Whey Protein for Lactose Intolerance

by Sam Malone

Lactose intolerance is a condition where the body is unable to metabolize lactose, a type of sugar that is found in milk and its derivatives. It is caused by a lack of the enzyme lactase which is needed for the metabolism of lactose. Lactase is produced by cells in the small intestine and they help to break down lactose, making it easily absorbable by the blood. Lack of this enzyme can lead to symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and other signs of indigestion. People who experience such symptoms upon consuming milk or milk products are said to be lactose intolerant.

Lactose intolerance is estimated to affect 30 to 50 million Americans with the condition being more prevalent in certain segments than others. It is estimated that up to 75% of African Americans, Jewish and Mexican American adults are lactose intolerant.

Whey protein and lactose are two substances that are closely related since both of them are derived from milk. Whey protein powder derived from natural sources such as cow’s milk has gained in popularity over the years especially amongst athletes and those who are lactose intolerant. However, not all types of whey proteins are safe for consumption by those suffering from lactose intolerance. To understand why this is so, one needs to first understand what whey protein is.

Whey protein is a protein that is extracted from cow's milk and is used as a dietary supplement by those who need to add muscle mass such as body builders and those who are attempting to lose weight. Cow’s milk contains two types of proteins, casein and whey protein in the ratio of 80:20. Whey protein is a mixture of proteins that is isolated from whey by filtration and refined further to get concentrated whey protein.  This concentrate is then dried, powdered and sold as whey protein concentrate.

Whey protein concentrate may contain a reduced amount of lactose compared to milk whereas whey protein isolate is reputed to contain no lactose whatsoever. The amount of lactose present will depend on the process used to purify and isolate the whey protein. Since these supplements tend to be on the expensive side, it makes more sense to test a sample of the whey protein for any signs associated with lactose intolerance.

There are many claims put forward by manufacturers extolling the benefits of whey protein concentrates. They are considered to be a rich source of proteins as well as branched chained amino acids such as leucine, isoleucine and valine and are recommended for use by active individuals such as athletes and those whose diets are deficient in proteins including cancer sufferers.

However, the benefits of whey protein do not come without attendant risks and side effects. Some of these side effects include:
  • Whey protein concentrates may produce adverse effects in those suffering from lactose intolerance. Such individuals would be better off trying whey protein isolates and hydrolysates that have had all traces of lactose removed.
  • Consuming high amounts of whey protein can have an adverse effect on the kidneys.
  • Consuming high amounts of whey protein can have an adverse effect on the liver.
  • Excessive consumption may lead to a lowered bone density resulting in conditions such as osteoporosis.
The actual benefits of whey protein are a matter of fierce debate. There is actually little evidence that whey protein can help to accelerate the development of muscle mass. In fact, certain studies have shown no difference between the benefits of whey protein and much less expensive casein protein at promoting muscle growth.

Remember, if you are lactose intolerant; consider whey protein isolates rather than concentrates and that too on the recommendation of a qualified physician.

  1. http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/digestive_disorders/lactose_intolerance/Pages/index.aspx
  2. http://www.cancer.med.umich.edu/files/increasing-protein.pdf
  3. http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=111816

Warning: The reader of this article should exercise all precautionary measures while following instructions on the home remedies from this article. Avoid using any of these products if you are allergic to it. The responsibility lies with the reader and not with the site or the writer.
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