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.


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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