Does Whey Protein Help Arthritis?

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Whey proteins, which are considered to be complete due to having the eight amino acids, are isolated from whey. This results as a product of the process of manufacturing cheese, and has become popular among athletes and bodybuilders as a supplement because of whey proteins’ role in helping muscles recover and grow at a faster rate, following active engagement in intense physical activities that deplete amino acids. Despite the popularity, the question “does whey protein help arthritis?” has been asked by several patients, and suspicions emerged regarding the possible role of whey proteins in causing and worsening arthritis— particularly in cases of gout. However, these suspicions currently lack strong research evidence to support the unfavourable links between whey proteins and arthritis.

General Benefits of Whey Proteins

Arthritis is the term generally used for joint inflammation, which covers over 200 specific types of diseases that can be devastating to a patient’s life. The more common forms of arthritis that affect millions of people include rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, and fibromyalgia. Among several measures that can help treat and manage arthritis diseases; exercise, weight loss and management, and healthy eating are some of the highly-regarded self-management measures that complement medical treatment of arthritis.

Research shows that whey proteins aid in fat loss through its capacity to enhance glucagon release and to inhibit insulin release, which in turn can help arthritis patients to avoid adding more weight and pressure to weight-bearing joints such as the back and the feet. Weight loss can also aid in maintaining blood uric acid amounts. Whey proteins are shown to help in muscle growth and recovery; and muscle strength aids in supporting the affected joints. Furthermore, whey proteins can help patients increase their capacity to exercise and become more physically active.

Research Evidence: Does Whey Protein Help Arthritis?

Some patients have suspected their intake of whey protein supplements to have caused or worsened gout, which is an arthritis condition characterized by the formation of uric acid crystals in the joint areas. This activity, which results from excessive amounts of uric acid that circulate in and seep out of the blood, can result in joint inflammation and extreme pain. Factors that have been historically perceived to cause or contribute to the arthritis condition include the intake of foods that contain high purine levels. Like proteins, the kidneys excrete purines as uric acid.

A 2004 study spearheaded by Dr. Hyon Choi, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, aimed to assess the links between certain foods and serum levels of uric acid. Results showed that total protein consumption is not associated with higher serum uric acid levels, which showed that certain protein-rich dietary factors were not as detrimental to people that suffer from gout as usually perceived or suspected.

While there might be no direct link between gout and whey proteins, Mary Fran Sowers, PhD, RD, Registered Dietitian and Epidemiologist, suggests that those who suffer from gout should be careful prior to increasing whey protein intake. If the status of kidneys is unfavourable, too much burden might rest on kidneys in their role of excreting whey products. Thus, prior to resorting to whey protein supplementation, patients with gout must discuss the prospect with their respective doctors— especially the details regarding their kidney status.