The immune system needs a large amount of high-quality protein every day to perform repairs and make new T-cells, hormones and antioxidant enzymes. These enzymes help to protect cells from the damaging effects of highly active molecules called "free-radicals." Research suggests that HIV infection increases the demand for antioxidants, a demand that the body is unable to meet on its own.
To increase the body's ability to make antioxidants, researchers have been conducting studies on people with HIV, giving them supplements of high-quality protein called "whey protein." Made from cow's milk, whey protein is a combination of proteins that are easy to digest.
For their two-week study, German researchers enrolled 30 HIV positive subjects (5 female, 25 male) who had an average of 221 CD4+ cells. Subjects took 15 grams of whey protein powder three times daily, for a total of 45 grams per day. They mixed the powder in milk, yoghurt or buttermilk. Researchers gave subjects one of two brands of whey protein:
- Immunocal (made by Immunotech in Vandreuil, Quebec, Canada)
- Protectamin (made by Fresenius Kabi in Bad Hamburg, Germany)
When the results of both treatments were analysed together, researchers found that on average, levels of the body's major antioxidant, GSH (glutathione), increased by about 32% after two weeks in all subjects. The study was not designed to find out if one brand of whey protein was better than the other. Long-term studies are needed to confirm and extend these findings.
Notes on Brand Names
Given the many brands of protein powder available, choosing one is not easy. We encourage interested readers to develop a relationship with knowledgeable staff at your local health food store. These people can answer your questions about different brands and prices of whey protein supplements.
European Journal of Clinical Investigation 2001;31(2):171-178