What is it?
Whey protein is the protein contained in whey, the watery portion of milk that separates from the curds when making cheese.
Whey protein is used for improving athletic performance, as a food supplement, as an alternative to milk for people with lactose intolerance, for replacing or supplementing milk-based infant formulas, and for reversing weight loss and increasing glutathione (GSH) in people with HIV disease.
Whey protein is also used for protein allergy, asthma, high cholesterol, obesity and weight loss, preventing allergies in infants, late-stage cancer, and colon cancer.
How effective is it?
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
The effectiveness ratings for WHEY PROTEIN are as follows:
Possibly effective for…
- Red, itchy skin (eczema). Research shows that infants who consume whey protein by mouth during the first 3-12 months of life have a lower risk of developing red, itchy skin by the age of 3 years.
- Prone allergies and allergic reactions (atopic disease). Research shows that infants who consume whey protein by mouth during the first 3-12 months of life are less likely to be prone to allergies and allergic reactions compared to infants who receive standard formula. However, taking why protein might not be helpful for treating atopic diseases once they develop.
- Weight loss in people with HIV/AIDS. Some research shows that taking whey protein by mouth can help decrease weight loss in people with HIV.
- Red, scaly skin (psoriasis). Some evidence shows that taking a specific whey protein extract (Dermylex Advitech Inc.) daily for 8 weeks can reduce psoriasis symptoms.
Possibly ineffective for…
- Lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Taking a specific whey protein supplement (ImuPower) daily for 6 weeks can improve shortness of breath but not lung function or quality of life in people with COPD. Other research suggests that taking whey protein supplements does not improve lung function, muscle function, or exercise tolerance in people with COPD.
- Osteoporosis. Research suggests that taking a drink containing whey protein daily for 2 years does not improve bone density in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis.
- Weight loss. Most research suggests that taking whey protein alone, along with diet modifications, or while following an exercise plan does not seem to reduce weight for overweight and obese adults. However, whey protein might improve body composition in overweight adults when used along with a modified diet. In overweight teens, drinking a whey protein beverage for 12 weeks seems to increase weight and body mass index (BMI).
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for…
- Athletic performance. Some clinical research shows that taking whey protein in combination with strength training increases lean body mass, strength, and muscle size. However, other research suggests no effect of whey protein on strength or muscle mass. Taking whey protein seems to improve recovery from exercise better than carbohydrate supplements in untrained but not trained athletes.
- Asthma. Early research suggests that taking a specific type of whey protein (HMS 90 Immunofec, Inc) daily for 30 days does not improve lung function in children with asthma.
- Cancer. There is some evidence that taking whey protein might help reduce tumor size in some people with cancer that has spread.
- Cystic fibrosis. Early research suggests that taking whey protein daily for 28 days improves lung function in children, but not adults with cystic fibrosis
- Asthma caused by exercise. Early research suggests that taking whey protein daily for 10 days improves lung function in people with asthma caused by exercise.
- Non-alcoholic liver disease (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, NASH). Early research suggests that taking whey protein daily for 12 weeks can improve liver function in patients with NASH.
- Hepatitis. Early research suggests that taking a specific type of whey protein (Immunocal) daily for 12 weeks can improve liver function in some people with hepatitis B. However, it does not appear to benefit people with hepatitis C.
- HIV/AIDS. Early research suggests that taking whey protein for 4 months does not improve immune function in children with HIV.
- High cholesterol. Early research suggests that taking whey protein daily while participating in resistance training does not reduce cholesterol levels or body fat in overweight men with high cholesterol.
- High blood pressure. Early research suggests that drinking a beverage that contains whey protein daily for 12 weeks does not lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. However, taking hydrolyzed whey protein daily for 6 weeks can reduce blood pressure
- Infections developed while in the hospital. Early research suggests that taking a specific whey protein supplement (Beneprotein) daily for up to 28 days has a similar effect on the rate of hospital-acquired infections as taking a combination of zinc, selenium, glutamine, and metoclopramide.
- Inherited disorders that cause mental and developmental problems (mitochondrial myopathies). Early research suggests that taking a whey protein supplement daily for one month does not improve muscle strength or quality of life in people with mitochondrial diseases.
- Ovarian cysts (Polycystic ovarian syndrome). Early research suggests that taking a supplement containing whey protein daily for 2 months can reduce body weight, fat mass, and cholesterol in people with ovarian cysts. However, whey protein does not improve blood sugar and seems to decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol.
- Aching and stiffness caused by inflammation (polymyalgia rheumatica). Taking whey protein in a dairy product twice daily for 8 weeks does not improve muscle function, walking speed, or other movement tests in people with polymyalgia rheumatica.
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate whey protein for these uses.
How does it work?
Whey protein is a source of protein that might improve the nutrient content of the diet. Whey protein might also have effects on the immune system.
Are there safety concerns?
Whey protein is LIKELY SAFE for most children and adults when taken by mouth appropriately. High doses can cause some side effects such as increased bowel movements, nausea, thirst, bloating, cramps, reduced appetite, tiredness (fatigue), and headache.
Special precautions & warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking whey protein if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Milk allergy: If you are allergic to cow’s milk, avoid using whey protein.
Are there interactions with medications?
- Whey protein might decrease how much levodopa the body absorbs. By decreasing how much levodopa the body absorbs, whey protein might decrease the effectiveness of levodopa. Do not take whey protein and levodopa at the same time.
- Whey protein can decrease how much albendazole the body absorbs. Taking whey protein and albendazole at the same time can decrease the effectiveness of albendazole. Do not take whey protein while taking albendazole.
- Alendronate (Fosamax)
- Whey protein can decrease how much alendronate (Fosamax) the body absorbs. Taking whey protein and alendronate (Fosamax) at the same time can decrease the effectiveness of alendronate (Fosamax). Don’t take whey protein within two hours of taking alendronate (Fosamax).
- Antibiotics (Quinolone antibiotics)
- Whey protein might decrease how much antibiotic the body absorbs. Taking whey protein along with some antibiotics might decrease the effectiveness of some antibiotics. To avoid this interaction take whey protein supplements at least one hour after antibiotics.
Some of these antibiotics that might interact with whey protein include ciprofloxacin (Cipro), enoxacin (Penetrex), norfloxacin (Chibroxin, Noroxin), sparfloxacin (Zagam), trovafloxacin (Trovan), and grepafloxacin (Raxar).
- Antibiotics (Tetracycline antibiotics)
- Whey protein contains calcium. The calcium in whey protein can attach to tetracyclines in the stomach. This decreases the amount of tetracyclines that can be absorbed. Taking calcium with tetracyclines might decrease the effectiveness of tetracyclines. To avoid this interaction, take whey protein two hours before or four hours after taking tetracyclines.
Some tetracyclines include demeclocycline (Declomycin), minocycline (Minocin), and tetracycline (Achromycin).
Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?
- There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.
Are there interactions with foods?
- There are no known interactions with foods.
What dose is used?
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For improving athletic performance: 1.2-1.5 grams/kg of whey protein in combination with strength training for 6-10 weeks.
- For HIV/AIDS-related weight loss: 8.4-84 grams of whey protein per day, or 2.4 grams/kg per day in a high-calorie formula, or 42-84 grams per day in a glutamine-enriched formula.
To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.
- Exl, B. M., Deland, U., Wall, M., Preysch, U., Secretin, M. C., and Shmerling, D. H. Zug-Frauenfeld nutritional survey (“Zuff Study”): allergen-reduced nutrition in normal infant population and its healthrelated effects: results at the age of six months. Nutr Res 1998;18:1443-1462.
- Porch, M. C., Shahane, A., and Leiva, L. Influence of breast milk, soy or two hydrolyzed formulas on the development of allergic manifestations in infants at risk. Nutr Res 1998;18:1424.
- Lam, B. C. C. and Yeung, C. Y. The effect of breast milk, infant formula and hypoallergenic formula on incidence of atopic manifestation in high risk infants. 1992;