While many only know dairy products for their taste and typical enjoyment, the reality is that many of the ingredients in common dairy materials are highly beneficial to our overall health. One great example where research is showing us new positives with each passing year is the benefits to the immune system that tend to result from consumption of milk proteins found in quality dairy.
At Idaho Milk Products, we’re proud to offer a number of milk protein products, including milk protein concentrate, milk protein isolate and several others in this specific area. How does milk protein and its various sub-categories show benefits to the human immune system, and what do these say about the potential impact on fields ranging from infant formula to food products and even supplements? Here’s a primer.
Perhaps the key quality of milk protein that makes it so beneficial to the human immune system is the way it helps build muscle. Milk protein contains all nine essential amino acids, plus is incredibly easy for our bodies to digest; this is likely why so many people who engage in exercise routinely consume milk protein both before and after they work out. The result? A supported immune system that can fight disease.
In addition, milk protein is high in leucine, a strong source of two specific amino acids (isoleucine and valine) that are critical in terms of how our muscles function. The result is what you see in the common glass of milk; when it comes to milk protein, eating or drinking these substances will support your immune system due to the simple fact that they’re packed with leucine.
However, this area is about more than just strength building, though that’s a major benefit. Our immune system depends on a balanced diet and lifestyle that lead to solid weight and body composition, and there are several ingredients in milk protein that play a major role here.
Examples and Research
Want a specific example? A study from the journal Nutrients showed that, by consuming whey protein over a period of four weeks, overweight Japanese adults saw a significant drop in their LDL cholesterol numbers, an important player in terms of the overall cardiovascular system and a key indicator to look for when it comes to keeping diseases like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure in check. Whey protein is one of the components that make up milk protein and thus have similar benefits.
In addition, research suggests that whey and milk protein can play a role when it comes to helping control and manage obesity in both adults and infants, suggesting the same with regards to metabolic syndromes such as leptin resistance. The result is a better overall quality of life; if you’re overweight and not eating healthy, you’re likely going to suffer from a lack of energy and it becomes harder for your body to cope with disease.
Adding milk protein into infant formula is another great example; studies show that the immune system in infants that get this co-nutrient tend to get stronger when compared to those who don’t. The result? A far greater chance of avoiding illness during their early years and enjoying better overall health.
Research from the journal Beneficial Microbes shows us that protein fractions found in milk proteins, including lactoferrin and lactoperoxidase, are effective in controlling the growth of various types of harmful bacteria.
Milk protein is made up of a number of different “protein fractions,” all of which contribute to its health benefits in different ways. While we won’t go over all of them here, two are extremely important: Lactoferrin and immunoglobins.
Lactoferrin refers to a small but vital globular glycoprotein found in various forms of milk, including both human and bovine. Interestingly, lactoferrin is also found in other secretions, such as tears or saliva. Lactoferrin has several specific properties that directly connect to immune system benefits:
- Iron absorption and sequestering: Iron is one of the most essential nutrients for life, but our bodies can’t produce it on their own. Luckily, lactoferrin plays a key role in making sure our bodies get plenty of this essential nutrient.
- Antibacterial activity: Lactoferrin has been shown to help control harmful bacteria growth by helping the body to better discriminate between friend and foe, both in infants and adults.
- Antioxidant: Research shows that lactoferrin can help boost antioxidant levels in the body, helping to protect cells against free radical damage.
- Intestinal flora modulation: Lactoferrin helps promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Anti-inflammatory and anti-viral: Lactoferrin has been shown to help control and manage both chronic and acute inflammation, as well as to help reduce viral growth and replication.
Immunoglobins, on the other hand, are antibodies found in both human and bovine milk that form part of the immune system through their ability to tag specific antigens for attack. This is an essential function in the body, as it helps us respond to various types of attacks by germs or other harmful organisms.
In cow’s milk, the primary immunoglobin is IgG, with a secondary format known as IgA. Many forms of research have shown direct connections between these immunoglobins and immune support, including studies in both children and adults. While more research is needed in some of these areas, particularly in terms of increasing the sample sizes to more robust numbers, there are strong indicators that immunoglobin intake plays a positive role in many areas of immune strength.
For more on how milk proteins and their various protein fractions play a positive role in supporting your immune system, or to learn about any of our dairy proteins or services, speak to the staff at Idaho Milk Products today.