There is so much obsession, confusion, and supplement company shenanigans concerning whey protein products, I thought that what everyone needed was a thorough overview of the whey manufacturing process. That is, the whey powder manufacturing process. This article is meant to help you understand exactly what whey is, how it is made, and the definition of the terms used regarding whey protein. I will also bust a current example of the type of misleading, no, fraudulent stuff that whey supplement sellers get up to: so-called raw whey.
This kind of information is sorely needed because supplement companies use our ignorance against us: our ignorance of what whey is, how it is processed, and what all the terms attached to it mean.
I am actually surprised at how many whey users don’t realize that the dairy industry doesn’t produce whey powder just so they can make a shake.
Whey Protein Definition
Let’s start with a succinct definition of whey protein and then I’ll move on to a more detailed overview. Whey is one of two proteins found in milk This protein or polypeptide is obtained from the fluid portion of milk during the cheese making process. When the curds are separated from the fluid part of milk during cheesemaking, this fluid contains whey which can be concentrated to varying degrees to a more pure protein product for use in foods and dietary supplements.
The two types of protein in milk are casein protein and whey protein. Casein is separated to make cheese. Liquid whey is left over. It is a greenish-yellow fluid which contains about half the solids of the original nutrients of milk, including protein, calcium, and lactose. Contrary to what you may have believed, only a small amount of these solids are protein.
Many of my readers may think of whey as a powder, instead. But when I say it is a liquid, I mean really liquid. Let’s assume 3.25% fat milk. While milk is about 83% water, whey is around 93% water. Some of it is also carbohydrate (lactose), about 5%. Some is fat, in this case, 0.36%. Then we have some minerals and vitamins and a bit of ash, which is a kind of impurity. As you have already figured out, there is only a bit of protein, comparatively, in this liquid whey, about 0.85%. Compare that to the lactose, at 5%. Are you getting the picture?
Well, the whey in its liquid state it is raw or fresh whey. The point is that it is mixed with a whole lot of water and some other stuff. So in this state, it really is not very useful at all. Or, at least, it is not anywhere near as useful as it could be when processed and refined. In fact, it used to be considered nothing more than a waste product, suitable for feeding pigs or dumping into the river. As pig farms went on the decline and protecting the environment became more important to us, this changed. Also, cheese began to be made in much larger batches, meaning much more whey. So dairies looked for wheys to put it to use (sorry, couldn’t resist).
As a clear yellowish fluid, it was just going to be in the whey (oops, I did it again). When you consider that this fluid was 90% of the original weight of the milk, and between 6 to 6.5% of it is solids, you realize just how much was being wasted. Today, about half of the liquid whey left over from cheese is further processed. The table below shows the average composition of whey.
It also contains B vitamins, such as riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and thiamine.
Using Whey to Make Cheese and Flocculation
One way to use whey is to produce cheese. Confused? Well, ricotta cheese is not made from the casein proteins, it’s made from the whey precipitate. Also, there is a process called the Centriwhey process that can be used to process the whey (flocculation) in such a way that the proteins can be added into the cheese making process, thus recovering this valuable product and increasing the yield 10 to 12% without affecting the taste and texture of the cheese, hopefully. This involves heating, acidifying, and centrifuging the whey to coagulate the proteins (unlike casein proteins whey proteins do not coagulate easily). The result is partially denatured whey protein concentrate (PDWPC). Another similar process is called the Lactal process. Both produce concentrates that can be added at the desired level to the cheese milk and then the cheese can be made as normal. Some commercial brands of this concentrate are Simplesse 100 and Dairy Lo.
Problem is it produces varying results. It is generally agreed that it increases the moisture content and the actual yield of hard or semi-hard cheeses. But for cheddar and gouda, it can produce a greasy and soft cheese (body) and an unclean and astringent cheese (flavor). They do improve the texture and yield of reduced fat cheese, which tends to be firmer and more elastic than regular cheese.
Making Whey Powder
In additions to the components listed above, the whey precipitate contains something else. Some residues of the active rennet will be in there. And a good bit of bacteria which have reproduced from the lactic starter used to get the cheese going in the first place.
The composition will differ somewhat depending on the type of cheese being made. Thus, when cottage cheese and other fresh cheese are made, which use acid, an acid whey is made with different mineral content and higher calcium. The making of cheddar, mozzarella, and swiss produces sweet whey.
Acid whey is not very tasty and generally less useful than sweet whey, although not entirely useless.
The first thing to do to the whey is to remove any cheese particles, called cheese fines and the free fat, called whey cream. For this, filters, centrifuges, or clarifiers can be used. Once this is done the whey is considered clarified. Usually, a clarifying centrifuge removes the cheese fines and another type of centrifuge, a separator, removes the fat.
Don’t forget the bacteria. When cheese is made, a bacterial culture is added to the milk. The purpose of this culture is to convert lactose to lactic acid, hence why lactic acid bacteria is used. This acid curdles the milk. Now, when the liquid whey is removed, some of this bacteria is still present. But it would be bad for the bacteria to continue converting lactose to lactic acid. Pasteurization is needed so that the whey does not acidify. Typically, this requires at least 72°C (161.6°F). So much for raw whey.
Now it’s time to concentrate the whey and then dehydrate the whey. Concentration can be done by evaporation or a combination of reverse osmosis and evaporation. After this the concentrate must be cooled down and its lactose allowed to crystallize so that the whey can be spray dried. The end results is a non-hygroscopc whey powder. This means it won’t easily take up water. Hence, a basic whey powder.
There are many technical considerations depending on the functional characteristics needed (for instance, how the proteins behave in baking) but the end result is a powder that contains all the constituents of the original whey except for water. When you hear the term whey powder this is the product that should come to mind. The basic whey that is produced without further isolating the protein. Whey powder and whey protein or whey protein powder are different in that whey protein contains less of all the other stuff and more of just the protein.
Whey powder can be used in many different foods like bread, ice cream, processed cheese (think American Cheese), candies, caramel, cakes, and as a filler in meat products. The powder might be mixed with other proteins to obtain a product that meets certain requirements. For instance, whey powder may be mixed with whey protein, caseinate, soy protein, skim milk powder, or various other proteins.
The point is, that whey is not just protein to the food industry. It is a raw material that can be used as is, blended with other things, or further processed to produce whey protein powder or whey concentrates, or lactose, which is also a very important part of its use (for the food industry). Therefore, when whey protein supplement sellers talk about how “unprocessed” their whey is, you know better. No processing, no whey powder and certainly no whey protein concentrate.
Instead of producing basic whey powder, pasteurized whey fluid may be processed to produce demineralized whey, reduced lactose whey, whey concentrates, or whey isolates. This PDF from USDEC (U.S. Dairy Export Council) will provide an overview of these different products, including many other end-products, including lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, and glycomacropeptide (GMP): Whey Products, Definition, Compositions, and Functions.
Now, it’s time to talk about the different whey protein production processes, but first I’d like to counter some very misleading claims about raw whey, which I mentioned at the beginning. This will also help to explain some FDA rules regarding whey.
Raw Whey Protein Powder
You have probably heard the term “Raw Whey?” It is being used in regards to whey supplements to make you think it is superior and more natural than other whey products. Here, they are using our ignorance of terminology (or trying to) and our ignorance of the whey making process and its regulations.
First, the term raw, when applied to whey, usually refers to unprocessed liquid whey. In other words, whey in its “raw” state, before it is fooled around with. The term fresh whey is also used to mean the same thing. So, when supplement companies use it to refer to a whey protein powder, they are already being misleading. You see, they know that the term raw makes you think of something that is completely unadulterated. The truth is that unprocessed liquid whey would not be useful at all as a supplement. It has very little protein, maybe 30%, and it is full of other stuff.
Of course, these companies selling raw whey, what they are claiming is that their whey comes from raw milk. Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. It is illegal pretty much everywhere. Whey must come from milk that has been pasteurized or the liquid whey itself must be pasteurized, as per FDA regulations. We will see that most of the time, whey will have to be pasteurized anyway. Alternatively, they some claim that their whey is raw because it does not have added enzymes or some other ingredient.
Let’s look at some actual copy used to sell a one of these so-called raw whey products. That will open in a new window so you can read along with me and I don’t have to worry about these folks accusing me of quoting too much.
Notice this paragraph: Raw milk has never been through the heating process of pasteurization which denatures the health promoting proteins…which means the beneficial enzymes, immunoglobulins, lactoferrin,…are denatured or broken down into the individual amino acids….destroys the beneficial healing effects of the original proteins.
Okay, so it starts out right. Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. The rest…bullshit. Most all of those things mentioned are proteins and they will be broken down like any other protein and digested. However, the statement that pasteurization breaks down the proteins in milk into individual amino acids is absolutely false. Man, bodybuilders would love it if it were true. Milk would be a very cheap “amino acid blend.”
However, it’s the second part I really want to show you:
The fragile proteins in raw milk are denatured at 149 degrees Fahrenheit. Once this temperature is reached, the milk is much less healthy…all other whey proteins use milk that has been double pasteurized at 162 degrees. And some have the nerve to still claim to be “non-denatured”…
The milk used…is subjected to the minimum amount of heat allowed by law. The temperature never reaches 149 degrees and is at or around 145 degrees for only 30 minutes as required by law.
Notice how the first paragraph I quoted starts out talking about pasteurization and then the second two paragraphs change to “subjected to the minimum amount of heat allowed.” They are trying to get you to think that the milk used for their whey is not pasteurized, while actually telling you that it is. The minimum pasteurization temperature is indeed 145° Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. It’s still pasteurized, and therefore not raw.
I want you to see another little trick. See how the ad is careful to say not only that it is heated for 30 minutes but that it is heated for only 30 minutes. As if they have somehow managed to cut down the time. What they aren’t telling you will be evident from this chart that lists the temperatures and corresponding times that can be used for pasteurization:
|145°F (63°C)||30 minutes|
|161°F (72°C))||15 seconds|
|191°F (89°C)||1.0 seconds|
|194°F (90°C)||0.5 seconds|
|201°F (94°C)||0.1 seconds|
|204°F (96°C)||0.05 seconds|
|212°F (100°C||0.01 seconds|
No, those are not typos. When the temperature is increased a mere 16 degrees, the time required goes from 30 minutes all the way down to 15 seconds and then down to an instant as the temperature is increased. This basically means that the milk can be slowly and gently heated until it reaches this temperature and then it’s pretty much done. Compare that to only 30 minutes and you might start to wonder just what those dudes have been smoking. Why I should care whether my milk (or whey) has been pasteurized at 145° for 30 minutes or 161 degrees for 15 seconds, is beyond me. Either way, it’s not raw. People go on about the functionality of proteins from whey, but talk around the subject of ever finding an actual function.
Cheese makers understand that the amount of heat they use, and the time it is heated for, will cause the much more heat labile whey proteins to denature which will cause them to interact with the more heat stable caseins. This will change the way the milk curds. Understanding it is beyond me: it’s food chemistry. I doubt very much that some dude selling a whey protein supplement on the internet understands it either.
Whey is a valuable product in itself. Too much heat can denature and flocculate the whey, as well as insolubize the proteins. An insoluble whey would be a whey that wouldn’t mix with water very well, and also a whey that may or may not interact the way you want it to with other food ingredients. The idea that some unscrupulous whey producers are using ridiculous amounts of heat while others are making it “just so” is ridiculous. Whey producers do what they need to produce whey that can be used and sold. There is no incentive to ruin it: pH, temperature and time applied, calcium, lactose, and other factors influence heat stability and the process must be controlled to ensure the proper end-product.
Still, some denaturing occurs, and it is true that whey proteins such as lactoferrin and some immunoglobulins will not retain their biological activity after ultra-high-temperature (UHT) pasteurization. However, they do fine under normal pasteurization.
Lactoferrin is claimed to be one of the benefits of consuming raw whey. It is an iron-binding glycoprotein, found in the milk of mammals (especially human colostrum), as well as saliva, tears, seminal fluids, mucous, etc. This molecule is an important part of pre-immunity in mammals and acts as a bactericide or antimicrobial as well as many other important roles.
Cow’s milk contains lactoferrin (although not as much as human milk). Is it possible that lactoferrin could survive the gastric environment and thus have an influence on gut health? According to some research, it seems so. However, getting more lactoferrin by drinking raw milk is a leap when you consider that the danger from the microbials in the milk far outweigh any theorized benefit from the lactoferrin. Besides that, when consuming a whey protein product, you are getting a much higher concentration of lactoferrin than you would have from the original milk, 30 to 100mgs/liter as opposed to only 10 mgs/liter in cow’s milk.
Ultra-high-temperature pasteurization (UHT)
Ultra-high-temperature pasteurization is going full out with a whopping 275°F for one to two seconds. This kind of milk must be processed under stringent conditions and placed in aseptic (sterile) and hermetically-sealed (airtight) containers. The kind that is stable on an unrefrigerated grocery store shelf for many months. See image below.
UHT products are not the kind you get in the dairy case, although you might find some ultra-pasteurized milk there. This is similar to UHT in that 280 degrees is used but the milk can be placed in regular containers and must be refrigerated. The shelf life is extended to up to 90 days. Organic milk might be treated in this manner, since less of it is sold and it is shipped over long distances so it needs to remain stable for longer.
These higher heat treatments certainly might alter some of the properties of the milk, as well as its color and taste. But by far the most common temperatures used in the milk industry are the first two listed in the table above. This would be “Grade A Pasteurized Milk.”
As far as the enzymes, we don’t use them to help us digest milk, we simply digest them. However, if they were left active, the milk would go sour much faster.
Regardless of what you believe about raw milk, however, I hope you can see that there is no whey protein powder that can rightly be called raw whey and that this is a blatant ploy to dupe you into paying more for a similar product. Now onto the whey manufacturing process itself.
Whey Protein Production Process
The basic process for making whey protein powder is ultrafiltration, evaporation, and spray drying. The fresh whey is held in a tank and passed through filters of varying permeability. Then comes pasteurization. Remember, this is important because there was lactic acid bacteria from the initial cheese making, and there are also rennet enzymes. These must be inactivated. However, as stated, too much heat will cause the whey proteins to precipitate or insolubilize (won’t dissolve!). So you need enough heat to inactivate the rennet but not enough to mess up the whey protein. 85°C (165°F) is the top limit, held for about 18 seconds. Then the filtrate is evaporated and spray dried.
Whey Depends on what the Customer Wants
Whey producers can customize their whey products to meet the needs of a buyer. For instance, a baking company is going to want a completely different product than a supplement company. In general, whey can be made ranging from 12 to 90% protein and from 1 to 28% mineral content.
Use in Foods
Besides enhancing the protein content of a food, or as an extender, the general reasons for using whey in food products are emulsification, stability, viscosity, mouth-feel, and imparting a dairy-like flavor.
A whey protein concentrate might be used to make a firmer pasta product. It would also enhance the nutritional value of the product. It might be used to keep a salad dressing emulsified, again, enhancing the nutritional value a bit. It can be used in processed meat products, etc. The use of whey in food products, in fact, is so widespread that it is well beyond the scope of this article, or any article I would ever care to write.
Whey Protein Concentrate versus Isolate
Whey protein concentrates (WPC) contain from 34% to 80% protein. Whey protein isolates must contain at least 90% protein. The idea that WPI’s are “superior” to WPI’s, as is often stated in articles about whey supplements, shows a misunderstanding about how and why different whey products are made. WPC’s are simply useful for different applications than WPI’s. For instance, a WPC of only 34% would be useful in a yogurt or maybe a soft serve ice cream. That is because its effect on the final product is much different than a WPI would be. It may be better at binding water, for example. It may be a better emulsifier. The consistency and mouth feel of the product would be much affected. Besides this, cost is an issue. A more expensive whey protein would mean a final product that was overpriced. Different concentrations and fractionations (more later) are produced for specific properties and uses, often based on the customer’s specifications.
How concentrated the product is depends on how much of the non-protein constituents are removed. Whey can be concentrated and isolated in a number of ways:
Membrane Technologies (Filtering)
What we think of as filters is known as membrane technology in the trade. These involve pressure driving the whey through semi-permeable membranes at relatively low temperatures (less than 55°C). Pumps and valves are used to create a pressure gradient across the membrane, so that the smaller molecules in the whey pass through the membrane and the larger molecules are concentrated. The stuff that passes through is called permeate and the stuff that remains is called retentate. The type of membrane used depends on what type of whey product is desired.
Nanofiltration, ultrafiltration, microfiltration, and reverse osmosis are examples of this process. Electrodyalisis also uses membranes, but electricity is used instead of pressure. They do not denature proteins and can be used to produce concentrates of 34% all the way up to isolates at 90 plus percent protein. Using membranes with different pore sizes actually allows the selective concentration of whey components.
Reverse osmosis (RO) membranes have pore sizes of less than 20 daltons. They remove only the water, so they do not selectively separate the whey components. These cannot be used to highly concentrate whey since as the water is removed the viscosity and osmotic pressure increases, limiting the extent of concentration. The ratio of the solid components in the whey is not changed. Reverse osmosis is basically a concentrating process whereas the processes below are better termed fractionatingprocesses, since the selectivity of the membranes can be changed so that they pass only molecules of a certain molecular weight. The following are general descriptions.
Nanofiltration (NF) membranes, unlike RO membranes, have pores from 20 to 500 daltons which allow some salt to pass through so that the whey is partially desalted. This slightly reduces the mineral content of the whey, but does not eliminate it.
Ultrafiltration (UF) membranes have larger pores than RO or NF membranes, from 500 to 300,000 daltons, and so allow lactose and ash to pass through, retaining the whey proteins. These are standard for making WPC’s. Since water is being removed and the viscosity is increasing, in order to produce higher concentrations than 50%, water is added to “wash” out more lactose, ash, and minerals from the retentate (now we’re using the lingo). This is called diafiltration.
Microfiltration (MF) membranes have the largest pores of all, from 0.1 to 10 microns. Some of the smaller soluble proteins, peptides, lactose, minerals, other compounds, and water all readily pass through.
Cross Flow Microfiltration and Ultrafiltration
You’ve probably heard from some sports nutrition expert that “you’ve got to have cross-flow microfiltration whey, bro!” I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are those who like to use bigger words than necessary in the hope that they will sound more important or knowledgeable. This is one of those times. It may have led you to believe that there is some difference between a whey that claims to be from microfiltration instead of cross-flow microfiltration, which sounds so much more impressive.
The membrane systems use two membranes. These are glued together around the edges and a spacer is placed between them, creating a space where retentate can collect. Then, one edge of the membrane system is glued to a hollow core. A product spacer is placed on top and the whole thing is wound around to create a spiral wound membrane system with a hollow center. When they are used, the product is fed end-ways through the system using pumps, which allows the permeate (the stuff that is filtered off) to collect in the inner core. The term cross-flow simply refers to the fact that the material is fed across the membrane system from one end to the other and similar spiral membranes are used for the different sized pore systems discussed above. Other than that, the term has no special significance on its own.
Electrodyalisis uses an electrical current to drive the whey components across a membrane. These membranes only allow minerals to permeate, so protein and lactose are retained. This is because the minerals are charged and the electrical current draws them across the membrane into a brine stream. Lactose is not affected by the current and the proteins are too large to pass the membrane. This process can remove up to 75% of the minerals in whey without affecting the protein. Excessive mineral content can make whey taste bad and can change its properties when used in food. So it is sometimes desired to remove certain amounts. In fact, whey is fairly tasty except for its saltiness. Removing some of the minerals is necessary if you want your whey to taste its best. However, completely demineralized whey is not widely used and only a few select companies would want it, its largest use being infant formulas.
Chromatagraphy can be considered a scientific discipline within itself, rather than just a group of technologies. However, for our purposes we can define chromatography as a way to get some molecules to move one way while other components move another way, so that they can be analyzed or separated, for whatever means. It is based on electrostatic interactions. For whey, chromatography uses charged resins in a column to separate out proteins or minerals. The resin has a charge opposite to the proteins so that the proteins are attracted to, and bind to the resin while other particles pass through the column. Ion-exchange is a type of chromatography used for whey protein.
Ion-Exchange can be used to produce a highly demineralized whey, or to separate out protein from other whey components. Whey proteins are amphoteric. This means they are capable of reacting to an acid or a base and change their charge by carrying a positive charge at the amine group in an acid, or a negative charge in the carbolylic group in a base. By changing the pH of the whey, therefore, the proteins can take on a net positive or negative charge. At around pH 4.6, they are at their isoelectric point. Below 4.6, they have a net positive charge and behave as cations. Above 4.6 they have a net negative charge and behave as anions. Therefore, if the acidity is changed in a column or stirred tank (columns are more common), the whey proteins can be charged and so attracted to oppositely charged resins. The lactose and other materials can then be filtered off and the pH readjusted so that the proteins are released from the ion exchanger, then filtered from the resin and concentrated before being spray dried.
However, although 4.6 is the approximate isoelectric point, different whey proteins have slightly different points, making it possible to fine-tune the process, although the results can be unpredictable, especially since there can be a range of points involved for any one type of protein.
Ion-Exchange versus Microfiltration Whey
Many people buy into the notion that there is some significant advantage to buying a whey supplement that claims to be from ion-exchanged whey, or one that is from microfiltered whey. There is no significant functional difference, except, perhaps the presence of GMP (glycomacropeptide), which is higher in microfiltration whey. For the purposes of supplement and helping to augment protein needs, either should suffice. When WPI’s are desired, ion-exchange is more often used than microfiltration.
Hydrolyzed whey is a whey protein to which protease enzyme has been added to pre-digest the proteins. The process is controlled by time and temperature. There is no advantage to buying a hydrolyzed whey supplement, despite many suggestions and questionable studies claiming otherwise.
Most whey for human use is dried on spray driers. This involves spraying the whey in an atomized stream through a column of hot air. As the whey stream passes through, the water is almost instantly evaporated, leaving the whey almost completely dry. This is the least damaging to the whey proteins.
WPNI: Whey Protein Nitrogen Index
WPNI stands for whey protein nitrogen index. This is a way of quantifying the degree of heat treatment of a milk powder. It is an indirect measure of the amount of whey proteins that are denatured. The degree of denaturation may correspond to the solubility of a product, and thus the WPNI may be an important factor to buyers of whey powders or milk powders, depending on the characteristics desired.
For a whey supplement, a low heat WPNI would be desired as this would be the most soluble whey, and so would have a WPNI of greater than 6mg of nitrogen per gram. On the other hand, a high heat whey will have better heat stability in food products and will have higher viscosity when added to yogurt or other products, as well as a more intense flavor, which might be desired in chocolate, for example. A high heat whey will have a WPNI of less than 1.5mg nitrogen per gram. Medium heat whey powders will have between 1.5mg and 6mg nitrogen per gram.
Protein Components of Whey
No doubt, you have heard a whole lot about all the different protein fractions in whey, and their special and magical properties. Well, some of them do have special properties. It’s the magical part that is questionable. I will write about some of the different proteins in whey in my next whey post. I’ll leave you with a brief discussion of one of the more “magical” beliefs about whey.
This belief is centered on the similarities between human infant mother’s milk and bovine milk. The idea is that since mother’s milk contains so much whey, that bovine whey must be very very good for us. First of all, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, you’re not an infant. There was never any “grand plan” in your biological makeup which would entail you receiving a life-time infusion of mother’s milk or anything like mother’s milk. The needs of an infant are not the same as the needs of an adult. But that is not the myth I’m talking about. See, since whey is used to make infant formulas, people believe that bovine whey must therefore be of special importance in human nutrition.
Well, bovine whey and human mother’s whey are not the same. For one thing, the major protein component of bovine whey is β-Lactoglobulin. This protein is pretty widespread in the milk of mammals. Except, that is, human milk.
The major proteins of human milk are a-lactalbumin, lactoferrin, and IgA. While, besides β-Lactoglobulin bovine whey also contains such proteins as a-Lactoglobulin. This is one of the reason that normal whey formula’s are unsuitable for certain infants. They sometimes are intolerant to the β-Lactoglobulin. It is, as a matter of fact, the major allergen in cow’s milk. A “hypoallergenic” whey product is a whey product from which the β-Lactoglobulin has been removed or which has been hydrolyzed, which removes the allergenic potential of the β-Lactoglobulin. This is how it is often done for infant’s formulas, which also makes it easier for the baby to digest. Hydrolyzed infant formulas are also more heat stable, which is good since you have to heat sterilize an infant’s formula. However, it makes for a less stable emulsified product, so other things are added to aid in emulsification.
There are other essential nutrients in mother’s milk that are not present in sufficient quantities in bovine milk. These must be supplemented in infant formulas. For instance, lactoferrin, mentioned above, is a major component of human milk, but is very low in bovine milk. Human milk also contains lysozyme, which has antibacterial activity and is contained in human milk at concentrations higher than in most other species. Furthermore, it is not clear at all that the functional proteins in bovine milk, such as lactoferrin and immunoglobulins, have the same gut activity as their counterparts in mother’s milk. Perhaps more important, the the first phase of mother’s milk, colostrum, contains these proteins in a much higher concentration.
Clearly, then, the notion that just because human mother’s milk contains lots of whey means that whey must be comparable to consuming mother’s milk, is questionable, not to mention a bit creepy in the first place. None of this is to say that whey is not a fantastic and convenient source of protein with many desirable properties. It’s just not magic.
Supposed Functional Properties of Various Whey Protein Components
Most of the supposed bioactive uses of whey protein center on preventing or treating various infection of the gut, but there are some which are supposed to help prevent dental carries as well. The efficacy of most of this has not been well established. Here is a general list of some of the proposed pharmacological uses of various whey proteins. However, you MUST keep in mind that, should there be anything to these claims at all, it would only be for large amounts of an isolated protein component and you absolutely should not expect to derive any such benefits from a regular whey protein supplement. Research is centered on developing commercial products based on these components.
- Immunoglobulins: Prevention of intestinal infections of the mouth or GI tract, specifically applied to rotavirus, traveller’s diarrhea, Helicobacter and C. difficule infections.
- Glycomacropeptide (GmP): Prevention of dental cavities. There are already some supplements on the market but their efficacy in humans has not been well shown.
- Lactoferrin: Many studies have claimed to show various benefits in humans and animals. Specicific application induces prevention of enteropathogen and viral infections.