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Whey Protein Isolate: Safe & Still the Best 'Whey' to Go

Whey protein isolate (WPI) was first introduced into the North American health food marketplace in the late 1980s, and then became really popular in the early 1990s. Although athletes popularized it, whey protein was first isolated and used for medicinal purposes in Germany, France, Switzerland and England, where research scientists discovered its remarkable healing and restorative properties. Soon physicians specializing in critical care were utilizing whey peptides orally and intravenously, as a treatment base for Cancer and AIDS patients, who, as a result of their disease, tend to lose functional lean mass (cachexia). Whey peptides countered the catabolic (wasting) effects of disease, by helping patients maintain a positive nitrogen balance. Whey also strengthened immune response, which tends to collapse in degenerative disease.

I discovered whey protein isolate at the 1992 Anaheim Expo West Natural Products Trade Show in California, and since then, it has become a primary food staple in my diet. I consume up to four shakes a day on average, taking in 2-3 scoops (50-75g) of WPI per shake. I never miss pre- and post-workout application, and this approach should never be underestimated by anyone engaged in exercise and sport. I take it and my blender with me on every road trip and tour, which I have learned by experience, helps overcome the catabolic effects of sleep deprivation, high stress and working long hours. By preparing in advance, I reduce the risk of leaving diet to chance.

Whey is extremely soluble and very compatible with almost everyone's biochemistry. In the past, I had personally tried various egg, milk and soy proteins, but I always experienced indigestion, gas, skin blemishes and pimples. WPI literally blew the socks off the health food industry, and in a very short period of time, dominated the shelves of virtually every fitness center and health food store in North America. Finally, the days of swallowing handfuls of amino acids were over. And from a clinical perspective, with hundreds of athletic clients to draw insight from, I witnessed people of every age and background gain quality muscle and/or experience improved performance in the gym and on the field.

Some consumers are concerned about the safety of using whey protein as a supplement. They've heard that 95% of the whey protein sold in Canada comes from the U.S. where dairy cattle are given hormones to increase growth and milk production. The disturbing news for them is the possible link these hormones have to human cancer, and being that these dairy cattle are given hormones to increase growth and milk production, the conclusion rendered has made some people suspicious that these American whey protein powders may contain some of these cancer causing hormones.

First of all, it is true that the majority of whey proteins sold in Canada are manufactured from milk produced from dairy cattle in the U.S., where bovine Growth Hormone (bGH) is permitted by the FDA and obviously used. It would be nice to get unpasteurized, local organic milk whey from humans or goats, but that is a long way coming (any volunteers' ladies?)

Whey production relative to the economic game of supply and demand, as well as competitive cost is minimal in Canada, so very little whey protein is produced north of the 49th Parallel in out our backyard. Some suppliers I am familiar with did purchase whey protein from Europe (Whales) originally, but the MAD cow disease issue stymied that.

bGH is similar to hGH. Both are 'protein' hormones made up of a long chain of amino acids, both are now produced through recombinant DNA technology, and both are used to enhance growth and in the case of cattle, milk production. Some athletes actually inject hGH because it is not currently detectable by testing methods used by the IOC, but it is something I would never do or recommend. It's best to stimulate your own body's natural production of GH through intense exercise and then facilitate its cyclic release through a good nights sleep.

Whey is a by-product of cheese manufacture. In processing the whole whey, steps are taken to filter and remove almost all of the lipids (fats) and lactose (cards) without heat. Protein is damaged by heat and if heated too long or exposed to very high heat, becomes carcinogenic (so does creatine). Most people eat damaged, denatured protein, such as hamburger and canned tuna, or they fry flesh and ruin it. They also tend to cook animal protein in open containers in the oven, which completely dries it out.

Almost all the risk or 'danger' associated with ammonia production from the nitrogen in amino acids, is caused by consuming flesh without preserving the water in it, as in sashimi (raw fish), which is one of the safest and biologically efficient ways to consume protein 'naturally'. Water is the medium used to excrete urea, which ammonia is converted into, but without sufficient water in the body, it is retained and causes damage.

Eating dry overcooked animal flesh, or for that matter, dry bread or any food robbed of its natural inherent water, will cause problems, especially if you are dehydrated to begin with, which most of us are. Smoking, alcohol, coffee and many prescription & OTC medications only add insult to injury, because they encourage dehydration. This is why I focus on hydration principles even before getting into food, especially for athletes and why the best way to use WPI is in a base of clean, filtered water

Most environmental toxins are stored in lipids, thus a high-quality, non-denatured whey protein isolate is very clean, in fact it's much 'cleaner' than non-filtered whey or milk and all commercial meat, because WPI is routinely analyzed and tested for contaminants, including microorganisms, bacteria and pathogens with very sophisticated equipment. Thus the purity and biological value is ensured; whereas many of the staple foods people eat and take for granted are not, especially fast foods.

The question of bGH is somewhat complex. When bGH is injected into an animal or even when the animal produces its own GH, the GH is metabolized in the liver and broken down. It then biochemically interacts with insulin and other cell mediators to effect change in the target cell or tissue. GH is measured indirectly through assessment of IGFs (insulin growth factors) also called somatomedins. So you won't find any bGH in the milk produced.

All you can do is measure the effects of the bGH on the health of the animal through analysis (like humans), but the health of animals packed into production lines is low to begin with whether you use bGH or not. Wild animals certainly don't consume grain contaminated with pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, nor are they given antibiotics. Bison for example, are incredibly well muscled and lean, like athletes on the field committed to training. Their resilience, strength and vitality are maintained by forced compliance to the Balance of Nature and 'Survival of the Fittest'.

Currently, there is no evidence that correlates the consumption of whey protein isolate with any negative affect on human health, although it is clearly an issue that warrants clinical scientific investigation without bias. WPI has been used by millions of athletes for more than ten years, myself being one of them. All the clinical medical data on WPI reinforces its continued use for immune function enhancement. It's simple one of the best, if not the best, sources of protein available. No other protein can compete with the biological value of whey peptides, including soy (fermented or not).

About the Author

Cory Holly, Canada's Ambassador of Sports Nutrition, Health and Fitness, is the author of the home study Certified Sports Nutrition Advisor (CSNA) Education Program. He also narrates SPORTS NUTRITION UPDATE™ (SNU) a unique educational monthly subscription audio cassette publication, specializing in fitness, nutrition, anti-aging and human performance. For more info, please visit www.coryholly.com