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Milk protein for improved metabolic health: a review of the evidence

Robin A McGregor12* and Sally D Poppitt1234

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland 1010, New Zealand

2 University of Auckland Human Nutrition Unit, 18 Carrick Place, Mt Eden, Auckland 1024, New Zealand

3 Department of Medicine, University of Auckland, Auckland 1010, New Zealand

4 Riddet Institute, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand

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Nutrition & Metabolism 2013, 10:46  doi:10.1186/1743-7075-10-46

Published: 3 July 2013


Epidemiological evidence shows that consumption of dairy products is associated with decreased prevalence of metabolic related disorders, whilst evidence from experimental studies points towards dairy protein as a dietary component which may aid prevention of type 2 diabetes (T2DM). Poor metabolic health is a common characteristic of overweight, obesity and aging, and is the forerunner of T2DM and cardiovascular disease (CVD), and an ever increasing global health issue. Progressive loss of metabolic control is evident from a blunting of carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism, which is commonly manifested through decreased insulin sensitivity, inadequate glucose and lipid control, accompanied by a pro-inflammatory environment and hypertension. Adverse physiological changes such as excess visceral adipose tissue deposition and expansion, lipid overspill and infiltration into liver, muscle and other organs, and sarcopaenia or degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass and function all underpin this adverse profile. ‘Sarcobesity’ and sarcopaenic diabetes are rapidly growing health issues. As well as through direct mechanisms, dairy protein may indirectly improve metabolic health by aiding loss of body weight and fat mass through enhanced satiety, whilst promoting skeletal muscle growth and function through anabolic effects of dairy protein-derived branch chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAAs enhance muscle protein synthesis, lean body mass and skeletal muscle metabolic function. The composition and processing of dairy protein has an impact on digestion, absorption, BCAA kinetics and function, hence the optimisation of dairy protein composition through selection and combination of specific protein components in milk may provide a way to maximize benefits for metabolic health.

Dairy protein; Milk; Whey protein; Metabolic health; Hyperglycaemia; Dyslipidaemia; Blood pressure; Inflammation; Body weight