Sunday, October 4, 2009

A food or a supplement?

I’ve been at the International College of Integrative Medicine conference this weekend.  This is a group of both traditional and non-traditional medical professionals who take a very biochemical approach to medicine.  This leads them to care a lot about diet because its probably one of the variables that most influences our body chemistry that we can actually control.  These are very smart people and I started out feeling a bit daunting to be there with our whey products when I’m neither an MD nor a PhD.  I ended up learning a lot and am really convinced that I’m absolutely on the right track with our products and proud of what we’ve accomplished.


One of the most thought provoking issues that hit me at the conference was what is the role of a whey product like ours that is naturally good for you versus products that isolate various components from whey and deliver them separately.  Whey protein, processed the way we do, contains lots of protein, the most complete branch chain amino acids available in a protein, trace minerals, immunoglobulin’s, cysteine that the body converts into glutathione, lactoferrin, glycomacropeptides, alpha and beta lactalbumens.  All of these things are good for us.  It is, however, possible to buy products that consist of each of these things in isolation, or various combinations of the components that have been engineered to be “optimal” for some purpose.  So which is better and for what? “Optimized” products or one that preserves the integrity of the whole that nature presented us with?


My “green” inclination is to say that we run into problems when we try to engineer things to work better than they appear in nature.  Yes we can accelerate the process of natural selection by gene transfer instead of traditional plant breeding techniques, but is the result something we really feel comfortable having in our food chain?  Yes it is possible to go on line and order a packet of alphalactalbumen, but what is the benefit of consuming that product absent all of the other components of milk that would naturally accompany the alphalactalbumen? 


The issue becomes more confusing when we’re faced with a situation where most of us are living lives of bioaccumulation of toxins in our environment and bodies, to a degree and at a speed that nature clearly didn’t intend.  Does that mean we should ignore natural alternatives in favor of more isolated solutions when we suspect that we know they will work?  For example, there is mounting evidence that kids with autism tend to be deficient in glutathione, the body’s powerful antioxidant.  This makes them highly sensitive to toxins in their environment and food.  There was a product at the expo, a syrup for kids, that was designed specifically to produce glutathione.  Our whey protein contains cysteine which the body converts into glutathione.  Which is better?


The sales rep for the product said that kids with autism are allergic to dairy and have guts that can’t absorb cysteine, and that their product delivered higher levels of glutathione than whey products do.  Alternatively, I had docs tell me that kids with autism tend to be allergic to casine but don’t have problems with whey protein, and that they wanted those kids to get the benefits of the other things that occur in whey protein and not just the glutathione.  They pleaded with me to submit our products to clinical research trials.


While I understand their dilemma, I struggle because I know how difficult it is to do a controlled study of something like the affects of dietary use of whey protein.  Unless we can control everything people are eating and are exposed to over a long period of time, it is very difficult to obtain scientifically reliable results.  This is the same reason it has been hard to document the health benefits of eating organic versus conventionally produced foods. 


All of which leads me to think that there are times when common sense may be the best approach.  Maybe we can think of food as creating an environment in which both health and disease are incubated.  When we keep our body chemistry healthy eating clean foods like whey protein, we create a climate in our body that can prevent the occurrence of more severe problems.  When severe problems occur, the body is better armed if we’re eating well than if we’re not. 


So maybe kids with autism could benefit from both eating whey protein and taking a supplement to further increase their glutathione?  Maybe that means that a natural whey protein like teraswhey is really a food not a supplement?  Hmmm.