How to Use Whey Protein for Pain Relief

Although whey has a long history as a medicinal drink, using whey protein for pain relief may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet it fights pain while it builds both muscles and antioxidants.

Whey proteins have been shown to have pain-killing properties. And, whey increases muscle strength, raises glutathione levels, heals the gut, and modulates immune response.

A 2009 article in Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin1 states, “The biological components of whey demonstrate a range of immune-enhancing properties. In addition, whey has the ability to act as an antioxidant, antihypertensive, antitumor, hypolipidemic, antiviral, antibacterial, and chelating agent.”

Clinical trials have been performed for conditions including cancer, hepatitis B, HIV, cardiovascular risk factors, exercise training, and infantile colic.



What is Whey?

Whey is a dairy product, a fraction of milk. Milk curdles or sours to “curds and whey.”

Curds are solid and contain the milk proteins collectively called “casein.”

Whey is the liquid remainder and contains other milk proteins with known health benefits.

Whey proteins, listed in order of volume, include: beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, immunoglobulins, bovine serum albumin, and lactoferrin.​

Anti-inflammatory and analgesic

Two proteins in undenatured whey have been identified in experiments with rats as having pain-killing properties.

Alpha-lactalbumin is about 25% of whey protein. It is an anti-inflammatory and COX-2 inhibitor2. In animal experiments, it reduced pain in rats.

Lactoferrin is only about 2% of whey protein but is believed to be powerful in tiny doses. It also was analgesic in rat experiments.



Whey Protein for Pain

How whey can help resolve pain:

  • Acts as an anti-inflammatory
  • Increases muscle strength
  • Increases glutathione production
  • Heals the gut and other mucous membranes
  • Modulates the immune system

Pain can be resolved as your immune system normalizes and muscles become stronger.

Your body uses the amino acids of whey as nutrition to heal itself.

Not all forms of milk are therapeutic

The forms of milk that are therapeutic are:

  • Raw milk
  • Raw whey
  • Undenatured whey protein powder
  • Non-denatured whey protein powder

Raw milk is available commercially in only a few states.​

Fortunately, undenatured and non-denatured whey powders are easily obtainable. They are in fact more concentrated than raw whey.

Undenatured and non-denatured whey preserves proteins

Non-denatured or undenatured whey is processed to preserve the therapeutic components of raw milk whey.

As a 2004 article in Alternative Medicine Review3 puts it, “Undenatured whey provides the highest concentration of intact native proteins such as lactoferrin and immunoglobulins for immune modulation.”

Unfortunately, most commercial whey protein powders (as sold for body building or used in processed foods) are denatured, through pasteurization, hydrolization, and other processes. The therapeutic proteins have been damaged or destroyed–that is, denatured.

Denatured whey may not only lack therapeutic benefit, the damaged proteins may actually be toxic!

Unless a whey powder is (accurately) labeled as non-denatured or undenatured, we need to assume that it has been denatured in processing.



Undenatured Whey Builds Glutathione

The benefits of whey are thought to be due to its ability to boost glutathione, a powerful antioxidant made by the body.

The Korean Journal for Food Science of Animal Resources in a 2015 article4 described the role of glutathione as “cellular protection and repair processes.”

You can imagine its role in: tissue repair, removing toxic substances, repairing the liver, building muscle, doing everything mentioned on this page, and much more.

Why not just take glutathione itself? Unfortunately, it’s ineffective when taken orally.

Glutathione is a building block of glutathione peroxidase

The body uses its glutathione to make the enzyme glutathione peroxidase.

Glutathione peroxidase is a major antioxidant enzyme. It protects cell membranes from toxic damage and preserves liver function.

The benefits of glutathione are thought to be from the actions of glutathione peroxidase.​

Undenatured whey contains glutathione precursors

Undenatured whey contains high levels of glutamylcysteine (or glutamylcystine), which is a dipeptide, one kind of chain of amino acids.

You use this dipeptide to create glutathione within the cells of your body.



Whey Improves Muscle Performance

Undenatured whey has been shown to improve muscle performance in clinical trials.

At the same time, whey’s amino acid profile is described as ideal (in the 2004 Alternative Medicine Review article5) to “support protein synthesis and muscle growth.” That is, whey proteins are ideal nutrition for building muscle.

A 1999 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology6 gave subjects either undenatured whey or casein for three months. Taking whey compared to casein resulted in:

  • 35% increase in glutathione in lymphocyte blood cells
  • 13% increase in “peak power” in a cycling test
  • 12% increase in “work achieved” in the cycling test




Whey has a “protective effect on the gastric mucosa,” according to the 2004 Alternative Medicine Review article7. That is: it protects and heals the inside of the gut.

Gut damage may be the ultimate source of many autoimmune and other painful processes.

The Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin article8 identifies alpha-lactalbumin as the component that reduced ulcers in rat experiments, and notes that it “fortifies the mucus gel layer.”

Immune system

A number of the components of whey protein are described as immune-modulating, that is, helping the immune system to react when needed and not to overreact.

These components include the dipeptides that lead to glutathione synthesis; alpha-lactalbumin; immunoglobulins; and likely others.



Action Steps

“Non-denatured” and “undenatured” whey protein powders are not typical, commercial whey protein concentrates or isolates. They’ve been processed in a special and more expensive way, in order to avoid damaging the therapeutic milk proteins.

Is it non-denatured?

How can you tell if a whey is non-denatured / undenatured?

  • It should be accurately labeled as non-denatured or undenatured.
  • The manufacturer should be able to answer questions about the manufacturing process.
  • There should be no other ingredients (such as fillers, gums, or chemical-sounding ingredients).
  • There should be no more than trace amounts of lactose or casein.
  • There should be no off taste masked by sweeteners.


These are the brands I have personal experience with. I know that both work.

Because the manufacturing processes are different, the products are somewhat different.

Both state that the milk is from grass-fed cows, GMO-free, and free of pesticides, chemicals, and hormone treatments.

Vital Whey / ImmunoPro

Vital Whey (Natural flavor) and ImmunoPro are identical non-denatured wheys made by Well Wisdom.

  • Non-denatured
  • The process begins with raw milk; pasteurized by ultrafiltration rather than by heat
  • Packaged in plastic tubs and bags

​All Well Wisdom whey products use the identical “Proserum” whey. There is no need to buy the more expensive ImmunoPro rather than the cheaper VitalWhey unless you want a smaller bottle.

“Natural” flavor (flavoring free) recommended

Available from the manufacturer: Well Wisdom

Available at a discount from iHerb and other online retailers.


Immunocal is an undenatured whey made by Immunotec.

  • Undenatured
  • The process begins with whey as a byproduct of cheese making. Damaged proteins are removed by filtration in the course of processing.
  • Packaged in sealed pouches

Immunocal is the whey product that was used in the published clinical trials.

It is a medical food listed in the Physician’s Desk Reference.​

It is sold through multiple level marketing.

However, I can recommend an excellent distributor with low prices, excellent customer service, and excellent information sources:

Nutrition Advisor

Which is better?

They are somewhat different, so one might be better than the other for certain circumstances.

Reportedly, analysis showed two to six times the amount of certain “bioactive proteins” in the Well Wisdom product. Since Well Wisdom begins with raw milk, it is likely that some proteins are preserved in their product that are lost in Immunocal.

However, all the clinical trials showing increased glutathione and other benefits were done with Immunocal.

Immunocal comes in sealed pouches, whereas Well Wisdom comes in tubs and bags. Reportedly, these products begin deteriorating as soon as they leave the factory and the deterioration is accelerated by storage in tubs and bags.

In my personal experience, I have found Immunocal to be an overall better product. I thought that the Well Wisdom product is about 75% as effective as Immunocal for the chemical sensitivity issues that I was using it for. When, however, I switched to Well Wisdom because of cost, I did have to “get used” to the Well Wisdom product as if it had some extra activity.

What to expect

Building glutathione

Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant made by the body; many people are not making enough glutathione. Undenatured whey has been clinically shown to raise glutathione levels.

If you are lacking glutathione, you may have an immediate powerful response, either positive or negative, or a positive response that becomes a negative experience.

I’d expect you to be lacking glutathione if you have autoimmune diseases, allergies and intolerances, mystery conditions, chronic illnesses of all kinds, or chronic pain.

In that case, you should start with very small amounts, such as 1/4 tsp. per day.

If you don’t need glutathione, you would have no reaction either way.

Muscle strength

An increase in strength would become noticeable over months.

The clinical trials used 10 g. twice a day for three months.

How to take

I believe this is one of the most individual of the pain-fighting foods in terms of how much to take and how long a trial should be.

Unless your pain problem is very straightforward (in which case you probably wouldn’t be here), I recommend building up from 1/4 tsp. per day.

People often take 10 g. to 60 g. per day depending on their condition and their response.

An average trial might be 20 g.  per day for 6 months.

Other whey products

A trusted expert source reports that the Source Naturals products are similar to Well Wisdom products.

I had first-hand reports of improvement by highly sensitive people from the other products.

Source Naturals

  • True Whey “non-denatured,” contains vanilla flavor and stevia
  • Whey to Health, certified organic

Garden of Life

  • Goatein, contains vanilla and lo han fruit concentrate

Mt. Capra

  • Capra Mineral Whey​



Vital Whey / ImmunoPro

Well Wisdom

Whey Protein Comparison

Vital Whey (Natural) and ImmunoPro are the same product.

Also available from


Nutrition Advisor
A good distributor of Immunocal.

Frequently Asked Questions: Immune-Enhancing Bioactive Whey Proteins

PDR entry for Immunocal Powder Sachets (Immunotec)




Frequently Asked Questions: Immune-Enhancing Bioactive Whey Proteins
Nutrition Advisor

PDR Entry for Immunocal Powder Sachets (Immunotec)

Whey Protein Comparison
Well Wisdom

Founder’s Story
Well Wisdom

Medical Journal Articles

Every link leads to free full text, except as noted. In some cases, to get to the full text, you’ll need to find and click an additional PDF or full text link .

PMID is the ID number in the free PubMed medical literature index. PMCID is the ID number in the free PubMed Central full-text archive.

Therapeutic Applications of Whey Protein (PDF)
Keri Marshall
Alternative Medicine Review 2004 June; 9(2):136-56
PMID: 15243675

Novel Functions of Bovine Milk-Derived α-Lactalbumin: Anti-Nociceptive and Anti-Inflammatory Activity Caused by Inhibiting Cyclooxygenase-2 and Phospholipase A2
Makoto Yamaguchi, Kaori Yoshida, and Masayuki Uchida
Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 2009 32(3):366-371
PMID: 19252279

The Biological Activity of Undenatured Dietary Whey Proteins: Role of Glutathione (PDF)
Gustavo Bounous and Phil Gold
Clinical and Investigative Medicine 1991 Aug; 14(4):296-309
PMID: 1782728

Biochemical Properties of Peptides Encrypted in Bovine Milk Proteins
Hans Meisel
Current Medicinal Chemistry 2005; 12:1623-1629
PMID: 1610159

Glutathione and Lymphocyte Activation: A Function of Ageing and Auto-immune Disease
R.K. Fidelus and M. F. Tsan
Immunology 1987 61:503-508
PMID: 3443453
PMCID: PMC1453448

The Effect of Whey Protein Supplementation With and Without Creatine Monohydrate Combined With Resistance Training on Lean Tissue Mass and Muscle Strength
Darren G. Burke, Philip D. Chilibeck, K. Shawn Davison, Darren G. Candow, Jon Farthing, and Truis Smith-Palmer
International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 2001, 11, 349-364
PMID: 11591884

Effect of Supplementation with a Cysteine Donor on Muscular Performance
L.C Lands, V.L. Grey, and A.A. Smountas
Journal of Applied Physiology 1999 Oct; 87(4):1381-5
PMID: 10517767

Bioactive Peptides in Milk and Dairy Products: A Review
Young Woo Park and Myoung Soo Nam
Korean Journal for Food Science of Animal Resources 2015 35(6):831-840
PMID: 26877644
PMCID: PMC4726964

Effects of Whey Isolate, Creatine, and Resistance Training on Muscle Hypertrophy
P.J. Cribb, A.D. Williams, C.G. Stathis, M.F. Carey, A. Hayes
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2007 Feb; 39(2):298-307
PMID: 17277594
(Abstract only is free.)