Protein Power: Do you need some?

In the last few years, protein powders have come out of the gym and into the kitchen. No longer just for athletes and weightlifters, protein has proven health benefits for all men and women.

Protein accounts for the largest percentage of material in the human body next to water—about 45 per cent. It contains valuable amino acids and is vital for immune function, building and healing tissue, and oxygen transport to muscles. Protein can also supply energy during intense exercise or periods of compromised health.


Whether you’re an athlete or not, you may be looking for more strength and energy to get you through the day. Research shows that supplementing with whey protein may help in either case. In a recent study, whey protein helped a test group of males increase certain measures of strength and lean tissue mass. Other research shows that protein supplements are beneficial to anyone with a reduced appetite, including the elderly or even cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. A low intake of protein has also been associated with greater bone loss among the elderly.


An added benefit of protein supplementation—particularly whey protein—is enhanced immune function. Studies indicate that whey protein raises levels of glutathione, the body’s own powerful antioxidant that is central to immune function. Glutathione levels decrease with age, and lower levels have been linked to aging diseases including Alzheimer’s. Because glutathione supplements are not easily absorbed, some experts suggest using substances that boost the body’s natural glutathione levels—such as whey protein.

Other components of whey protein include alpha-lactalbumin, lactoferrin and tryptophan. These “micro-factors” also play a role in enhancing immunity and improving health. In one animal study, hamsters given whey protein lived 60 per cent longer than those given typical hamster chow!


Soy protein is also a great choice, particularly for vegetarians or those who want the intake of soy isoflavones. However, whey protein is generally considered to be better utilized by the body. Although whey is derived from milk, most whey protein powders contain very little, if any, lactose. This means that most “lactose intolerant” people can still enjoy the health benefits of whey protein. Many different types of whey protein are now available featuring various protein concentrations and processing techniques. Some also include soy protein to bring the benefits of soy isoflavones into the daily mix. Ask your natural products store staff to help you choose the best product for your needs.

Sources: Int J Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism 2001:11(3); Dr Murray’s Total Body Tune-Up by M Murray, Bantam:2001; Earl Mindell’s Supplement Bible by E Mindell, Fireside:1998