Whey protein is typically thought of as having a fairly limited scope of use. In the minds of most people, it's a way to build muscle. A smaller number realize the potential of whey to also help with weight-loss efforts. But, in truth, this is only a very small picture of all that whey has to offer.
Bundled up with all that protein, we find other oft-forgotten nutrients that can help to support numerous biological functions. Among these many under-appreciated uses, modern research has found that whey protein can help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
This term, though, is fairly broad and can have a number of involved factors and contributing symptoms. How, then, does whey protein help? What mechanisms does it use that can improve cardiovascular health?
Improved Blood Pressure
As mentioned, whey contains many other nutrients besides the titular protein – which generally get overlooked. For example, whey carries several peptides (amino acid pairings) that act as ACE-inhibitors.
A common class of blood pressure medication, substances in this category stop the product of an enzyme called angiotensin II which causes your blood vessels to narrow, placing stress on your heart and elevating your blood pressure.
A 2010 study published in the journal Obesity found that daily supplementation with whey protein was enough to significantly lower blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular function in overweight and obese individuals.
Interestingly, that same study also found that whey had anti-inflammatory potential. What does this have to do with heart disease? Although it's a natural part of your body's defenses against numerous foreign threats, chronic or prolonged inflammation is not going to do you any favors. Depending on where the inflammation is, you might experience pain, soreness or any number of less obvious symptoms. This includes cardiovascular stress.
While the exact mechanisms aren't fully understood, experts do know that an inflammatory response causes atherosclerosis – the buildup of fat deposits on the walls of your arteries. This, in terns narrows the blood vessels, limit blood flow and can even lead to heart attack or stroke.
In addition to the ACE-inhibiting peptides that we just discussed, high doses of whey protein have been found to reduce levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for inflammation.
Right, so whey protein has the ability to protect your heart by preventing the inflammation that leads to fatty deposits blocking in your arteries and by generally widening those pathways. But, we aren't done yet.
Some research also suggests that whey protein – together with resistance exercise – can help to improve your overall cholesterol profile. On its own, whey seems to have the potential to increase levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Resistance training, interestingly, can reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. When they join forces, then, your cardiovascular health is protected from several angles.
steIt's also worth noting that whey is rich in L-Cysteine, an amino acid precursor for glutathione – a powerful antioxidant. Once active in your system, glutathione get to work fighting off stress and inflammation caused by free-radicals.