Whey Protein Shown Helpful for the Liver

By Jessica Patella, ND abstracted from “Effects of whey protein supplementation on intrahepatocellular lipids in obese female patients” In the 2011 issue of Clinical Nutrition.

Key words: Whey Protein, Obesity, Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is characterized by increased fat cells in the liver (1). In most people, it causes no signs or symptoms, but it is more common in obese patients (1, 2). It is estimated that 3% of Americans have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, but that number increases to 25% in obese Americans (3). Recent research suggests that a high protein diet may improve non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in obese patients (1).

Recent research included eleven obese females (219.8 +/- 11.7 lbs; aged 36-40 yrs) with an average Body Mass Index (BMI) of 37.6 +/- 1.8 kg/m2. All participants took an oral glucose tolerance test (75g glucose) with blood glucose and insulin measured at 0 and 120 minutes (1). Three participants had 2-hour glucose readings greater than140 mg/dl, indicating impaired glucose tolerance, before whey protein supplementation began.

The study was an open label, unblinded, uncontrolled study, meaning both the researchers and the participants knew that the participants were taking whey protein and there was not a control group. Participants were instructed to take one bag (20g) of whey protein diluted into 300ml of water 30 minutes before breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their intake totaled 60g of whey protein per day. The participants took the whey protein supplementation for 4 weeks (1).

After 4weeks of whey protein supplementation:

• Intrahepatocellular lipid levels (amount of fat in the liver cells) decreased by 20.8 +/- 7.7%, p=0.017
• Fasting triglycerides decreased by 15.0 +/- 6.9%, p=0.020
• Total serum cholesterol decreased by 7.3 +/- 2.7%, p=0.024
• The fasting and 2-hour blood glucose and insulin levels did not change (1).

It is not completely understood how the intrahepatocellular lipids, triglycerides, and total cholesterol decreased. It is possible the whey protein drink resulted in increased satiety before meals, therefore leading to a decrease in carbohydrate and fat intake during the meal (1). Further research needs to be conducted, with more participants, to determine how this change occurred.

In conclusion, supplementation with whey protein over 4weeks significantly decreased intrahepatic (liver) and fasting serum cholesterol levels (1). This suggests that a diet high in protein, in the long term, may reduce the risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease in obese patients (1).

Jessica Patella, ND, is the founder of Sarasota Natural Health LLC and specializes in homeopathic medicine. She offers a holistic approach to health, inspiring and empowering her clients to lead lives of optimal health and wellness. To learn more, visit www.sarasotanaturalhealth.com


1. Bortolotti M, et al. Effects of whey protein supplementation on intrahepatocellular lipids in obese female patients. Clinical Nutrition. 2011, doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2011.01.006
2. Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/DS00577
3. Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Cleveland Clinic. http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/hepatology/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/