With the rapid spread of Covid-19 around the world, staying well and healthy has never been so important. A healthy immune system helps us fight off colds and illnesses, recover faster, and generally feel good. So, what is the link between whey protein and the immune system?
It is well known that food and nutrition play a key role in our immune system and a healthy balanced diet can help us fight off infections. While no one will ever claim that eating well can protect us against Covid-19, there are certain foods that can support your immune system, such as protein!
One of the body’s most complex systems
Before we get into the link between protein and immunity, let’s take a look at the immune system itself. It consists of different organs, cells and proteins that work together to protect against harmful external agents and microbes. When faced with these pathogens, the immune system launches into action, blocking viruses and gobbling up bacteria to keep you safe and well. Once activated, it increases the demand for energy and certain nutrients, which makes it even more important to eat well.
Although you cannot directly control your immune system, you can give it a helping hand by staying healthy and eating a balanced diet. Proteins in particular, such as whey protein, play a critical role in the immune system as most cells in your immune system are actually made of protein.
The power of amino acids
Whey protein is a great source of protein for the immune system as it contains all the amino acids needed for healthy body functions. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and they are used by in the immune system during infection and illness to help us recover.
If the body does not have enough amino acids, it takes them out of tissues like muscles to provide them to the immune system. Muscle weakness and feeling physically run-down can further deplete your immune system making you more prone to colds and illnesses in general.
Whey protein – a super food
Your body needs 20 different amino acids to stay healthy and 9 of them can only be found in food. These are called essential amino acids. Whey protein contains all of these 9 amino acids and many more. That is why it is a so-called complete protein.
Here is a breakdown of the main amino acids found in whey protein that provide the valuable boost to our immune systems:
Essential amino acids: There are 9 of these amino acids and they can only be found in diet. Whey protein contains all of them.
Branched chain amino acids: These amino acids are required to boost immune cells and whey protein is their richest natural source.
Sulfur amino acids: These amino acids are needed to make glutathione, the body’s main intracellular antioxidant that protects cells from damage and infection.
Immunoglobulins: These proteins are also called antibodies. They enable the immune system to recognize specific parts of foreign microbes and protect the body against them.
Lactoferrin: This multi-functional protein can bind iron, which is one of the ways it can restrict bacterial growth.
Protein in a healthy diet
Of course, protein on its own will not help you stay healthy – not even a superfood like whey protein! All protein needs to be part of a balanced diet. Guidelines on what constitutes a healthy diet depends on where you live. Each country has its own national guideline based on dietary evidence and the country’s food culture. However, regardless of where you live, all countries recommend protein in some form as part of a healthy diet.
With whey protein, you can be sure to get a source of protein that contains all the essential nutrients needed to stay strong. It is possible to combine other sources of protein to give you all the essential amino acids your body needs, but with whey protein this is something you do not have to worry about. By adding it to your daily diet, you can have peace of mind knowing that you are getting all the crucial amino acids needed by your immune system.
Want to get started using whey protein?
If you need some inspiration on using whey protein in your daily diet, see the recipe section for some mouth-watering ideas.
Bourke, C.D., et Al. (2016) Prendergast, Immune Dysfunction as a Cause and Consequence of Malnutrition. Trends Immunol, 37(6): p. 386-398.
Duthie et al., Arch Biochem Biophys. 1990 282:78-83
Gohil et al., J Appl Physiol (1985). 1988 64:115-9
Grimble, J Nutr. 2006 136:1660S–1665S
Calder, J Nutr. 2006 136:288S–293S
Wu et al., J Nutr. 2004 134:489–492
Cruzat et al. JISSN 2014, 11:61
Bermon et al. 2017 Exerc Immunol Rev. 23:8-50
Lands et al. 1999 J Appl Physiol. 87:1381–1385