Building bowel health: is there a place for whey?

Last night I had the privilege of spending my evening with the local Halton chapter of the Canadian Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, and had a great experience chatting about the health and patency of the bowel. For those of you who are available and interested in learning more about the CCFC, an Education Symposium will be taking place Saturday November 19th in Burlington, ON.

I always learn something new about what patients read and are interested in knowing for their health, and last night was no exception. A fabulous question was asked about the benefit of whey protein and bowel health, and if there is a benefit to supporting the bowel and muscle building both with exercise and in general.

What is whey protein?

Whey protein, from dairy products (curds and whey, remember Little Miss Muffett?), has been used in recent years for its ability to support the degradation and building of muscle. It has also in some studies proven to improve the permeability of the bowel wall and assist in reconstructing it when there is damage (this more important for IBS or IBD (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis) that this damage is often cyclical and long-​term in nature).

Whey protein in literature has also been known to support the growth of specific probiotic cultures (good bacteria for the intestine that live there normally), and strains such as Lactobacillus casei, GG, and rhamnosus are needed to stabilize immunity in the gastrointestinal tract as well as support the increased production of healthy cells in the GI tract.

Are all whey proteins the same?

No, they are not. The whey protein often used in protein formulas for body-​building while they may have the same amount of whey in a protein capacity can have additives (sugars for sweetening, additional chemicals) that a sensitive system does not easily handle. Additionally, most of the whey in some of the commercial formulas is of a bovine (cow’s) source, and unfortunately there is some evidence that IBS and IBD can be affected adversely by lactose intolerance and the inability to process cow’s dairy. This is inconsistent however in studies, and further work needs to be done to decipher whether this is an exception for certain patients or it this is definitive. There are also goat’s whey which can be very helpful for this purpose in the instances of cow’s source intolerances.

A recent scientific study combined both whey and an amino acid glutamine (the building block for proteins in our body) for those suffering with Crohn’s, and preliminary research suggests that the intestinal wall was repaired with the addition of these interventions. Obviously further research is required, however there is some promise for whey in this instance. Whether this is applicable for ulcerative colitis also remains to be seen, and if it can be repeated by other laboratories.

References

Benjamin J, Makharia G, Ahuja V, Anand Rajan KD, Kalaivani M, Gupta SD, Joshi YKGlutamine and Whey Protein Improve Intestinal Permeability and Morphology in Patients with Crohn’s Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Dig Dis Sci. 2011 Oct 26. [Epub ahead of print]

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