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The Role of Protein in a Healthy Gut

The Role of Protein in a Healthy Gut

The Role of Protein in a Healthy Gut

The way your gut metabolizes proteins significantly affects your overall health and well-being. At its best, a healthy gut facilitates the effective digestion and absorption of proteins needed in vital body functions such as energy production, tissue repair, and tissue growth. However, if you have a sick gut, you may experience persistent issues like fatigue, indigestion, brain fog, weight gain, difficulty sleeping, and extreme junk food cravings. These symptoms may seem like a consequence of your busy lifestyle, but experts believe they may be directly related to a sick gut.

Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, reports that the gastrointestinal system does more than just absorb nutrients. According to her gastrointestinal research, the digestive system also acts as a type of communication center to and from the brain and functions as one of the body’s primary forces in fighting against disease. She explains, “The gut and brain work together in the digestive process. For example, when we have had a particularly fatty meal, the gut and brain will talk and decide to hold that food in the stomach a little longer than for a lighter meal. Only when the food has been broken down sufficiently will it be sent to the small intestine.”

In this article, we discuss gut health and how dietary proteins can improve the health of your gut.

What Is Gut Health?

“Gut” refers to your gastrointestinal tract and is the collection of organs that includes your mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon or large intestine, and rectum. From the moment you put food into your mouth, it undergoes a complex process that sustains and protects your overall health and wellness.

For this article, we are concerned with digestion and absorption, which primarily occurs in the small intestines and colon. The health of this section of your digestive tract is connected to your brain and immune system. The brain and the gut play an instrumental role in your body’s ability to manage stress and energy levels as well as regulate your mood. Your gut contains nerve cells that help your gut and brain communicate.

Broadly, gut health is the outcome of your nutritional choices, and science reveals how your gut microbiota metabolizes protein affects your overall health and wellness. Microbiota is a diverse population of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other single-celled animals that live in the body. This collection of organisms is known as your microbiome.

Gut Microbiota

Gut microbiota, also known as gut flora, is a complex system, but in its simplest form, it refers to the microorganisms living in your intestine. At any given moment, you have tens of trillions of good and bad bacteria in your gut, which are categorized into approximately 1,000 species. Gut bacteria play a vital role in maintaining immune function and metabolic homeostasis by protecting against pathogens — the bacteria that can cause disease.

Your gut is lined with finger-like projections known as villi. These villi increase the surface area of the intestines and serve to improve nutrient absorption. The villi absorb ingested nutrients and transport them into your bloodstream for use in vital body functions.

When these villi are exposed to toxic stressors, inflammation occurs. Stressors include eating excessive processed and high-sugar foods, an overabundance of raw plant food, and taking antibiotics and other gut harmful drugs. Consequently, long-term gut stress will affect the health of your brain, heart, metabolism, and skin. Other expressions of a sick gut include long-term fatigue, lack of energy, weight gain, inability to absorb nutrients, and even the development of cancer.

Some symptoms of poor gut health

  • Gas and bloating — especially after eating a meal that is high in protein
  • Generalized GI distress including pain
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Food intolerances
  • Thinning hair, skin-related issues and brittle nails

As referenced earlier in this article, gut health is linked to responses of your brain and immune function. Protein is one of the best sources for improving these functions. When you eat protein the gut microbiota ferments these ingested proteins to produce small molecules called metabolites like branched-chain amino acids and di and tri peptides. These metabolites influence the expressions of your metabolism, immune system, and nervous system. When harmful bacteria outnumber positive bacteria, it negatively affects the production of amino acids and di and tri peptides, which will eventually enter your bloodstream. It is these protein metabolites that form the building blocks of your body’s cells, including the cells that help your brain and immune system function at optimal levels. This means that the quantity and quality of the protein you ingest are of vital importance.

Protein Deficiencies and Your Gut

Protein deficiency can occur when you do not eat enough quality protein. Did you know it could also occur when you have a sick gut? If you have compromised gut function, it does not matter how much protein you eat, as your body cannot absorb and metabolize the nutrients you are ingesting. Proper absorption of the protein you consume is critical to maintaining optimal health. If your body does not completely absorb and metabolize the protein you ingest over time, you can experience the effects of long-term protein deficiency.

The symptoms you may experience include muscle loss, body aches or pains, headaches, unexplained hunger, persistent fatigue, difficulty sleeping, fractured bones, and inflammation. It also affects the health of your hair, skin, nails muscle and most tissues. These are only a few of the things that can happen when your body experiences long-term protein deficiency.

How much protein you need is dependent on your unique health status, activity levels, and genetic makeup. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have created a table listing recommended levels of all macro nutrients and basic vitamins and minerals. This is a reasonable starting point covering basic life functions, but to meet your specific and unique needs for optimum well being, it is beneficial to meet with a qualified nutritionist.

If you are confident you are eating the right amount of protein, but you are still experiencing health issues related to a sick gut or protein deficiencies, then you may need to look at your gut health and the quality of the protein you are eating.

Protein and Gut Health: How Can Dietary Proteins Help Your Gut?

When you eat protein, your digestive system breaks it down into peptides, which are smaller chains of amino acids. The smallest of these peptides, di and tri peptides can then be absorbed by the small intestine and released into the bloodstream so they can be transported throughout the body to aid in the process of vital body functions.

Protein can be obtained from numerous sources, but the type of protein you choose is essential for optimizing your overall health. There are two main food sources of protein: plant and animal. On a chemical level, plant protein and animal protein are similar in that they contain amino acids. These amino acids are the building blocks of protein. What sets them apart is the ratio of the different amino acids present in each source.

Samples of plant proteins include whole grains, beans, soy foods, and nuts and seeds. However, plant proteins are considered incomplete because they are generally missing at least one of the nine essential amino acids you need to sustain life. Alternatively, animal protein is comparable to the protein found in your body, and it contains all the amino acids you need.

Whey Protein and Gut Health

A popular source of protein supplementation is whey protein, which is a byproduct of cheese production. Some researchers consider this type of protein to be one of the best sources for protein supplementation. Whey proteins are categorized as concentrates, isolates, and hydrolysates.


  • Are processed to increase protein content
  • Contain up to 80 percent protein
  • Contain more lactose than isolate
  • Contain generous levels of essential amino acids


  • Are subject to more processing to further isolate the protein from the carbs and fat; most of the non-protein elements are removed
  • Contain up to 95 percent protein
  • Contain generous levels of essential amino acids
  • Contain less lactose, fat, and carbohydrates compared to concentrate


  • Are referred to as pre-digested; the process mimics how your body breaks down protein under ideal conditions
  • Contain generous levels of essential amino acids
  • High-DH hydrolysates should contain over 40% di and tri peptides for immediate absorption

The consumption of protein hydrolysates allows a more rapid uptake of di and tri peptides and amino acids when compared to whole proteins or free-form amino acids. The most important evidence revealed in the study of whey proteins is that hydrolysates are better tolerated by compromised gastrointestinal tracts than natural food. The pre-digestive nature of hydrolysates provides the body with a rich source of nutrients and eliminates the need for your body to perform the work of breaking down the protein, which for some, if not many folks is difficult, adding to protein malabsorptive issues. Hydrolysates provide your body with a rich source of nutrients to assist in the repair, maintenance, and growth of tissue in the body and your gut.

Protein That Encourages Gut Health

If you are experiencing issues related to a sick gut, you may want to consider adding proteins in the form of hydrolysates. All Power Crunch products are based on High-DH whey protein hydrolysates which allow your body to absorb protein nutrition more rapidly and with less waste. If you have experienced negative side effects with protein digestion, you may benefit from a high-DH whey protein.


  1. US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines:
  2. Contributions of the Interaction Between Dietary Protein and Gut Microbiota to Intestinal Health:
  3. Effects of Gut Microbes on Nutrient Absorption and Energy Regulation:
  4. Insights into digestion and absorption of major nutrients in humans:
  5. Links between Dietary Protein Sources, the Gut Microbiota, and Obesity:
  6. Macronutrient metabolism by the human gut microbiome: major fermentation by-products and their impact on host health:
  7. Microbial Fermentation of Dietary Protein: An Important Factor in Diet–Microbe–Host Interaction
  8. Protein hydrolysates and tissue repair:
  9. Protein isolates: Production, Functional Properties and Application:
  10. Protein – Which is Best?:
  11. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health:
  12. Follow this eat-right plan to fortify your immune system:
  13. Introduction to the human gut microbiota:
  14. Your Gut Feeling: A Healthier digestive System Means a Healthier You:
the role of protein for a healthy gut infographic



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