The future of whey

This versatile protein compound has become a beacon of innovation in the dairy industry. Mark J Tallon, PhD, investigates new research venues that will continue to drive this $470 billion category

Matching shifts in market trends, whey has penetrated most facets of our industry from sports to clinical nutrition. This diversity is highly reflective in its $470 billion turnover in 2002-2003.1 In September 2005 the fourth international whey conference was held in Chicago, gathering the world's leading protein researchers and industry leaders.

New and novel research on issues ranging from manufacturing to clinical applications was presented. Here are my four choices for the next wave of research to impact whey marketing.

Sialic acids at the fringe
Sialic acids (NeuNAc) are present in relatively high concentrations in whey protein (280mg/100g in sweet whey permeate, 650mg/100g in delactosed) and are a relatively late bloomer in the emerging market for whey bioactives. Sialic acids are composed of a variety of whey sub-fractions including sialyl-glycoproteins, sialyl-glycolipids and sialyl-oligosaccharides — each with individual health-promoting activities in the human body.

Researcher Benoit Laplaize (presenting for Armor Proteines) spoke on adult health benefits obtained through whey-based sialic acids. Laplaize presented evidence for the protection afforded by 3'-sialyllactose and sialyl-GMP against viruses and bacterial infection.

Future applications for whey may be directed at increasing the concentration of compounds such as gangliosides (ie, GMS, GD3), which can play a role in enhanced memory formation, he said.2

Further evidence was presented for infant nutrition, such as the prevention of diarrhoea by sialyl-GMP and GM1 (which have application in infant and elderly nutrition). Although these were interesting, it was clear there is a lack of data focusing exclusively on particular sialic acid forms and their ability to modify physiological function, health and disease outcomes.3

Because of this lack of research, openings in intellectual property accumulation from novel research is still a high possibility.

A way to lower the risk
In a novel pilot trial by Dr Joel Pins of the University of Minnesota Medical School, Pins assessed the influence of whey protein on the physiological and biochemical aspects of hypertension. Pre-clinical data indicated that whey's blood pressure (BP) effect might be due to ACE inhibition by bioactive peptides. The study assessed the effects of different doses (5, 10, 20g) of an enzyme-prepared whey protein hydrosylate on BP and other cardiovascular risk factors.

High-protein diets are more satiating and result in retention of lean body mass

A small sample (n = 4) were to act as their own controls, and BP was measured immediately preceding and every 30 minutes for 15-post whey bolus measurements. Compared to control data, 20g bolus led to the most significant fall in diastolic and systolic blood pressure. In an extension of the study over 10 weeks, 30 adults (seven male, eight female pre- and stage one hypotensives) consumed 20g enzyme-prepared whey protein hydrosylate and were monitored for changes in clinical chemistry (including cholesterol fractions, liver and kidney function) and BP.

The results demonstrated a significant positive change in cardiovascular risk factors, as well as some indications behind the possible mechanisms of effect. Over the study period, there was a significant decrease in LDL-C (12 per cent), systolic BP (11mmHg) and diastolic pressure (7mmHg). The changes in possible biochemical mechanisms that have brought about these changes include decreased ACE activity (4IU/L) and an increase in bradykinin (50pg/ML).

These dramatic changes were summed up by Dr Pins: "Long-term utilisation may have benefits beyond blood pressure reduction, such as reduced overall and CVD mortality as well as preventing diabetes and renal disease."

Craving control
Dr Harvey Anderson from the University of Toronto covered a very vogue area of whey, which is that of food intake (and reduction thereof). Generally, there have been many studies of late indicating that high-protein diets are more satiating and result in retention of lean body mass.4 In 2003, the well-publicised study from Guilford University in the UK investigated the influence of whey on appetite, with the outcome being a greater suppression in comparison to casein.5 One of the proposed mechanisms was through the peptide glycomacropeptide (GMP).6 GMP is a naturally occurring whey protein without phennylalanine derived from caseinomacropeptide in milk.

During whey processing and in the stomach, GMP is split from the casein portion of milk proteins to reside in whey fraction (via the enzyme chymosin). Although the biochemistry is well known, data regarding GMP's action on food suppression in humans is far from complete.

In an unpublished study, Dr Anderson and his group assessed the influence of three different protein compositions on appetite and food intake. Protein was given as either whey protein isolate (WPI; sweet whey 2-5 per cent GMP); micellar casein (MC); complete milk protein (CMP); or a sweetened water control with a clouding agent to match the sweetness and look of other protein sources. Over a 90-minute period, the WPI had the greatest suppressive influence on food intake and appetite and the greatest increase in amino acids.

At the end of the presentation, we were left with safe conclusions, including 'we need more studies to confirm the results' and 'the mechanisms of suppression are unknown.' Although these studies are by no means concrete proof of cause and effect, and qualified health claims and/or weight loss claims would be difficult to get past the relevant authorities (in Europe at least), it is a fascinating addition to the current wave in protein-modified diets and efficacious weight-loss claims.

To the bones of it!
The final study worthy of mention is the impact of whey on bone health. In an eloquent presentation, Mr Morita (Snow Brand Milk Products, Japan) spoke on the recently GRAS-approved milk basic protein (MBP; a whey protein extract) on bone strength and remodelling. Much of the presentation was based on animal data, but many of the positive benefits described have recently been re-explored in a human study released in August 2005.7

MBP supplementation is effective in preventing bone loss in menopausal women

The object of this study was to examine the effect of MBP on the bone metabolism of healthy menopausal women. Thirty-two women were randomly assigned to 40mg/day MBP or placebo for six months. The bone mineral density (BMD) of the lumbar vertebrae L2-L4 of each subject was measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry at baseline and six months of treatment. Serum and urine indices of bone metabolism were measured at baseline, three and six months.

The mean rate of gain of lumbar BMD in the MBP group (1.21 per cent) was significantly higher than in the placebo group (-0.66 per cent). Histological analysis of collagen formation indicated that MBP maintained the balance of bone remodelling. These results suggested that MBP supplementation was effective in preventing bone loss and that this improvement in BMD may be primarily mediated through the inhibition of bone reabsorption while maintaining the balance of bone remodelling by MBP supplementation.

The mechanism behind these effects may be one of the composite reaction of MBP bioactives, including a high-mobility group such as protein, cystatin, kininogen fragments and lactoferrin.

The next step in the evolution may be to better describe which active is the most effective or what combination and manufacturing process can produce a bone health-specific whey protein.

The future
These exciting new developments in whey protein research will ensure its continued growth. Many other exciting areas are emerging from the amalgamation of manufacturing advances and clinical science. These look to cover a range of health issues from anti-microbial bioactive extracted for better gum/teeth health to immune system enhancement from concentrating lactoferrin. The latter will have widespread application for AIDS and chemotherapeutic-related immuno-suppression.

It is these advancements that will lead to greater fiscal growth from increased consumer awareness of the multifunctional benefits of whey supplementation and fortification.

Mark J Tallon, PhD, is chief science officer of OxygeniX, a London-based consultancy firm specialising in claims substantiation, product development and technical writing. Dr Tallon is also co-founder of Cr-Technologies, a raw-ingredients supplier.

1. Nutrition Business Journal, Whey value 2004.
2. Morgan BL, Winick M. Effects of administration of NeuNAc on brain NeuNAc content and behaviour. J Nutr 1980; 110:416-24.
3. Wang B, Brand-Miller J. The role and potential of sialic acid in human nutrition. Eur J Clin Nut 2003; 57:1364.
4. Weigle DS, et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr 2005; 82(1):41-8.
5. Hall WL, et al. Casein and whey exert different effects on plasma amino acid profiles, gastrointestinal hormone secretion and appetite. Br J Nutr 2003; 89(2):239-48.
6. Corring et al. Release of cystokinin in humans after ingestion of glycomacropeptide (GMP). International Whey conference, Rosemont, Ill. 1997.
7. Aoe S, et al. A controlled trial of the effect of milk basic protein (MBP) supplementation on bone metabolism in healthy menopausal women. Osteoporos.Int. (In publication).

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