Whey Isolate Bioavailability & Digestive Enzymes
Can Denatured Whey Protein be Absorbed?
In a previous article discussing denatured whey protein we really don't cover in detail the associated impacts on bioavailability. We mention that your body’s ability to utilize nutrients provided by a truly grass-fed dairy protein depends on two independent factors -
- The condition of the protein structure (denaturation severity)
- The efficacy of your digestive tract (digestive enzyme health)
In our "What is Undenatured Whey Protein" article we focus mainly on the product of whey protein and also the elements that most commonly cause damage to the protein structures (denaturing elements).
This article however focuses on the other half of the equation, your gut health, particularly digestive enzymes. Whether you would like to get the most out of your high-quality grass-fed whey or any food for that matter, having a healthy gut is critical.
What are Enzymes?
In most cases, enzymes are considered proteins. The purpose of enzymes is to enable chemical reactions to occur by lowing the energy required (known as activation energy) for that chemical reaction to begin. In other words, enzymes serve as your body's "deal maker" to execute any given task. Without enzymes, your body likely deems specific processes as too risky or too exhaustive to undertake, in a sense "no-deal."
When speaking to digestion and bioavailability of whey proteins, you'll know when the body confronts a task and decides to take a pass on the deal. When the body walks away from the opportunity to break down whey protein in the small intestine, the resulting undigested proteins are likely to cause undesirable symptoms as they work their way through the gastrointestinal tract -
- Abdominal pain
When thinking about the common side effects of consuming dairy products, we can confidently attribute most gut issues to the enzyme Lactase. When a person is Lactase deficient or the lactase enzymes lost functionality, a seamless lactose breakdown becomes a futile process.
In the world of whey protein, consumers that struggle to produce adequate concentrations of Lactase prefer whey protein isolates (WPI) over whey protein concentrates (WPC). WPI is often considered favorable to the gut due to the drastic reduction in lactose within the final product compared to WPC. In general, whey protein concentrate contains up to ten percent lactose, per typical serving of 30 grams, which equates to 3 grams of lactose.
Learn More: WPC & WPI Differences Explained
Does AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey Isolate contain Lactose?
Yes, there are trace amounts of sugar in AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey. The threshold for total sugars (monosaccharides, oligosaccharides, and lactose) in AGN Roots Grass-Fed whey is < 0.9%; this equates to < 260 mg of total sugars.
When customers that suffer from severe sensitivities due to lactose ask about the concentrations in our whey, we most definitely err on the side of caution, assuming the extreme cases like we would for general milk allergy inquiries. Every person is different, and "sensitive" doesn't always mean the same from person to person.
What is Lactase?
Lactase is a very specific enzyme within the small intestine; it's power stems from it's ability to lower the activation energy required for your body to breakdown lactose.
When your body is through metabolizing lactose using the enzyme lactase, the resulting compounds glucose and galactose that remain are easily used by the body, and without waste.
If you are lactose intolerant, your body has slowed down the enzyme lactase production or has stopped producing it altogether. In general, as we age, our lactase levels begin to decline naturally. In general, there are three types of Lactose Intolerance –
Lactose Intolerance Explained -
What Happens Without Lactase?
Without an abundance of the lactase enzyme, your body has no way of breaking down lactose in the small intestine, which leads to two potential outcomes –
- Lactose enters the large intestine, where bacteria begin to metabolize the lactose. This process yields several types of gases, including hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide, and methane. Methane is responsible for stomach pains and gas issues, i.e., the infamous protein powder farts.
- When lactose accumulates in the small intestine beyond what the large intestine can breakdown via bacteria, lactose concentrations increase. The resulting and proportional osmolarity increase occurs, which the body recognizes and then addresses by triggering a flood of water through the small intestine's lining to rebalance. This water produces the watery stool, characteristic of diarrhea.
In general, the goal is to have lactose from dairy products broken down by the healthy lactase in your gut. When the environment changes for whatever reason, and lactase production is no longer possible for you, it may be time to look into a lactase enzyme supplement.
What are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes serve our bodies as the catalysts for breaking down nutrients into small pieces to utilize for our bodies to operate optimally. Although our bodies naturally produce digestive enzymes, many people experience poor digestion for various reasons, most commonly due to the inability to digest the food at the rate we consume it.
It's not incredibly intuitive, but striving to give ourselves more time to eat is likely to reduce the amount we overeat. There are plenty of lagging indicators that suggest American culture pushes the day-to-day pace for our bodies; this includes the entire isle of hemorrhoid solutions at the local drug store and the tempo at which we all eat our meals.
The rate of our digestion goes hand in hand with the health of our digestive enzymes. When we rush to eat, we tend to chew less, swallow more air, and take our glucose levels on a roller coaster.
Many studies performed in this space prove casual eating to be much more effective at reducing weight gain, lowering blood sugars, reducing the waistline, and in general reducing the likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance.
What are Common Digestive Enzymes?
To utilize all of the macronutrients that a protein like AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey offers, the body requires healthy digestive enzymes to slice, dice, and sort, all the nutrients into usable forms either for future use (put in storage) or immediate absorption. The enzymes that specifically breakdown proteins into manageable amino acids are called Proteolytic Enzymes.
What are Proteolytic Enzymes?
Both the stomach and the pancreas create the proteolytic enzymes we rely on for protein absorption. A proteolytic enzyme's primary function is to break down or "hydrolyze" the peptide bonds that make up a fully intact healthy protein structure.
Learn More: Protein Structure Image
Although proteolytic enzymes are naturally produced by our bodies, fortifying these enzyme concentrations via supplementation is gaining popularity among all ages, especially given the rise of intense fitness sports and associated Irritable bowel disorder (IBD).
Note: IBD or Irritable Bowel Disorder is a catch-all phrase related to numerous conditions involving chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.
The most common proteolytic enzymes naturally produced within the body include:
What is Protease?
This digestive enzyme is the most common enzyme combined with whey protein powders. Protease is naturally produced by the pancreas, stomach, and small intestine. The protease's primary purpose is to cleave the peptide bonds of various proteins creating smaller, more easily digested pieces.
What is Pepsin?
Pepsin is critical for going to work soon after the consumption of protein. The stomach is responsible for making Pepsin, and without it, protein digestion would drastically lag. The uniqueness behind Pepsin stems from its ability to break down proteins in harsh acidic environments where other enzymes denature (lose efficiency and functionality) at low pH levels.
What is Trypsin?
Trypsin is a type of protease enzyme that originates in the pancreas. Trypsin goes to work in the small intestine and provides continuity from work being done upstream in the stomach. Trypsin hydrolyzes proteins, which is a fancy word for breaking down a protein into tiny peptide components easier to absorb.
What is Chymotrypsin?
Chymotrypsin is another of the proteases produced by the pancreas that completes its work in the small intestine. Chymotrypsin is considered a hydrolase type of enzyme and serves the protein breakdown process by assisting in the hydrolysis of protein-peptide bonds in the small intestine. Chymotrypsin is often used as a robust alkaline protease for a variety of applications and exhibits anti-inflammatory properties.
What is Peptidase?
Peptidase is a type of protease enzyme that helps digest protein by attacking specific peptide bonds. Like other proteases, peptidase has anti-inflammatory and other healthful properties.
What is Bromelain?
Bromelain is a protease enzyme sourced from the pineapple plant's fruit, skin, and juice. This enzyme endemic to healing Central and South American people for centuries is known as a popular treatment to help reduce inflammation, treat swelling, and help relax muscles while pushing the body to eliminate fat.
What is Papain?
This powerful protease digestive enzyme comes from the papaya fruit (hence the nickname "the papaya enzyme"). Papain is known for breaking down extensive, tough protein fibers like those that come from meat. It stimulates digestion, aids in skin and wound healing, helps break down sinus mucus, supports the immune system, serves as an antioxidant, and prevents irritation and redness.
What Digestive Enzymes are Best for Absorbing Whey Protein?
Amylase and lipase represent a foundational aspect of gastrointestinal health with their focus on handling carbohydrates and fats. A mixture of Lactase, Protease, Amylase, and Lipase will yield the ultimate enzyme blend geared to drastically improve your whey protein's bioavailability and reducing lactose sensitivities.
If you currently deal with mild indigestion when consuming whey protein, including bloating, cramps, and gas pains, taking an enzyme blend of lactase, protease, amylase, and lipase may provide the perfect universal solution.
Amylase Explained -
Amylase is responsible for breaking the bonds in starches and carbohydrates to tee-up an effortless absorption of simple sugars. Salivary amylase is the first step in the chemical digestion of food and represents the primary reason people should take time while eating and thoroughly chewing their food. This initial step in the digestive process is essential to the proper breakdown of food eaten and the ultimate liberation of the nutrients within to be absorbed later in the digestive process.
Lipase Explained -
Originating in the pancreas and small intestine, Lipase is the body’s solution to breaking down fats and oils into smaller, more readily digestible fatty acids. While amylase and protease do a great job of breaking down carbohydrates and proteins, Lipase serves as the final compliment.
Are Flavored Proteins Less Bioavailable?
In general, Yes. Supplements paired with harsh flavor systems are not your friend.
As soon as the body begins to operate outside the ideal temperature and pH range, digestive enzymes are prone to denaturation, structural shape changes, and functionality loss. Depending on the severity of the temperature or pH, these deformations may not be reversible, in which case it’s essential to restore these enzymes to healthy counts.
Currently, the protein powder industry is more focused on flavor systems than protein source or quality. Addicting and delicious indulgent flavors like peanut butter crunch and chocolate brownie have become the norm for the typical nutrition supplement.
The problem is that these flavor systems, although capable of masking low-quality proteins, are overly acidic and caustic to your digestive enzymes. At a lower pH, protein shakes become more and more ineffective; the acidity completely negates your digestive enzymes from functioning correctly.
Common flavored whey protein tub ingredients with low pH values force the stomach into an acidic enzyme denaturing environment. Some additives include:
|Whey Protein Flavor Additives
|3.0 - 5.0
|Coconut Sugar (Sap)
|3.2 - 4.0
|5.0 - 6.0
|6.0 - 6.6
|Sucrose (Refined Sugar)
|5.0 - 6.0
|5.0 - 5.5
(*Assumes typical concentrations for indulgent flavors)
A low pH means something is very acidic. A high pH means it's basic, also known as alkaline. Enzymes work best in a relatively narrow pH range. If an enzyme's environment becomes too acidic or too basic, its shape and function will suffer.