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Bioactive Sweet Whey Protein?

Is Whey an Age-Old Health Food for Inflammatory Skin Conditions?

With several recent clinical studies, a form of bioactive sweet whey extract (BSWE) known as XP-828L or SkinGest™ PSOR is being actively discussed in the psoriasis community and by skin sufferers and physicians in various online forums. SkinGest™ PSOR, the main ingredient in DermaWhey, is a highly purified whey protein isolate with multifunctional properties. The manufacturer, PL Thomas, is promoting SkinGest™ PSOR as a natural health product to be used as a supportive oral cosmeceutical treatment for mild-to-moderate skin irritations—a way to help balance immune functions of the skin. With greater interest in whey, let's explore what we know about the health benefits of whey and whey extracts.

While there is some dispute as to whether Little Miss Muffet, sitting on her tuffet, was actually the daughter of British physician and entomologist Thomas Moffet (1533–1604)—coincidentally known for two posthumously published books: Health's Improvement and The Theater Insectorum—the health benefits Miss Muffet (real or not) would derive from her curds and, particularly, from her whey are indisputable and can not be underestimated.

Whey proteins exhibit a surprising variety of health properties that have prompted the nutraceutical industry to investigate, isolate, package, and market an array of concentrated whey products that hold both proven clinical efficacy and likely promise in the treatment of a broad spectrum of conditions and diseases. Products have been and are being developed that augment the effectiveness of chemotherapies treating cancer, relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis, lower blood pressure, help children recover from diarrhea, treat inflammatory Crohn's disease, reduce blood cholesterol, promote bone repair, and reduce acne. Of particular interest to psoriasis and inflammatory skin sufferers, concentrated whey proteins hold promise for their ability to selectively suppress immunity and block inflammatory factors implicated in the disease.

Whey—The Historical Health Cocktail

Historically, fermented whey, called syra in Icelandic, was used as a marinade, food preservative, and beer-like beverage by settlers of Iceland (AD 874–930). In nineteenth century Scotland, when the Temperance Movement was strong, the fermented whey drink known as blaand escaped the same ire prohibitionists heaped on whiskey and ale because of blaand's well-known medicinal properties.

The health benefits of whey have been recognized for centuries. At present, research is revealing and early clinical trials are proving the extent of those benefits, with evidence for more beneficial applications promising to be discovered.

Whey Proteins and Whatnot—Complex Composition with Complex Actions

Curds and whey are products common to the cheese-making process. In many cheese-making operations in the recent past whey has been thought of as a waste product and underutilized. Modern whey production, however, for the nutraceutical industry has become a highly refined, commercial process in its own right, capable of turning out very pure and specific whey products.

The whey component of milk comprises the liquid medium from which the curds (caseins) are separated. Approximately 20% of all proteins found in whole milk from cows are whey proteins, with the remaining 80% in the caseins. Separation is accomplished by various methods but in making sweet whey, casein is curdled through the addition of a rennet extract containing chymosin, the active enzyme ingredient of rennet.

Once separated, liquid whey has a protein concentration of about 65%, and also contains lactose (a milk sugar), vitamins, and minerals. Through a number of advanced processing technologies, including ultra-filtration, micro-filtration, ion exchange, and reverse osmosis, whey proteins are isolated and concentrated for study, and food additive and dietary supplement uses.

Depending on the processing method, there are six major whey protein isolates:

  • ß-lactoglobulin
  • a-lactalbumin
  • glycomacropeptide
  • proteose peptone 3
  • immunoglobulin
  • serum albumin

Minor proteins are found in much lower concentrations, 1% or less and near the limits of recovery in some cases, but exhibit potent and important bioactivities. These include:

  • lactoferrin (Lf)
  • lactoperoxidase (LPO)
  • and a number of growth factors, including the family of transforming growth factor ß (TGF-ß’s I, II, III) and insulin-like growth factors (IGF-I and II).

Whey for Treatment of Mild to Moderate Psoriasis

The benefits conferred on patients with mild to moderate psoriasis from treatments formulated from whey extracts, while apparent, are not clearly understood. BSWE has proven effective in limited participation clinical trials including both major and minor sweet whey isolates. A possible mode of activity is through contributing cysteine-rich proteins for the synthesis of the potent antioxidant glutathione.

Cysteine is an active reducing agent that serves to prevent oxidation and tissue damage. Glutathione is synthesized in the body from the amino acids glycine, glutamic acid, and cysteine. Lactoferrin, one of the minor protein isolates, is rich in each of these essential amino acids.

In mouse studies, lactoferrin demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties through the regulation of a key signaling cytokine regulating systemic inflammation and T-cell activation. Another minor sweet whey isolate is known to reduce epithelial cell proliferation.

Whey—a Superfood?

Whey as a functional food is often classified as a superfood for the varied benefits it affords. It has long been a staple in the training regimes of athletes, and is found in sports drinks and protein supplements designed to increase muscle mass and strength profiles. Whey's easily available amino acids make efficient substrates for new proteins and tissues. In athletic training regimes, whey's anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory benefits appear to reduce tissue damage and support muscle growth.

So, is whey a good nutrient for skin inflammation sufferers? The answer may suprise you! Dairy is a tricky substance when it comes to chronic disease and skin conditions. We strongly advocate limiting or removing cow's milk and whey consumption for those with skin conditions. Years of clinical experience and decades of substantiated research have far too often shown a skin and health benefit by limiting or removing animal protein or casein from one’s diet.

Whey in the Future

Challenges still exist in the use of whey in the treatment and prevention of a myriad array of health conditions. Whey proteins have shown particular utility in augmenting established therapies by adding their own particular bioactive characteristics.

One particular challenge is identifying additional therapeutic characteristics in the treatment of psoriasis and inflammatory skin conditions. Discovering new technologies for fractionating and isolating potently bioactive minor proteins to exploit their utility in commercially available quantities is another. Recombinant technologies that synthesize these small wonders are likely to increase in answer to this particular challenge. A recombinant human lactoferrin is currently available.

U.S. regulatory agencies have a mixed record in ensuring our long-term food and pharmacological safety. The benefits and the promise of sweet whey proteins are encouraging. XP-828L should be closely watched, particularly by those of us interested in the safe, natural, and effective treatment of inflammatory conditions, such as psoriasis. We believe that highly-refined sweet whey protein seems to have more in common with chemical substances than food. In our opinion, more peer-reviewed clinical trials and greater understanding is needed before DermaHarmony will support whey protein isolate as a supplement that is safe and beneficial in the treatment of skin disorders.

How We Help

At DermaHarmony, our goals are to educate chronic skin care suffers about dermatology, share what contributes to health and wellness, and support our readers in any way we can. We manufacture and sell two soaps in our store that help with a variety of skin conditions. They're worth consideration if you have a condition that can be helped with pyrithione zinc, sulfur, or salicylic acid.


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bookBioactive Sweet Whey Protein—Reference Documents and Further Reading


Principal Author: C. Lucida, DermaHarmony Science Editor
Date of Publication: 03/12/2010
Updated: 01/30/2018