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Woman doing yoga using whey for to decrease muscle-wasting

Whey's Longevity Benefits

Whey protein helps protect against muscle-wasting and weight gain, while lowering certain cardiovascular risk factors. It also improves the body’s production of glutathione.

Scientifically reviewed by Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in August 2023. Written by: Michael Downey.

For years, whey protein has been taken by athletes seeking to increase muscle mass and performance.

Evolving research shows that whey does much more.

Whey helps protect against muscle-wasting and weight gain, while lowering certain cardiovascular risk factors.1-11

Glutathione levels drop with age, and this could play a role in neurodegeneration, reduced immunity, and other age-related conditions.16-20

Whey protein enhances glutathione production.12,13

The ability of whey to increase glutathione levels comes from its unique combinations of small peptides.

Whey protein is increasingly seen as a superfood for healthy longevity.

Dangers of Low Protein

Woman doing yoga in front of lake

About 45% of older people in the U.S., and more than 84% in residential care facilities, are not adequately nourished.21,22 This results from reduced appetite and food intake, impaired nutrient absorption, and other age-related changes.22-24

Insufficient intake of quality protein can lead to loss of muscle mass,25 especially in older individuals. After age 70, muscle mass decreases by about 15% per decade.

However, this process begins as early as age 40, with an estimated 8% loss of muscle mass per decade.24

Approximately 5%-13% of people aged 60 or over experience age-related muscle-wasting so severe, it increases the risk of falls and disability.26-28

Inadequate protein consumption is associated with increased risk of age-related conditions like loss of bone strength and poor immunity.29

In fact, low protein intake is associated with frailty,30 when the body is so weak it becomes unable to cope with stress or injury. Frailty is a strong predictor of mortality in aging people.21,31

Whey is a potential solution.

Whey Inhibits Muscle-Wasting

Made from the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production, whey is a high-quality protein source for aging people.

It is also a great source of branched-chain amino acids, essential nutrients that reduce muscle breakdown and stimulate the creation of new protein in muscle.32

The most metabolically active branched-chain amino acid in whey is leucine. It activates signals in muscle that boost the body’s anabolic (growth-promoting) drive, spurring muscle synthesis.2,33-36

In one study, hospitalized, frail, elderly men and women were given whey daily during their hospital stay. Compared to patients who didn’t take whey, those who did had significant improvements in grip strength and knee extensor force, and improved rehabilitation outcomes.6

Boosting Muscle Mass

Doctor reviewing a chart in front of a salad and an apple

Whey doesn’t just help prevent muscle loss. Two studies show that it also significantly increases lean muscle mass, perhaps especially when combined with exercise.

In a randomized, controlled trial, researchers divided 81 healthy, older women, aged 65-80, into three groups. Over 24 weeks, one group exercised twice weekly, another took whey protein but didn’t exercise, and the third took the same amount of whey protein after exercising.4

The increase in muscle mass was significantly higher for the whey + exercise group than the other two groups. There was also a significant increase in grip strength and gait speed.4

Researchers also conducted a study to assess whey’s effects on muscle loss following periods of inactivity.

In a controlled trial, men and women in their late 60s consumed a diet in which 45% of their protein came from either whey or animal peptides. After two weeks of habitual activity, participants spent two weeks being inactive, then returned to normal activity for one more week (recovery).1

During the inactive periods, lean leg mass was reduced in both groups. During the recovery week, lean leg mass increased only in the whey protein group.1

What you need to know

The Benefits of Whey

  • Whey protein has long helped athletes build muscle mass, but it does much more.
  • Staying active and healthy with aging requires strong, healthy muscles. Unfortunately, aging adults are increasingly susceptible to losing muscle mass as they grow older.
  • Whey is documented to help prevent the loss of muscle mass, inhibit weight gain, and reduce multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
  • Whey protein helps enhance the muscle-building effects of exercise while boosting glutathione levels.

Preventing Weight Gain

Our metabolism naturally slows as we age, causing many to gain weight.

Whey has been shown to help prevent weight gain. Scientists have even considered it as a potential application for the treatment of obesity.37

In a host of studies, researchers discovered that the proteins, amino acids, and minerals in whey boost satiety (the feeling of fullness), benefit glucose homeostasis (the regulation of blood sugar levels), and optimize lean body mass.38-42

Scientists conducted one recent study on 100 men aged 70 or older with sarcopenic obesity, characterized by low lean mass and high fat mass.10

They divided the subjects into three groups. One received no treatment, another received whey protein only, and the third received whey protein and underwent whole-body electrical muscle stimulation (which “exercises” the muscles). In addition, all subjects received 800 IU/day of vitamin D.10

Total body fat, trunk body fat, and waist circumference were significantly reduced in both intervention groups (whey protein alone or combined with electrical muscle stimulation) after 16 weeks, but not in the untreated group.10

Another analysis of randomized, controlled trials on overweight and obese people concluded that there was a significant decrease in body weight and total fat mass in those who took whey protein.11

Fighting Cardiovascular Disease

Strawberry and vanilla milkshake

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Hypertension is one of the main factors contributing to cardiovascular disease.43 Research shows that whey-based peptides may help reduce this risk factor.44,45 (Peptides are chains of amino acids that are smaller than proteins.) And food-derived peptides like the kind found in whey are far safer than anti-hypertension drugs.

In a study, researchers asked 27 adults with mild hypertension (high blood pressure) to eat a high-fat breakfast and lunch along with 28 grams of whey protein. This was later repeated with 28 grams of calcium caseinate, a protein derived from casein (non-whey protein) in milk, and 27 grams of the carbohydrate maltodextrin.5

Whey was found to reduce systolic blood pressure (the pressure on vessels when the heart contracts), by an average of 15.2 mmHg compared to calcium caseinate, and 23.4 mmHg compared to maltodextrin, for up to five hours after ingestion.

Whey also reduced arterial stiffness compared to maltodextrin. All these actions show whey’s potential to improve cardiovascular risk factors.5

Scientists examining previous trials on overweight and obese patients also found that whey protein reduced body weight and significantly lowered blood pressure, glucose levels, and cholesterol, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.11

What Type of Whey is Right for You?

Whey protein is commonly available in three forms:

  • Concentrate,
  • Isolate, and
  • Isolate with added creatine and glutamine.

Whey concentrate is simply whey with the water removed. That leaves a powder that mixes easily for a protein shake. Most whey concentrates contain about 80% protein, and may be the most economical form of protein for the human body to digest and use.

Whey isolate is put through a filtration pro- cess that reduces the amount of carbohydrate, lactose, and fat, providing a purer protein in the end. Whey isolate contains about 98% protein. Those who are lactose intolerant should note that, like whey concentrate, whey isolate contains lactose.

Whey isolate with added creatine and glutamine is a premium isolate option for those seeking greater strength and exercise performance.

Creatine is found naturally in muscle cells. It supports energy production by increasing levels of cells’ energy currency, ATP, and helps maintain healthy muscle mass.46-48 Studies show that creatine helps build muscle and strength in explosive, short-duration activities like resistance-exercise training.49,50

Glutamine is abundant in muscles, but levels are reduced after prolonged and high-intensity exercise.51-54 Glutamine encourages recovery after intense exercise, increases synthesis of energy-storing glycogen, and helps inhibit protein breakdown in muscle tissue.55-57 It can also inhibit blood ammonia accumulation dur- ing exercise, preventing physical fatigue.58-60


Whey protein is often viewed as just a protein source for bodybuilders.

Whey has also been shown to stop muscle-wasting in the elderly, boost lean muscle mass, prevent weight gain, and lower risks of cardiovascular disease and other illnesses.

It’s increasingly recognized as a food to protect against degenerative aging and prevent muscle loss.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.


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