diabetes test diabetes test A study found that diabetics who consume whey protein before breakfast saw more regulated insulin levels. (Photo: Image Point FR / Shutterstock)

Whey protein a beneficial tool in diabetes treatment, new study says

Research out of Israel suggests that consuming the protein before meals can help diabetics control their blood-sugar levels.

Whey protein, a substance commonly used to help athletes improve performance and muscle tone, can also be used to help diabetics control their insulin levels and improve their quality of life, according to new research conducted in Israel.

The study, published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, says patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes who consumed the protein before breakfast saw their blood glucose levels regulated after the meal. Normally, those levels tend to spike after meals.

The study was conducted by Professor Daniela Jakubowicz and Dr. Julio Wainstein of Wolfson Medical Center at Tel Aviv University; Professor Oren Froy of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and Professor Bo Ahrén of Lund University in Sweden. They found that consumption of whey protein stimulates the production of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which in turn stimulates insulin production.

whey proteinWhey protein can be found in most health-food stores and can be blended with shakes or drinks. (Photo: Anil Wadghule/Flickr)

The researchers examined the test subjects at half-hour intervals after a regular breakfast. After 180 minutes, they found that whey protein consumption reduced patients’ glucose levels by 28 percent on average.

“Whey protein may therefore represent a novel approach for enhancing glucose-lowering strategies in type 2 diabetes,” Jakubowicz said.

Another notable finding of the study was in early insulin response – how the body’s insulin levels change in the first 30 minutes after eating. The study showed that the early insulin response in subjects who consumed whey protein was 96 percent higher than those in the control group, who didn’t. This is important, Jakubowicz explained, because the loss of early insulin response is closely linked to the post-meal blood-sugar rise. This response is why diabetics often need to inject themselves with insulin immediately after meals.

Carbohydrate-rich meals tend to increase blood sugar in both diabetics and non-diabetics, but the difference is how the body responds to them. In diabetics, the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin on its own to counter the spikes, so patients are often prescribed insulin injections or medication. This study doesn't suggest whey protein as a replacement for those treatments; it is suggested as a tool to improve diabetics' overall health.

Jakubowicz said prescribing whey protein to diabetics would be inexpensive and efficient, as patients can buy whey protein at most health-food stores and choose whichever brand they prefer, as long as it has no added sugar or other nutrients.

The authors plan to follow up the study with a larger clinical trial to test their results over a long period.

This is not the first study linking whey to better health for diabetics. A similar report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005 compared the effects of eating a high-glycemic-index meal with or without whey supplementation on blood-sugar levels after the meal and found a reduction in spikes. In another Tel Aviv University study, in 2012, researchers found that whey was beneficial in preventing obesity, in addition to controlling type 2 diabetes.

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