et al. Biochemica et Biophysica Acta, 1994)
4. (Zhang X. and Beynen AC Brit. J. of Nutri., 1993)
5. (Takada Y., Aoe S., Kumegawa M., Biochemical Research Communications, 1996)
6. (Rosanne K., Fidelus and Min Fu Tsan. Cellular Immunology, 1986)
7. (Bounous G. and Gold P., Clin. Invest. Med. 1991)
8. (Bounous G., Baruchel S., Faiutz J., Gold P., Clin. Invest. Med. 1992)
9. (Bounous G., Konshavn P., Gold P., Clin. Invest. Med. 1988)
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