Many health conscious people are making whey protein powder─in the form of both shakes and bars─a central part of their daily regimens for numerous reasons. Here’s a rather important one: this nourishing, low calorie, complete protein is a bona fide functional food─which can be defined as any natural food that promotes wellness and/or helps prevent disease apart from basic nutritive value.

How does whey protein fit that bill? One study noted that: “Whey─a protein complex derived from milk─is increasingly being referred to as a functional food, given the many health benefits it offers. Indeed, many of the components of whey demonstrate a range of immune-enhancing properties. In addition, whey has the ability to act as an antioxidant, antihypertensive, antitumor, hypolipidemic, antiviral, and antibacterial agent.”1

How does whey protein do it? The study concludes that: “The primary mechanism by which whey exerts these effects is by converting the amino acid cysteine to glutathione.” Another study confirms that whey protein is a potent ally to the general immune system─primarily due to its ability to dramatically raise glutathione levels more effectively than any other protein source.2

So, exactly what is glutathione? It might be best described as a potent, intracellular antioxidant that protects cells and neutralizes toxins like heavy metals and carcinogens. Numerous studies indicate that glutathione plays important roles in antioxidant defense, nutrient metabolism, DNA and protein synthesis and immune response.

Glutathione deficiency─on the other hand─tranlates into greater oxidative stress, which in turn promotes aging and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, liver disease, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, HIV, AIDS, cancer, heart attack, stroke and diabetes.3 Another study showed that insufficient glutathione is linked to many serious conditions including diabetes, cancer, AIDS, neurodegenerative and liver diseases.4

Amazing that something as simple and pure as whey can enable you to benefit from the many important, protective benefits of glutathione. And you thought your morning protein shake was just helping you boost energy, drop fat and sculpt muscle? Here’s an official toast to whey protein─and all that it offers us.

1 Altern Med Rev. 2004 Jun;9(2):136-56
2 Clin Invest Med. 1991 Aug;14(4):296-309
3 J Nutr. 2004 Mar;134(3):489-92
4 Arch Physiol Biochem. 2007 Oct-Dec;113(4-5):234-58