Whey protein never fails to amaze and surprise me for its long list of potential benefits. One unexpected benefit of whey may be that of a mood elevator and antidepressant. This effect of whey is actually not a new finding. I wrote about that in an article on how whey may assist weight loss in LEF magazine almost a decade ago, but it deserves its own discussion I think.
Whey may elevate mood modulating levels of the crucial neurotransmitter serotonin. From my previous article “…Serotonin is involved in a wide range of psychological and biological functions, and influences mood, anxiety, and appetite. Healthy levels of serotonin are correlated with relaxation, calm, and an improved ability to cope with stress, whereas lower levels are associated with depression, anxiety, and poor appetite control.
Since serotonin is derived from the dietary amino acid tryptophan, scientists have speculated that increasing dietary tryptophan might increase serotonin levels. A recent study conducted in the Netherlands examined whether supplementing the diet with whey-derived alpha-lactalbumin, a tryptophan-rich whey constituent, would influence plasma tryptophan levels, reduce depression, or modulate concentrations of cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone.”
The Dutch investigators examined 29 highly stress-vulnerable subjects and 29 relatively stress-invulnerable subjects using a double-blind, placebo-controlled study design. After consuming a diet enriched with either whey-derived alpha-lactalbumin or sodium caseinate, the participants were exposed to experimental stress. Following the stressor, the scientists assessed diet-induced changes in plasma tryptophan and its ratio to other large neutral amino acids, as well as changes in mood, pulse rate, and cortisol concentrations.