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Weighing Whey as a Way to Fight High Blood Pressure

PULLMAN, Wash. — Whey protein, a by-product of cheese-making, may be one way to help lower the blood pressure of those with hypertension, and at the same time, help dairy producers boost the bottom line, according to a team of researchers at Washington State University.

Working with a grant from the Washington Dairy Products Commission, a team of WSU scientists is ready to begin human trials of a whey protein-based beverage that has the potential for lowering blood pressure. Whey protein concentrate is treated with an enzyme to break the proteins into smaller units called bioactive peptides. The beverage will contain higher levels of those peptides than regular milk.

“In the U.S. alone, drugs to fight high blood pressure cost about $15 billion a year,” said Terry Shultz, team leader and nutrition professor in the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “At the same time, the U.S. dairy industry is struggling with how to dispose of some 360 million pounds of whey protein. Our study hopes to address both issues.”

Evidence already exists that links consumption of the bioactive peptides in whey protein with lower blood pressure in lab animals. According to Shultz, the peptides reportedly work by inhibiting creation of the substance in the body that leads to constriction of parts of the circulatory system. They also may play a role in keeping blood platelets from coagulating and in lowering cholesterol.

Food Science Professors Stephanie Clark and Joe Powers, who are members of the study team, worked with graduate student Lance Schwarzkopf and undergraduate student Pei-Shan Kuo to create the hypotensive beverage. The drink contains the bioactive peptides and will come in a variety of flavors. For the study, it will be manufactured at the WSU Creamery on the Pullman campus.

If the human trials establish the drink as a viable way to prevent and correct high blood pressure, the benefits will not only be in the realm of human health. Shultz said the financial impact on the state’s dairy industry may be substantial.

“Right now, the dairy industry nationally only uses about 70 percent of the whey produced by cheese-making and other dairy food processing,” he said. “Disposal of that other 30 percent is difficult and costly. Decreasing the expense of waste disposal alone will help the bottom line of most producers, let alone the increased profit from a new value-added product.”

WSU students between 18 and 40 years old, with pre-hypertension or hypertension, can earn cash by drinking the beverage daily. Details are at www.hws.wsu.edu. The aim of the study is to evaluate the effectiveness of the beverage as a dietary treatment for hypertension.

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