Cancer With Whey Protein
By Will Brink, author of:
Muscle Gaining Diet, Training Routines by Charles Poliquin
& Bodybuilding Supplement Review
Studies on whey demonstrate it's an even better protein
supplement than previously thought. Although whey protein's
health benefits have only recently been elucidated, the
use of whey protein for medicinal purposes has been prescribed
since the time of Hippocrates. In fact, there are two ancient
proverbs from the Italian city of Florence that say, "If
you want to live a healthy and active life, drink whey,"
and, "If everyone were raised on whey, doctors would
In previous issues, we've chronicled the extensive research
showing the many potential health benefits of whey protein
concentrate. The majority of that research was done in the
1980s and early 1990s, and was extremely persuasive. Scientists
have continued their research on whey proteins with even
more impressive results. What follows is some of the more
current, interesting and useful research on whey proteins.
Whey Protein and Cancer
Additional studies have been done on animals regarding
cancer-causing chemicals to see what effects whey protein
concentrate would have on cancer prevention or treatment.
Scientists fed rats various proteins and then subjected
them to the powerful carcinogen dimethylhydrazine.
As with the previous research, the rats fed whey protein
concentrate showed fewer tumors and a reduced pooled area
of tumors (tumor mass index). The researchers found whey
protein offered "considerable protection to the host"
over that of other proteins, including soy. 1
Even more exciting, in vivo research on cancer and whey
showed whey protein concentrate inhibited the growth of
breast cancer cells at low concentrations (Baruchel S. and
Vaiu G., Anti Cancer Research, 1996). Finally, and most
importantly, a fairly recent clinical study with cancer
patients showed a regression in some patient's tumors when
fed whey protein concentrate at 30 grams per day. 2
Whey and Glutathione
This new research using whey protein concentrate led researchers
to an amazing discovery regarding the relationship between
cancerous cells, glutathione (GSH) and whey protein concentrate.
It was found that whey protein concentrate selectively depletes
cancer cells of their glutathione, thus making them more
susceptible to cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy.
It has been found that cancer cells and normal cells will
respond differently to nutrients and drugs that affect glutathione
status. What is most interesting to note is the fact that
the concentration of glutathione in tumor cells is higher
than that of the normal cells that surround it. This difference
in glutathione status between normal cells and cancer cells
is believed to be an important factor in cancer cells' resistance
As the researchers put it, "Tumor cell GSH concentration
may be among the determinants of the cytotoxicity [poisonous
to cells] of many chemotherapeutic agents and of radiation,
and an increase in GSH concentration appears to be at least
one of the mechanisms of acquired drug resistance to chemotherapy."
They further state, "It is well-known that rapid GSH
synthesis in tumor cells is associated with high rates of
cellular proliferation. Depletion of tumor GSH in vivo decreases
the rate of cellular proliferation and inhibits cancer growth."
The problem is, it's difficult to reduce glutathione sufficiently
in tumor cells without placing healthy tissue at risk and
putting the cancer patient in a worse condition. What is
needed is a compound that can selectively deplete the cancer
cells of their glutathione, while increasing, or at least
maintaining, the levels of glutathione in healthy cells.
This is exactly what whey protein appears to do. In this
new research it was found that cancer cells subjected to
whey proteins were depleted of their glutathione, and their
growth was inhibited, while normal cells had an increase
in GSH and increased cellular growth.
These effects were not seen with other proteins. Not surprisingly,
the researchers concluded, "Selective depletion of
tumor GSH may in fact render cancer cells more vulnerable
to the action of chemotherapy and eventually protect normal
tissue against the deleterious effects of chemotherapy."
The exact mechanism by which whey protein achieves this
is not fully understood, but it appears that it interferes
with the normal feedback mechanism and regulation of glutathione
in cancer cells.
It is known that glutathione production is negatively inhibited
by its own synthesis. Being that baseline glutathione levels
in cancer cells are higher than that of normal cells, it
is probably easier to reach the level of negative-feedback
inhibition in the cancer cells' glutathione levels than
in the normal cells' glutathione levels.
Whey Protein and LDL Cholesterol
The positive health benefits of whey protein concentrate
does not end with its effects on immunity and cancer prevention
and treatment. Whey protein concentrate also was found to
be a potent inhibitor of oxidized low density lipoprotein
cholesterol. Current research suggests that the conversion
of LDL to oxidized LDL is the trigger that leads to atherogenesis...
the formation of the plaque and lesions associated with
Therefore, any substance that prevents the oxidation of
LDL is thought to be anti-atherogenic. Though animal-based
proteins have traditionally been implicated as being pro-atherogenic,
whey proteins appear to be an exception to the rule. whey
protein is made up of several minor and major fractions,
such as beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, albumin,
lactoferrin and immunoglobulin. It was discovered that the
minor constituent responsible for the ability of whey protein
concentrate to prevent the oxidation of LDL appears to be
the lactoferrin fraction of the protein. 3
Lactoferrin In Whey
When the lactoferrin was removed from the protein, the
ability of the whey-protein concentrate to prevent LDL oxidation
was greatly reduced, leading the researchers to speculate,
"Our results suggest that LF (lactoferrin) is the main
factor responsible for the inhibitory effect of whey protein
(on LDL) and it may function synergistically together with
other factors in the whey protein, for example, alpha-lactalbumin."
Another study using rats examined the effects of whey protein
concentrate and casein on cholesterol and the risk factors
of heart disease. Though casein (another milk-based protein
commonly used in research) is known to raise cholesterol
in humans and animals, whey protein has the opposite effect,
leading the researchers to note, "At the high dietary
protein level [300 gram per kilogram of feed] , whey protein
significantly lowered plasma and liver cholesterol and also
plasma triacylglycerols." 4
The cholesterol-lowering effects of whey protein concentrate
in this study also was associated with a reduction in LDL
cholesterol. Most interesting was the fact that this effect
on cholesterol was not seen when the animals were fed amino
acid mixtures that simulated whey protein, so it is clear
that there are properties within the whey that have these
effects beyond that of its amino acid profile.
Whey Protein and Bone Growth
Finally, whey protein appears to play a direct role in
bone growth. Researchers found that rats fed whey protein
concentrate showed increased bone strength and bone protein
such as collagen. This discovery led researches to test
whether or not whey protein directly stimulated osteoblast
(bone cell) growth in vitro.
Whey protein was found to stimulate, dose dependently,
total protein synthesis, DNA content, and increased hydroxyproline
contents of bone cells. 5
It should be noted that not all whey protein concentrates
are created equal. Processing whey protein to remove the
lactose and fats without losing its biological activity
takes special care by the manufacturer. The protein must
be processed under low temperature and low acid conditions
so as not to "denature" the protein. Maintaining
the natural state of the protein is essential to its biological
These research findings, combined with the previous decade
of study on whey protein, should convince anyone that whey
protein concentrate is truly the life-extension protein.
Higher Glutathione Levels and Whey
A decade-and-a-half of findings on the benefits of whey
protein are far-reaching.
Previous Studies Include The Following:
- Whey protein concentrate dramatically raises glutathione
levels. Glutathione is an essential water-soluble antioxidant
in the body that protects cells and serves as a primary
detoxifier of harmful compounds such as peroxides, heavy
metals, carcinogens and other toxins.
- Glutathione also is intimately tied to immunity, and
reduced glutathione levels have been associated with disease
such as AIDS, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and
Parkinson's disease, to name only a few. In fact, glutathione
levels appear to be one way of modulating immunity. 6
- Whey protein concentrate was found to consistently raise
this extremely important immune stimulating antioxidant
beyond that of any protein studied (including soy) to
higher than normal levels in multiple animal studies.
A small pilot study with HIV-positive men who were fed
whey protein concentrate found dramatic increases in glutathione
levels of all the study participants, with two out of
three men reaching their ideal body weight. 8 In fact,
there have been several U.S. and international patents
granted for the treatment of AIDS and improving immunity
with whey protein concentrates.
- Whey protein improves immune function and fights infections.
Animals fed whey protein concentrate consistently showed
dramatic enhancement of both the humoral and cellular
immune response to a variety of immune challenges, such
as salmonella, streptococcus pneumonia 9 and extreme cancer-causing
chemicals. This effect on immunity was not seen with other
- Whey protein concentrate fights cancer. Animals fed
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1. (McIntosh G.H,. et al., Journal of
2. (Kennedy R.S., Konok G.P., Bounous G., Baruchel S., Lee
T.D., Anti Cancer Research, 1995)
3. (M. Kajikawa et al. Biochemica et Biophysica Acta, 1994)
4. (Zhang X. and Beynen A.C. Brit. J. of Nutri., 1993)
5. (Takada Y., Aoe S., Kumegawa M., Biochemical Research
6. (Rosanne K., Fidelus and Min Fu Tsan. Cellular Immunology,
7. (Bounous G. and Gold P., Clin. Invest. Med. 1991)
8. (Bounous G., Baruchel S., Faiutz J., Gold P., Clin. Invest.
9. (Bounous G., Konshavn P., Gold P., Clin. Invest. Med.