A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that whey protein may help to protect heart health1. Researchers from the United Kingdom’s University of Reading found that this milk-derived protein lowered the risk of stroke and heart disease. Also, this study found that whey protein could decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
What is whey protein?
Milk contains two proteins: whey and casein. Whey protein is considered a complete protein as it contains all nine essential amino acids. Consequently, this protein is highly nutritional.
Body builders and other elite athletes often include whey protein supplements in their diet. People trying to lose weight also use these supplements to help improve satiety.
New study findings
The recent trial was a double-blinded, randomized, 3-way–crossover, controlled intervention study. A total of 38 participants completed the study and were aged between 30 and 77. All participants had mildly elevated blood pressure.
They were randomly assigned to consume either 27g maltodextrin (control), 28g of whey protein, or 28g of calcium-caseinate (casein) twice a day for a period of eight-weeks. This study also included a four-week washout period. During the research, participant’s blood pressure was regularly monitored.
Researchers found that participants who consumed whey protein had significant reduction in blood pressure compared with the control patients. This included both peripheral and central systolic pressures.
At the start of the study, these participants had a blood pressure range of 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic) to 159 (systolic) over 99 (diastolic) mm haemoglobin (Hgb). Blood pressure decreased by 3.9 Hgb, with diastolic blood pressure reductions of 2.5mm Hgb measured within 24 hours.
Subjects who consumed either whey or casein also had lower cholesterol levels compared with the control participants. These participants recorded a total cholesterol decrease of 5%. However, only whey protein decreased triacylglycerol concentrations. This has important health benefits.
High levels of triglycerides increase the risk of heart disease. By lowering triacylglycerol and normalising blood pressure, heart health can be enhanced.
In conclusion, researchers found that whey protein consumption lead to an 8% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Why does whey protein have this effect on heart health?
Previous studies have found that milk consumption is associated with a reduction in blood pressure2. This is thought to be due to the influence of whey protein on a blood pressure regulatory enzyme called Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE).
This enzyme is responsible for controlling the volume of fluids within the body. Subsequently, ACE has a direct impact on blood pressure. The recent study at the University of Reading has confirmed these observations, with whey having a stronger influence on ACE compared with calcium-caseinate.
It is thought that the lactoferrin component of whey prevents the oxidation of low density lipoprotein6. This can subsequently protect against atherogenesis and future heart disease.
Should you add whey protein supplements to your diet?
The preliminary results from this UK-based study do suggest that whey protein may be beneficial for people with high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol levels. Similar studies have confirmed these findings. However, there is also conflicting research warning of the dangers of over-consumption of whey protein. Consequently, further research is necessary.
If you are a physically active person and want to build muscle mass and strength, whey can form an important dietary supplement. However, these supplements are not recommended for everyone. Always discuss the suitability of protein supplements with a medical practitioner prior to regular consumption.
- “Fekete, A. et.al. (2016).Whey protein lowers blood pressure and improves endothelial function and lipid biomarkers in adults with prehypertension and mild hypertension: results from the chronic Whey2Go randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.137919.” ↩
- “Jauhiainen, T. and Korpela, R. (2007). Milk Peptides and Blood Pressure. The Journal of Nutrition. Volume 187, Issue 8 (pp. 8255-95).” ↩
- “Nagaoka, S. et.al. (1990). Effects of Whey Protein and Casein on the Plasma and Liver Lipids in Rats. Agricultural and Biological Chemistry. Volume 55, Issue 3.” ↩
- “Zhang, X and Beynen, A. (1993). Lowering effect of dietary milk-whey protein v. casein on plasma and liver cholesterol concentrations in rats. British Journal of Nutrition. Volume 70, Issue 1, (pp. 139-46).” ↩
- “Kawase, M. et.al. (2000). Effect of Administration of Fermented Milk Containing Whey Protein Concentrate to Rats and Healthy Men on Serum Lipids and Blood Pressure. Volume 83, Issue 2, (pp. 255-63).” ↩
- “Kajikawa, M. et.al. (1994). Lactoferrin inhibits cholesterol accumulation in macrophages mediated by acetylated or oxidized low-density lipoproteins. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta. Volume 1213, Issue 1, (pp. 82-90).” ↩