Why Whey for Hepatitis?
July 23, 2010
The number of reasons whey protein can help someone with chronic, viral hepatitis may surprise you.
by Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.
Often added to milkshakes or blended drinks, whey protein can usually be found on store shelves in sections dedicated to building muscle mass. As such, whey protein has long been an ingredient consumed by bodybuilders and serious athletes. Despite whey protein’s popularity with the muscle-pumping crowd, it has several characteristics that also make it an ideal staple for those living with chronic, viral hepatitis.
About Chronic, Viral Hepatitis
Chronic, viral hepatitis describes liver disease that is usually caused by the Hepatitis B virus or Hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis A usually does not progress to a chronic problem, and the other hepatitis viruses are much less common. Hepatitis B and C have the potential to be cured with modern medicine. However, a significant portion of those infected are unable to clear the virus from their liver with the currently available medications. These individuals are advised to make an array of lifestyle changes to protect their liver from damage and prevent this disease from progressing to a more advanced stage.
The protein in milk is whey protein. Whey is the liquid that separates from curd during the production of cheese. When the liquid dries into powdered whey, the nutrients become concentrated, and it can be packaged and used in that form.
While predominantly composed of protein, whey is a complex substance that also contains lactose, fat and minerals. Each with its own unique properties, whey’s protein content is a conglomeration of smaller components (called sub-fractions). A handful of whey’s sub-fractions include:
· Beta-lactoglobulin – Provides an excellent source of essential and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). While BCAAs help prevent muscle breakdown and spare glycogen during exercise, they also are helpful for those with advanced liver disease. Although the reason is unclear, experts understand that people with cirrhosis of the liver may live longer, improve their liver function, have fewer hospital admissions and have an increased quality of life by taking supplemental BCAAs.
· Alpha-lactalbumin – The primary protein found in human breast milk, alpha-lactalbumin is high in tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Potential benefits of this protein include sleep regulation and mood improvement under stress.
· Immunoglobulins (IgGs) – Provides immunity-enhancing benefits, a coveted function for those with chronic hepatitis.
· Glycomacropeptides – Helps control and inhibit the formation of dental plaque and dental cavities – a common problem in those with chronic hepatitis.
· Lysozyme – Contains immunity-enhancing properties, a coveted function for those with chronic hepatitis.
· Lactoferrin – May help to reduce inflammation, an invaluable characteristic for those whose liver easily becomes inflamed.
Whey and Glutathione
While some of whey protein’s sub-fractions can help someone with hepatitis remain healthy, whey’s promotion of glutathione delivers a specific benefit to those with liver disease. Whey protein contains high levels of the amino acid cysteine, which is needed for the body to produce glutathione.
Glutathione is an antioxidant found in all tissues protecting against potential damage from wastes and toxins. Clinical studies have demonstrated that the level of glutathione is significantly depressed in many people with Hepatitis C. Experts also recognize that glutathione deficiency is an important factor contributing to liver damage. Thus, supplements that boost the body’s production of glutathione indirectly benefit people with chronic hepatitis.
A Japanese animal study published in the May 2006 edition of Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry, investigated the effect of whey protein on the liver. Although their subjects were not human, the researchers found that rats on a whey-containing diet demonstrated the following:
· Lower liver enzyme levels indicating liver damage (ALT and AST)
· Lower indicators of liver fibrosis (hyaluronic acid)
· Lower levels of traditional hepatitis markers (lactate dehydrogenase and bilirubin)
Based on the results, the authors concluded that supplementing with whey protein can help prevent the development of hepatitis and portal fibrosis.
Too Much Whey
As a dietary supplement, whey protein is generally considered to be safe. However, the sentiment that you can have too much of a good thing applies to whey protein. Extremely high doses of whey protein supplements could overload the liver and cause damage. To avoid this possibility, experts suggest restricting intake of whey protein to less than 30 grams at one time.
While whey protein is certainly no cure, it does show great potential as a dietary supplement for those with liver disease. Because it supports the immune system, helps the body handle stress, eases inflammation and promotes glutathione production, whey protein should be considered by anyone who is managing chronic, viral hepatitis.
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