The prevalence of diabetes in 2019 was estimated to be over 9% of the global population, with projections that this will rise to over 10% by 2030 and almost 11% by 2045. These figures are also reflected in those with impaired glucose tolerance, at an estimated 7.5% of the global population and growth rates anticipated around the same (Saeedi et al, 2019).
Postprandial hyperglycemia (the increase in blood glucose after consuming a meal) is a major determinant of overall glycemic control and an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Co-ingesting protein and carbohydrates can favorably influence blood glucose response to a meal, and whey protein is particularly beneficial in this realm, hence has gained increased attention for its potential role either with a meal or as a pre-load.
While whey has been shown previously to be particularly beneficial in reducing postprandial hyperglycemia in younger adults, the question remained – is this also effective in older adults who are predisposed to type 2 diabetes? This question was answered recently by researchers in Australia and New Zealand Oberoi et al (2022).
Ten healthy younger men (~29 years) and 10 older men (~78 years) were recruited in a randomized double-blind crossover study, in which they consumed drinks containing either 30g glucose, 30g whey protein, 30g whey protein plus 30g glucose or flavored water as a control. Blood glucose, plasma insulin and glucagon concentrations were measured for 180 min afterwards.
The results showed that co-ingestion of protein with glucose significantly reduced the increase in blood glucose concentrations compared to glucose alone in both younger and older men (see graph). Furthermore, it had a synergistic effect on increases in insulin concentration, regardless of age. Peak insulin concentrations after protein were unaffected by age.
The real-world potential application for this study was summed up in the researchers conclusion that “the ability of whey protein to reduce carbohydrate-induced postprandial hyperglycemia is retained in older men and that protein supplementation may be a useful strategy in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes in older people.”
Furthermore, whey protein can also help maintain the body’s key metabolic tissue, skeletal muscle. This is especially important with an aging population and, given whey protein’s widespread availability and ease of use in the diet, can be easily incorporated into the diet for multiple, synergistic health benefits.
Saeedi et al. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2019;157:107843
Oberoi et al. Nutrients. 2022;14(15):3111.