Immune enhancing capabilities of Whey Protein

What is the Immune System?

The immune system is a vast & complex network of cells, organs and molecules that work together to defend the body against foreign microorganisms such as Bacteria, Parasites & Viruses.

The immune system has the ability to recognize millions of foreign invaders, and anything that triggers an immune response to these invaders is referred to as an “ANTIGEN”. The immune system has many ways of preventing the invasion of foreign particles including:

  1. Atomic Barriers: This includes the skin & mucous membranes, which physically blocks the entry of microbes.
  2. Physiological Barriers: This includes body temperature and acidity, which inhibit the growth of, and kill microbes.

If invaders pass through these barriers, different cellular processes are triggered to attack and eliminate the antigen. To protect and maintain health, this essential process occurs virtually hundreds of times every day and never ceases.

Lifestyle factors affecting Immune Function:

  1. Aging: Aging is associated with an increased generation of free radicals from everyday biochemical processes and this can lead to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress damages cell membranes and proteins, It is responsible for the onset of many of the diseases that are usually associated with aging.
    An integral role of the immune system is to reduce oxidative stress. Individuals who live a long and healthy life appear to be equipped with optimal cellular defense mechanisms that maintain a robust immune response.
  2. Physical Fitness: There is growing evidence that lifestyle factors and dietary behavior are important co-factors in the immune response to exercise. Exercise training without optimal nutritional intervention can result in compromised immune function. Many active people do not realize that their muscles and their immune system are intimately connected.

To initiate and maintain an immune response, rapid protein synthesis is required and this is why amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are critical to immune function. Inadequate protein intake impairs immunity, with a particularly detrimental impact on the T-cell system, resulting in an increased incidence of opportunistic infections. However, a substantial amount of research now shows that the type of protein in nutritionally adequate diets can influence the efficacy of the immune response.

Immune Enhancing Capabilities of whey protein


Whey proteins are the soluble class of dairy proteins that make up approximately 20% of the total bovine milk proteins.
Whey protein is a collective term that holds within a range of fractions including the major bovine proteins alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin, and minor fractions such as serum proteins, lactoferrin, immunoglobulins and tissue growth factors.

Individually, these fractions are established immune-enhancing constituents that regulate a range of immune functions. Whey protein fractions are associated with a range of bioactive functions such as prebiotic effects, promotion of tissue repair, maintenance of intestinal integrity, destruction of pathogens and elimination of toxins.

Commercially available whey concentrates (WPC) and isolates (WPI) are a rich, heterogeneous mixture of these proteins.


  1. A study shows a diet rich in whey protein showed significantly greater total white blood cell (Cells of the immune system) & lymphocyte (consisting of B-cells, T cells, and Natural killer cells) counts and higher cytokine (Molecules that mediate & Regulate Immunity) production in response to parasitic infection in the gut.
  2. The addition of WPC to the diet is shown to significantly improve primary and secondary intestinal tract antibody responses to a variety of different vaccine antigens that are currently in medical use.
  3. Supplementation with WPC enhances the ability of neutrophils to neutralize free radical production and minimize oxidative stress.
  4. The special composition of whey proteins provides a biological activity that exceeds the properties of just a high-quality amino acid source.


  1. Dietary whey protein protects against azoxymethane-induced colon tumors in male rats. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev
  2. Effect of Dietary Whey Protein Concentrate on Primary and Secondary Antibody Responses in Immunized BALB/C Mice. International
  3. Effects of Dietary Whey Proteins in Mice Immunopharmacology

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