The Mental and Physical Benefits of Whey Protein

Whey protein has one of the highest levels of nutritional value and therefore is one of the most studied supplements. But its effect on your health may surprise you. More than just a means of gaining muscle, whey protein could have benefits for infants, people looking to lose weight and even aid with mental health.

What is whey protein?

The protein contained in whey, itself the watery portion of milk that separates in the process of making cheese. It is commonly used for increasing strength and athletic performance. Composed of 65% beta-lactoglobulin, 25% alpha-lactalbumin and other albumins and immunoglobulins, whey has a variety of uses in physical and mental health.

The physical aspect

Whey protein promotes muscle growth when combined with strength training and a diet consisting of high-protein foods. It has been shown to give an advantage over other types of protein such as casein or soy when added to a diet already consisting of a high amount of protein. It will prompt lean tissue mass and much better gains in strength according to the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, by providing protein and amino acids as the building blocks of muscle growth and increases the release of anabolic hormones that stimulate muscle growth. On top of all that, it increases fat absorption due to its high rate of being used compared to other types of protein.

The ACE-inhibitors in whey, named lactokinins, may lower blood pressure, although results are mixed. Research published in the International Dairy Journal found that food supplemented with whey protein significantly reduced blood pressure in patients with hypertension. 

Whey protein may also help treat type 2 diabetes due to its ability to moderate blood sugar, with an advantage over egg white or fish. 

Whey protein has also been shown to prevent skin allergies when taken early in life. A lack of protein is being looked into as a possible trigger of eczema. Adding whey protein to an infant’s bottle has been shown to prevent allergic conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and atopic disease in 3–12-month-olds. It does little once the condition is developed, however. 

For those looking to lose weight, rather than gain, whey is particularly filling, suppressing hunger more than other proteins such as casein and soy. You can also find reduced calorie protein which may be a better option for those who do want to gain added weight. 

It boots metabolism, in turn helping to burn more calories, and has more of an effect on fat burning than other proteins. The British Journal of Nutrition also found that whey promotes a significant decrease in cholesterol. It could also aid in asthma, with a small study published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition concluding that children with asthma who were given 10g of whey protein twice a day for a month had improved immune responses.

The mental aspect

As unbelievable as it may seem, whey protein has been seen to have a positive effect on mental health, due to its creation of serotonin. 

Acting as a mood-balancing chemical in the brain, serotonin has, in low levels, been linked with depression. Elevated levels of serotonin are linked to feelings of well-being and happiness. 

Cortisol, meanwhile, is a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal glands and is involved in the regulation of blood pressure, suppression of the immune system, and is crucially, released by stress. Because of this, cortisol is also linked with insomnia, blood sugar imbalances, thyroid disfunction and depression and high anxiety.

A double-blind study by a group of Dutch researchers led by C.B. Markus saw that whey, with its primary active ingredient, alpha-lactalbumin, held a high amount of amino acid tryptophan which creates serotonin. They found that with a diet high in alpha-lactalbumin, serotonin levels were raised, and cortisol levels were lowered, which would lead to a more balanced mood and less depression.

The downside

Those of us who are lactose intolerant may also gain an allergic reaction to whey protein. Look out for digestive issues such as cramps and nausea, skin allergies, a numb feeling in your hands or swelling of the mouth, lips, or tongue to be sure. High doses may prompt acne and experts press to not go over the recommended dose as at best it is useless since the body can only process a certain amount of protein at a time.

Where can you get it?

 You can easily find whey protein powders in any drugstore, health retailers, grocery stores and fitness retailers. 

If you don’t like the idea of protein powder for the purposes of mental health, other places to ingest some serotonin is in your food. Salmon, which is a rich source of tryptophan, is important for producing serotonin, as are nuts and seeds, turkey and poultry, eggs, tofu and soy, milk, cheese, and pineapple.