Whey and immunity
Having a healthy and functioning immune system is like having a strong army, rested and prepared to defend us from daily aggressive agents, which will be some types of bacteria, viruses and other substances foreign to our body. Whey or whey proteins stand out for their nutritional richness, and scientific studies reveal that they can play a fundamental role in strengthening our immune system.
Having a healthy and functioning immune system is like having a strong army, rested and prepared to defend us from daily aggressive agents, which will be some types of bacteria, viruses and other substances foreign to our body. The immune system is a complex and fascinating world, but for now we will focus on proteins and understand their important role.
As one of the basic macronutrients in food, proteins are essential for the human body. When digested, the amino acids are broken into small blocks, which participate in hundreds of processes essential to life, from the formation of our DNA, through the growth and repair of tissues to the maintenance and functioning of all our metabolic processes, including the immune system.
Talking about the functions or benefits of proteins is a very simplified and generalized version of what is really going on. In fact, proteins are not all the same, and their function depends on the amino acids that make them up. Its biological value, therefore, varies according to the type and percentage of amino acids present.
When we think about the immune system, we must give greater prominence to certain amino acids. There is already scientific evidence to support the importance of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) of glutamine and cysteine.
Considering the different proteins present in the diet, and because it is a concentrated product, whey or whey proteins stand out for their nutritional richness.
What are Whey Proteins?
Widely publicised and known in the world of fitness and sport, its benefits go well beyond physical performance.
Whey proteins are extracted during the cheese making process after rennet separation. It is estimated that its use goes back to 8,000 BC, and that Hippocrates used this serum in his patients as an immune booster.
Currently this process is done in a closed circuit of maximum hygiene where the serum is micro-filtered, reaching a final product with high purity.
he benefits obtained at sports level, more specifically in the recovery and gains in muscle mass, encouraged studies that ended up revealing other potentialities of whey proteins. Over the past decade, an increasing number of studies have clarified the composition and function of some of its constituents.
When whey proteins are processed by micro-filtration and at low temperature, there is the presence of bioactive peptides that also have a significant immunostimulating action. In its composition we can find about 50% Beta-lactoglobulin, 20% Alpha-Lactalbumin, 10-15% Immunoglobulins and 1-2% Lactoferrin.
Several studies carried out by scientists in the field of nutrition and medicine have shown benefits in immunity (1,2,3), especially for Lactoferrin. One of these studies showed that the oral administration of Lactoferrin has the potential to mitigate the effects of pneumonia, by inhibiting the infiltration of inflammatory cells in the lung. Another of these protein fractions of importance to the immune system are immunoglobulins. These can bind to harmful agents and neutralize them. For this reason, the immunoglobulins contained in whey can support the immune system of vulnerable population groups such as children, the elderly and patients with compromised immune systems.
This immunostimulating function has also been studied in nutritional support in cases of HIV infection, where whey proteins protect against the harmful effects of high levels of pro-oxidant substances promoted by the disease.
Because of their cysteine richness, whey proteins significantly increase glutathione production – one of the most powerful antioxidant defense systems we have.
At a time when more than ever our immunity must be valued and enhanced, whey proteins can present themselves as a great complement to the diet, providing nutritional support, especially to the most weakened populations.