Invited review: Whey proteins as antioxidants and promoters of cellular antioxidant pathways

J Dairy Sci. 2018 Jun;101(6):4747-4761. doi: 10.3168/jds.2017-13618. Epub 2018 Mar 28.


Oxidative stress contributes to cell injury and aggravates several chronic diseases. Dietary antioxidants help the body to fight against free radicals and, therefore, avoid or reduce oxidative stress. Recently, proteins from milk whey liquid have been described as antioxidants. This review summarizes the evidence that whey products exhibit radical scavenging activity and reducing power. It examines the processing and treatment attempts to increase the antioxidant bioactivity and identifies 1 enzyme, subtilisin, which consistently produces the most potent whey fractions. The review compares whey from different milk sources and puts whey proteins in the context of other known food antioxidants. However, for efficacy, the antioxidant activity of whey proteins must not only survive processing, but also upper gut transit and arrival in the bloodstream, if whey products are to promote antioxidant levels in target organs. Studies reveal that direct cell exposure to whey samples increases intracellular antioxidants such as glutathione. However, the physiological relevance of these in vitro assays is questionable, and evidence is conflicting from dietary intervention trials, with both rats and humans, that whey products can boost cellular antioxidant biomarkers.

Keywords: antioxidant activity; bioactive peptides; oxidative stress; whey products; whey proteins.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Whey Proteins / chemistry
  • Whey Proteins / pharmacology*


  • Antioxidants
  • Whey Proteins
  • Glutathione