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The Advantages of Consuming Protein for Liver Health

Once associated with bodybuilders looking to increase muscle mass, protein powders actually have many applications – including helping those with some types of liver problems.

Providing your body with the ingredients needed to be at the top of your game is no easy task, especially when working around a busy schedule and chronic liver disease. There are many aspects to nutrition, but consuming sufficient quantities of protein is frequently overlooked, yet paramount to our health. Thanks to a growing body of research, protein powder is gaining recognition as a valuable source of nourishment. If you have liver disease and could benefit from greater amounts of protein, make yourself familiar with your options.

Why Protein?

Protein is an amalgamation of amino acids, substances that are needed by every one of the body’s cells. Protein is used to build and repair tissues including muscle, skin and the liver. Protein – or, more accurately, amino acids – are needed for the body to produce enzymes, hormones, blood and many other body tissues and chemicals, including the production of energy. Different than fat and carbohydrates, the body does not store protein. As such, there is no reservoir of protein when more amino acids are needed. In addition, protein tends to maintain satiety longer than other foods. As such, protein helps you feel full longer to aid in weight loss.

Those with chronic liver disease probably have been instructed to maintain a balanced diet, making sure they have adequate calories, carbohydrates, fats and proteins to assist with the regeneration of liver cells. However, the quantity of protein suggested for affected individuals will vary greatly. For example, those with cirrhosis who are malnourished require a diet that is high in protein to aid in liver regeneration. But, some with cirrhosis will have protein intolerance – where too much protein could elevate blood ammonia levels. In addition, those with advanced liver disease who also have hepatic encephalopathy must restrict their protein intake. Due to potentially different protein requirements, individuals are urged to consult with their physician or nutritionist to learn how much protein they should be consuming.

Protein Sources

Once specific protein goals are confirmed, attention turns to the best sources. Experts agree that whole food sources are the best sources of protein.

Eight great, whole food sources of protein include:

  1. Seafood – In general, seafood is an excellent source of protein because it’s typically low in saturated fat. Cold water fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are also rich in the highly beneficial, anti-inflammatory, omega-3 fatty acids.
  2. Poultry (white meat) – An excellent source of lean protein, white poultry meat seems to be a part of many weight loss diets. However, health concerns about animal feed, conditions and antibiotics imply that organic is best.
  3. Dairy – Milk, cheese and yogurt are good sources of protein and also contain calcium. Unfortunately, most dairy products also contain saturated fat and dairy is a common allergen.
  4. Eggs – A great source of protein, eggs are also a common allergen.
  5. Legumes – Including peanuts, beans, peas and lentils, legumes are a great vegetarian source of protein. Legumes also have the advantage of being packed with fiber.
  6. Pork – Lean cuts of pork are loaded with protein. Pork can be high in saturated fat, but pork tenderloin is the leanest cut.
  7. Soy – A great plant-based source of protein, soy is surrounded by controversy. Soy is believed to contain estrogens that may aggravate some types of female cancers and most of the world’s soy population is now genetically modified.
  8. Lean Beef – As long as it is a lean cut, beef has only one more gram of saturated fat than a skinless chicken breast. In addition, lean beef is an excellent source of zinc, iron, and Vitamin B12.

Protein Powders

While hitting our protein quota with whole foods is ideal, it is not always realistic. Many have realized that protein powders are an ideal way to get needed protein while living a busy lifestyle. Protein powders are:

  • Convenient
  • Portable
  • Have a long shelf life

Here is a brief list of the four most popular protein powders:

  1. Whey Protein – Derived from milk during the cheese-making process, whey protein is rich in the amino acid cysteine. Cysteine helps the body make glutathione, a key antioxidant that helps protect the liver from damage. Whey protein has the most research backing its use, proving itself as a promoter of lean muscle growth and fat loss while supporting cardiovascular and metabolic health. Whey protein is not appropriate for those who follow a vegan diet and it is a common allergen.
  2. Egg Protein – A complete protein made by separating out the yolks and dehydrating the egg whites, egg protein powders are fat-free and rich in essential vitamins and minerals. However, egg allergies are common.
  3. Soy Protein – A plant protein that offers all of the essential amino acids, soy protein comes from soybeans that have been hulled and dried into soy flour. According to some research, isoflavones – organic compounds present in soy –may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, soy may have a negative effect on hormone levels and it is often a genetically modified crop.
  4. Pea Protein – Derived from yellow split peas, pea protein is a fat and cholesterol free, vegan, plant-based protein. Pea protein has been found to slow the production of ghrelin in the stomach, helping promote weight loss. In addition, research has shown it may be beneficial to those with kidney disease because pea protein helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Fortunately, most sources of pea protein are not genetically modified and pea protein allergies are extremely rare.

Learn more about the pros and cons of certain protein drinks in the article, “Why Pea Protein Is Better.”

Protein Powder for Liver Support

Unless you have an advanced form of liver disease that specifically restricts protein intake, protein powder supplementation might be advantageous for those on-the-go. In particular, whey and pea protein offer several benefits to someone with a liver impairment:

  • Provides amino acids to help with liver regeneration and energy production (both whey and pea)
  • Boosts glutathione production to protect the liver (whey)
  • Reduces blood pressure to lessen liver stress – especially with liver scarring present (pea)
  • Increases satiety to promote weight loss and reduce fat accumulation in the liver (whey and pea)

Because it is a vegan source and there is a low allergen risk, many people with liver concerns are turning to pea protein for their nutritional needs.

The ability to support liver regeneration in the form of a single, nutritious beverage is a major benefit for managing liver disease. If carefully shopping and cooking well-balanced, protein-rich meals every day is unrealistic, consider a protein powder for helping your liver recover from any damage it has incurred. Even better, look into a comprehensive, liver nourishing protein shake to fill in for any nutritional deficiencies that could hinder your full healing ability., 4 Benefits of Pea Protein, Kevin Kutschenreuter, Retrieved January 11, 2015, Natural Healthy Concepts, 2015., How To Choose The Best Protein Powder for You, Jeremy DuVall, Retrieved January 11, 2015, DailyBurn, Inc., 2015., The Ultimate Guide to Protein Supplements, Dave Smith, Retrieved January 10, 2015, Greatist, 2015., Which Legumes Are Protein?, Corinne Goff, Retrieved January 11, 2015, Demand Media, 2015., Nutrition and Liver Disease, Retrieved January 7, 2015, Canadian Liver Foundation, 2015., Whey Protein & Liver Damage, Sarah Terry, Retrieved January 7, 2015, Demand Media, Inc., 2015., Why Pea Protein is Better, Peter G. Roy, DC, CFT, Retrieved January 11, 2015, Natural Wellness, 2015., The Benefits of Protein, Neil Osterweil, Retrieved January 11, 2015, WebMD, LLC, 2015.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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