Can You Use Whey Protein Supplements if You’re Lactose Intolerant?

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istock_000012334058xsmallWhey protein supplements are popular among athletes, bodybuilders and people who work out. Whey is one of two forms of protein that comes from cow’s milk. Casein protein is the other. Whey protein may offer some benefits when it comes to controlling appetite and losing weight. Research shows it boosts insulin and sensitivity of two appetite suppressing hormones, CCK and GLP-1. In animals, whey increases the use of fat as fuel during exercise while preserving lean body mass. It’s also easily absorbed and readily used by the body. On the other hand, people with lactose intolerance who can’t tolerate milk products sometimes shy away from whey since it’s derived from milk. Should you avoid whey protein if you’re lactose intolerant?

Whey Protein Supplements and Lactose Intolerance

First of all, not everyone needs to use whey protein supplements. It’s easier and cheaper to get protein naturally from food sources. There’s also little evidence that athletes or bodybuilders need to take protein supplements. The RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, which most people get from eating a healthy diet. Athletes and bodybuilders may need a little more than this. Some experts recommend that athletes get as much as 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight. You can get this by eating lean meat sources, low-fat dairy, eggs and vegetarian sources of protein. But if you don’t get enough protein in your diet, whey is a high-quality protein source that the body can easily use for muscle growth and repair. Adding a scoop of whey protein to a smoothie makes it more filling and helps to suppress appetite for hours after drinking it. It also helps with muscle recovery and repair after strength training.

The good news is you can probably use whey protein supplements even if you’re lactose intolerant. People who are lactose intolerant have problems absorbing the carbohydrate lactose in dairy products. This is because they don’t produce enough of the enzyme that breaks it down. When people with lactose intolerance consume dairy products, the lactose remains in their intestinal tract unabsorbed. Bacteria ferment it, and they usually develop diarrhea, bloating or crampy abdominal pain.

According to the Whey Protein Institute, people with lactose intolerance should choose whey protein isolate rather than whey protein concentrates. Whey protein isolate has less than 0.1 gram of lactose per tablespoon, an amount that most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate without developing symptoms. Stay away from whey protein concentrates if you’re lactose intolerant. They contain significantly more lactose than whey protein isolate does.

If you have an allergy to cow’s milk, whey protein in any form isn’t safe to use. When you’re allergic to milk, your body produces antibodies against milk proteins. This causes histamine release, which triggers a series of symptoms that can include hives, chest tightness, difficult breathing, wheezing, diarrhea or vomiting. In severe cases, it can be a life-threatening emergency. Steer clear of whey protein if you have a milk allergy.

The Bottom Line?

If you’re intolerant to milk due to lactase deficiency, you may be able to use a whey protein isolate without developing symptoms. If you have an allergy to milk or dairy products, supplements containing whey or casein proteins aren’t safe.

References:
Life Extension Magazine. “How Whey Protein Promotes Weight Loss”
Medscape.com. “Whey Protein May Be Helpful for Weight Loss”

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