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April 01, 2008

Select Studies on Whey Protein - Whey Protein Protects Against The Toxic Effects Of Iron

Test_tubes_blue72Thanks in large part to the deceptive marketing of multivitamins and iron-fortified foods for decades, many people in this country still simply associate iron with strength, energy, vitality, and the production of “good red blood.” But the scientific research on iron metabolism paints a different picture entirely. To state the matter simply – for many of us, iron is a toxic mineral. Circulating free iron (iron unbound to protective proteins) is harmful to the body, and we should take every step we can to protect ourselves from the toxic effects of iron at every stage of our lives.

This goal becomes particularly important when we realize just how much iron is actually present in our food. It’s not as if iron is some rare toxin that only small numbers of people are exposed to – on the contrary, in our food supply, we find iron everywhere we look.

You may have never noticed (or cared) before, but take a stroll down any supermarket aisle, and you’ll see iron added in artificially high amounts to tons of processed foods, including: breakfast cereals, breads, crackers, flours, pastas, and baked goods.  With a little research, you’ll find that iron is also naturally present in many foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, legumes, and of course, meats. And the user of nutritional supplements will find iron haphazardly added to a whole host of multivitamins, energy bars, protein drinks, and meal replacement shakes. So, despite much propagandistic drum-beating about iron deficiency in this country, if you eat food in America, you can scarcely avoid taking in toxic amounts of iron - even if you try.

In a nutshell, iron (especially when it comes in contact with unsaturated fats and cholesterol) is the major catalyst responsible for oxidative stress, free radical damage, and overall bodily degeneration in aging. For those seeking a little background on iron, we’ve written previously in the Integrated Supplements Newsletter about the many pro-aging and health-destroying effects of iron:

The Dark Side of Iron

And we’ve written previous blog posts showing just how much iron there may be in the typical “healthy” diet:

So You Think Your Diet’s Healthy, But What About The Dangers of Excess Iron?

Shielding Ourselves from Iron

Of course, with iron being so common in our food supply, avoiding iron completely is out of the question. So, the logical question becomes: are there steps we can take to at least reduce iron’s harmful effects?

As it turns out, recent research from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada shows that whey protein is able to significantly decrease iron-induced free radical production in the heart of mice exposed to iron-overload.

Study Link - Milk whey protein decreases oxygen free radical production in a murine model of chronic iron-overload cardiomyopathy.

A high iron level in the body is increasingly being recognized as a major contributing factor to heart disease (including the cardiomyopathies – which involve the destruction and/or malfunction of heart cells).

Because iron becomes especially toxic when it’s not bound to proteins, and because whey protein is known to contain several proteins tailor-made for safely “shackling” iron, it’s reasonable to assume that whey protein may just be the perfect protein source for reducing iron-induced free radical damage.  And in addition to this effect, whey protein is well-known to contain precursors of the powerful endogenous antioxidant, glutathione.

In the above study, whey protein was shown to reduce iron-induced production of harmful “cytotoxic aldehydes” (i.e. lipid peroxides, or more simply, rancid, oxidized fats) malondialdehyde (MDA), 4-hydroxy-nonenal (HNE), and hexanal.

Whey protein also increased the level of the glutathione (GSH) and the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase (GPx) (we’ve talked about the glutathione-boosting activity of whey in relation to exercise recovery here).

The authors of the study concluded:

Mice receiving iron treatments with whey supplementation had significantly lower concentrations of cytotoxic aldehydes and significantly higher cardiac levels of GPx and GSH activity than did iron-only treated mice. Additional basic research is warranted to examine the exact mechanisms by which milk whey protein protects the heart.

This study fits perfectly with what we at Integrated Supplements have been telling you over the past few months about how to effectively combat oxidative stress:

1) Limit the intake of highly reactive unsaturated oils as much as possible (oils from canola, soy, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, flax, and fish – and products made with them – should be avoided). A balanced diet of unprocessed fresh foods (vegetables, eggs, etc.) will usually contain more than enough of the “essential fats.”

(We talked about the effects of these rancid fats in our Newsletter: Rancid Fats and Oxidative Stress)

2) Cut out all foods and supplements with added iron. The iron used in supplements, and in the “fortification” of foods is often particularly harmful (especially to the gastrointestinal tract). Many people may also want to take steps to minimize naturally iron-rich foods (like red meat), and many may even want to take steps to reduce stored iron in their body as well (we’ll have more info on exactly how to do this in the coming months).

3) And since we can’t (and don’t necessarily want to) avoid every last bit of dietary iron, we’ll want to support healthy and safe iron absorption by the use of soluble fiber and probiotics.

4) And, as the above study shows, we’ll always want to supply our body with iron-binding proteins, and support the production of the most powerful cellular antioxidant, glutathione, with the use of Whey Protein Isolate.

Combating Oxidative Stress – The Cornerstone of Health

It can sometimes seem downright impossible for the average health-conscious person to put the pieces of the nutritional puzzle together, but as research like that posted above continues to accumulate, one message keeps becoming clearer:

To maintain our health as we age, we must reduce our bodies’ burden of oxidative stress.

Of course, proposed strategies to help us achieve this goal are in no short supply – every week it seems we’re bombarded with marketing for the latest, greatest, “antioxidant” nutrient.

But historically, the shotgun approach of simply popping antioxidant supplements hasn’t seemed to work too well (did you know that some antioxidant nutrients, taken in excess, or in combination with iron, can even make oxidative stress worse?). The fact is that some of the best minds in nutrition currently disagree (often vehemently) as to whether high-dose antioxidant nutrients offer long-term benefit, or whether they actually subject their user to increased risk of oxidative stress and degenerative disease.

Until much more is known about isolated antioxidants, and their interactions with one another, supporting the production of glutathione with whey protein seems to be a much better choice. Unlike many antioxidant nutrients which can easily become pro-oxidants when taken in excess, our body produces glutathione mostly on an “as needed” basis - so when we consume whey protein, we’re not just crossing our fingers, and dumping huge amounts of redox-active chemicals into our body the way people often do when they take antioxidant supplements – we’re simply supplying the body with the raw materials it needs to make its own protective antioxidants.

(Note: Unlike whey isolate, some other glutathione-boosting nutrients, like N-Acetyl Cysteine and L-Cysteine, may have significant side-effects. And pre-formed glutathione supplements appear to be relatively poorly absorbed – more on this in future blog posts.)

So, with the highest level of undenatured, active proteins (and the lowest levels of cholesterol), Integrated Supplements CFM® Whey Protein Isolate is a product specifically formulated to reduce oxidative stress through the production of healthy levels of glutathione. Can your current protein producer say the same thing?

We'll have more to come soon - Stay Tuned.




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