Life Extension Magazine®
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.

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

Summary

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.

References

  1. Oikawa SY, McGlory C, D’Souza LK, et al. A randomized controlled trial of the impact of protein supplementation on leg lean mass and integrated muscle protein synthesis during inactivity and energy restriction in older persons. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018 Nov 1;108(5):1060-8.
  2. Paddon-Jones D, Short KR, Campbell WW, et al. Role of dietary protein in the sarcopenia of aging. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1562s-6s.
  3. Pepe G, Tenore GC, Mastrocinque R, et al. Potential anticarcinogenic peptides from bovine milk. J Amino Acids. 2013;2013:939804.
  4. Mori H, Tokuda Y. Effect of whey protein supplementation after resistance exercise on the muscle mass and physical function of healthy older women: A randomized controlled trial. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2018 Sep;18(9):1398-404.
  5. Fekete AA, Giromini C, Chatzidiakou Y, et al. Whey protein lowers systolic blood pressure and Ca-caseinate reduces serum TAG after a high-fat meal in mildly hypertensive adults. Sci Rep. 2018 Mar 22;8(1):5026.
  6. Niccoli S, Kolobov A, Bon T, et al. Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Rehabilitation Outcomes in Hospitalized Geriatric Patients: A Double Blinded, Randomized Controlled Trial. J Nutr Gerontol Geriatr. 2017 Oct-Dec;36(4):149-65.
  7. Bergia RE, 3rd, Hudson JL, Campbell WW. Effect of whey protein supplementation on body composition changes in women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Rev. 2018 Jul 1;76(7):539-51.
  8. Ho CF, Jiao Y, Wei B, et al. Protein supplementation enhances cerebral oxygenation during exercise in elite basketball players. Nutrition. 2018 Sep;53:34-7.
  9. Fernandes RR, Nabuco HCG, Sugihara Junior P, et al. Effect of protein intake beyond habitual intakes following resistance training on cardiometabolic risk disease parameters in pre-conditioned older women. Exp Gerontol. 2018 Sep;110:9-14.
  10. Kemmler W, Kohl M, Freiberger E, et al. Effect of whole-body electromyostimulation and / or protein supplementation on obesity and cardiometabolic risk in older men with sarcopenic obesity: the randomized controlled FranSO trial. BMC Geriatr. 2018 Mar 9;18(1):70.
  11. Wirunsawanya K, Upala S, Jaruvongvanich V, et al. Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Body Composition and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Am Coll Nutr. 2018 Jan;37(1):60-70.
  12. Bumrungpert A, Pavadhgul P, Nunthanawanich P, et al. Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Nutritional Status, Glutathione Levels, and Immune Function in Cancer Patients: A Randomized, Double-Blind Controlled Trial. J Med Food. 2018 Jun;21(6):612-6.
  13. Tosukhowong P, Boonla C, Dissayabutra T, et al. Biochemical and clinical effects of Whey protein supplementation in Parkinson’s disease: A pilot study. J Neurol Sci. 2016 Aug 15;367:162-70.
  14. Townsend DM, Tew KD, Tapiero H. The importance of glutathione in human disease. Biomed Pharmacother. 2003 May-Jun;57(3-4):145-55.
  15. Wu G, Fang YZ, Yang S, et al. Glutathione metabolism and its implications for health. J Nutr. 2004 Mar;134(3):489-92.
  16. McCarty MF, DiNicolantonio JJ. An increased need for dietary cysteine in support of glutathione synthesis may underlie the increased risk for mortality associated with low protein intake in the elderly. Age (Dordr). 2015 Oct;37(5):96.
  17. Fraternale A, Brundu S, Magnani M. Glutathione and glutathione derivatives in immunotherapy. Biol Chem. 2017 Feb 1;398(2):261-75.
  18. Aoyama K, Nakaki T. Impaired glutathione synthesis in neurodegeneration. Int J Mol Sci. 2013 Oct 18;14(10):21021-44.
  19. Garcia-Gimenez JL, Roma-Mateo C, Perez-Machado G, et al. Role of glutathione in the regulation of epigenetic mechanisms in disease. Free Radic Biol Med. 2017 Nov;112:36-48.
  20. Gu F, Chauhan V, Chauhan A. Glutathione redox imbalance in brain disorders. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2015 Jan;18(1):89-95.
  21. Valerio A, D’Antona G, Nisoli E. Branched-chain amino acids, mitochondrial biogenesis, and healthspan: an evolutionary perspective. Aging (Albany NY). 2011 May;3(5):464-78.
  22. Visvanathan R, Chapman IM. Undernutrition and anorexia in the older person. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2009 Sep;38(3):393-409.
  23. Ahmed T, Haboubi N. Assessment and management of nutrition in older people and its importance to health. Clin Interv Aging. 2010 Aug 9;5:207-16.
  24. Kim TN, Choi KM. Sarcopenia: definition, epidemiology, and pathophysiology. J Bone Metab. 2013 May;20(1):1-10.
  25. Berrazaga I, Micard V, Gueugneau M, et al. The Role of the Anabolic Properties of Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Sources in Supporting Muscle Mass Maintenance: A Critical Review. Nutrients. 2019 Aug 7;11(8).
  26. von Haehling S, Morley JE, Anker SD. An overview of sarcopenia: facts and numbers on prevalence and clinical impact. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2010 Dec;1(2):129-33.
  27. Shafiee G, Keshtkar A, Soltani A, et al. Prevalence of sarcopenia in the world: a systematic review and meta- analysis of general population studies. J Diabetes Metab Disord. 2017;16:21.
  28. Landi F, Liperoti R, Russo A, et al. Sarcopenia as a risk factor for falls in elderly individuals: results from the ilSIRENTE study. Clin Nutr. 2012 Oct;31(5):652-8.
  29. Bauer J, Biolo G, Cederholm T, et al. Evidence-based recommendations for optimal dietary protein intake in older people: a position paper from the PROT-AGE Study Group. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2013 Aug;14(8):542-59.
  30. Coelho-Júnior HJ, Rodrigues B, Uchida M, et al. Low Protein Intake Is Associated with Frailty in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Nutrients. 2018;10(9):1334.
  31. Chapman IM. Nutritional disorders in the elderly. Med Clin North Am. 2006 Sep;90(5):887-907.
  32. Jackman SR, Witard OC, Philp A, et al. Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Stimulates Muscle Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following Resistance Exercise in Humans. Front Physiol. 2017;8:390.
  33. Koopman R, Verdijk L, Manders RJ, et al. Co-ingestion of protein and leucine stimulates muscle protein synthesis rates to the same extent in young and elderly lean men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Sep;84(3):623-32.
  34. Dardevet D, Sornet C, Balage M, et al. Stimulation of in vitro rat muscle protein synthesis by leucine decreases with age. J Nutr. 2000 Nov;130(11):2630-5.
  35. Katsanos CS, Kobayashi H, Sheffield-Moore M, et al. A high proportion of leucine is required for optimal stimulation of the rate of muscle protein synthesis by essential amino acids in the elderly. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Aug;291(2):E381-7.
  36. Fujita S, Dreyer HC, Drummond MJ, et al. Nutrient signalling in the regulation of human muscle protein synthesis. J Physiol. 2007 Jul 15;582(Pt 2):813-23.
  37. Jakubowicz D, Froy O. Biochemical and metabolic mechanisms by which dietary whey protein may combat obesity and Type 2 diabetes. J Nutr Biochem. 2013 Jan;24(1):1-5.
  38. Baer DJ, Stote KS, Paul DR, et al. Whey protein but not soy protein supplementation alters body weight and composition in free-living overweight and obese adults. J Nutr. 2011 Aug;141(8):1489-94.
  39. Bowen J, Noakes M, Trenerry C, et al. Energy intake, ghrelin, and cholecystokinin after different carbohydrate and protein preloads in overweight men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Apr;91(4):1477-83.
  40. Veldhorst MA, Nieuwenhuizen AG, Hochstenbach-Waelen A, et al. Dose-dependent satiating effect of whey relative to casein or soy. Physiol Behav. 2009 Mar 23;96(4-5):675-82.
  41. Pal S, Ellis V. The acute effects of four protein meals on insulin, glucose, appetite and energy intake in lean men. Br J Nutr. 2010 Oct;104(8):1241-8.
  42. Hall WL, Millward DJ, Long SJ, et al. Casein and whey exert different effects on plasma amino acid profiles, gastrointestinal hormone secretion and appetite. Br J Nutr. 2003 Feb;89(2):239-48.
  43. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/risk_factors.htm. Accessed May 27, 2020.
  44. Available at: http://usdec.files.cms-plus.com/Publications/CardioHealth_English.pdf. Accessed May 27, 2020.
  45. Zhang X, Beynen AC. Lowering effect of dietary milk-whey protein v. casein on plasma and liver cholesterol concentrations in rats. Br J Nutr. 1993 Jul;70(1):139-46.
  46. Kurosawa Y, Hamaoka T, Katsumura T, et al. Creatine supplementation enhances anaerobic ATP synthesis during a single 10 sec maximal handgrip exercise. Mol Cell Biochem. 2003 Feb;244(1-2):105-12.
  47. Pinto CL, Botelho PB, Carneiro JA, et al. Impact of creatine supplementation in combination with resistance training on lean mass in the elderly. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2016 Sep;7(4):413-21.
  48. Candow DG. Sarcopenia: current theories and the potential beneficial effect of creatine application strategies. Biogerontology. 2011 Aug;12(4):273-81.
  49. Farshidfar F, Pinder MA, Myrie SB. Creatine Supplementation and Skeletal Muscle Metabolism for Building Muscle Mass- Review of the Potential Mechanisms of Action. Curr Protein Pept Sci. 2017;18(12):1273-87.
  50. Cooper R, Naclerio F, Allgrove J, et al. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Jul 20;9(1):33.
  51. Calder PC, Yaqoob P. Glutamine and the immune system. Amino Acids. 1999;17(3):227-41.
  52. Peng X, Yan H, You Z, et al. Glutamine granule-supplemented enteral nutrition maintains immunological function in severely burned patients. Burns. 2006 Aug;32(5):589-93.
  53. Keast D, Arstein D, Harper W, et al. Depression of plasma glutamine concentration after exercise stress and its possible influence on the immune system. Med J Aust. 1995 Jan 2;162(1):15-8.
  54. Castell LM, Newsholme EA. The effects of oral glutamine supplementation on athletes after prolonged, exhaustive exercise. Nutrition. 1997 Jul-Aug;13(7-8):738-42.
  55. Legault Z, Bagnall N, Kimmerly DS. The Influence of Oral L-Glutamine Supplementation on Muscle Strength Recovery and Soreness Following Unilateral Knee Extension Eccentric Exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015 Oct;25(5):417-26.
  56. Varnier M, Leese GP, Thompson J, et al. Stimulatory effect of glutamine on glycogen accumulation in human skeletal muscle. Am J Physiol. 1995 Aug;269(2 Pt 1):E309-15.
  57. MacLennan PA, Smith K, Weryk B, et al. Inhibition of protein breakdown by glutamine in perfused rat skeletal muscle. FEBS Lett. 1988 Sep 12;237(1-2):133-6.
  58. Carvalho-Peixoto J, Alves RC, Cameron LC. Glutamine and carbohydrate supplements reduce ammonemia increase during endurance field exercise. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2007 Dec;32(6):1186-90.
  59. Bassini-Cameron A, Monteiro A, Gomes A, et al. Glutamine protects against increases in blood ammonia in football players in an exercise intensity-dependent way. Br J Sports Med. 2008 Apr;42(4):260-6.
  60. Mutch BJ, Banister EW. Ammonia metabolism in exercise and fatigue: a review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1983;15(1):41-50.
  61. 59. Bassini-Cameron A, Monteiro A, Gomes A, et al. Glutamine protects against increases in blood ammonia in football players in an exercise intensity-dependent way. Br J Sports Med. 2008 Apr;42(4):260-6.
  62. Mutch BJ, Banister EW. Ammonia metabolism in exercise and fatigue: a review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1983;15(1):41-50.