By: Dr. Colin O’Brien ND, Medical Director, Cyto-Matrix
It’s easy to think of protein supplementation when patients are concerned about athletic performance and muscle recovery. Of course, protein is extremely useful in these circumstances, yet the many other clinical indications often get overlooked. Protein is a macronutrient that should be considered as a foundational item in all of our treatment protocols.
Improving dietary protein intake is key. But many times, a high-quality protein supplement is useful adjunctively. The purpose of this article is not to say that everyone should be supplementing with protein, more so, to say that there are likely other circumstances that you could be considering its impact. Here is a brief refresher on when to consider a high-quality protein with your patients:
- Liver Health: Whey protein is a rich source of cysteine, making it a viable option to increase glutathione production and, therefore, liver detoxification. Research has confirmed this and also shown that protein supplementation improves outcomes in individuals with liver cirrhosis and those with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). 
- Blood Sugar Regulation: Protein, unlike carbohydrates, does not significantly raise blood sugars in individuals with adequate insulin levels. In fact, substituting protein in for carbohydrates or other macronutrients may lead to better blood sugar regulation in both diabetics and non-diabetics.
- Pre-eclampsia: Weak evidence suggests that the edema and protein spilling in pre-eclampsia is as a result of low protein intake, breaking down tissues to provide the fetus with needed amino acids. Although research appears to be far from conclusive, extra protein is a simple and safe intervention.
- Weight Management: High protein meals, especially at breakfast, have been shown to increase satiety and reduce snacking, making protein supplementation a staple for those trying to lose weight or manage dietary cravings. 
- Post-surgery Recovery: Regardless of the complexity or invasiveness of the procedure, surgery is a significant stress and physical trauma to the body. This means that protein is required for recovery. Evidence shows that protein is beneficial not only on the days after surgery but also in preparation for the operation. 
- Hair Loss: Yes, thyroid function, iron, biotin, medication side effects and other factors need to be considered for hair loss, but protein is a core component of collagen and a core component of hair. Most women trying to solve hair loss on their own likely don’t consider protein levels as a key first step.
- Sports Performance: It is still worth mentioning that protein supplementation added to a resistance training or endurance program has the ability to stimulate anabolism in muscles with increased hypertrophy, improved strength and reduced recovery time. 
- Bone Health: Protein is necessary for building collagen in the bone matrix. Multiple studies have shown that protein supplementation improves fracture healing, bone mineral density and overall recovery from injury. 
- Mood Balancing: Protein contains all the amino acid building blocks for our key neurotransmitters like dopamine, GABA and serotonin. Moreover, anecdotal and preliminary evidence shows that specific amino acids, like taurine, can be beneficial for balancing mood. A common concern in poorly managed vegan or vegetarian patients is low mood, and suboptimal protein intake can be a part of this problem in conjunction with low iron and B12.
Certainly, this is not an all-encompassing list of reasons to consider protein supplementation with your patients, but it should serve as a reminder, at the very least, to assess macronutrient intake and be cognizant of the tremendous impact that suboptimal protein intake can have on the body long-term!
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