Katherine Wohl, RDN, LD, CLC, IFNCP
Whether you are part of the enteral nutrition or the mainstream nutrition conversation, peptides are being referenced more and more. Yet what they are and the myriad of reasons they can be beneficial are often overlooked. It’s important to understand both of these when considering if or how one should incorporate them into their life – especially when we consider their ability to maximize nourishment to those who might need it most.
Peptides are a very simple form of protein. Proteins come in different forms based on the number and structure of amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Intact, more complex protein structures are unraveled (or “broken down”) to simpler forms in the human body by digestive enzymes, allowing them to be absorbed and utilized. Peptides are “pre-digested” through a process known as hydrolysis. This water-based process acts as digestive enzymes do in the body and unravel complex proteins into shorter amino acid chains with a very low molecular weight, known as peptides. Their small, simple structure allows for unique metabolism, where they are absorbed and enter circulation intact – a large reason peptides can favorably impact various clinical outcomes (1).
Peptides Role in Digestion and Absorption
The most recognized area of use is in those with limited digestive capacity and malabsorption. Because of their small structure, they are easier to breakdown, absorb, and assimilate for the body’s needs. This is especially important for those that may have difficulty digesting protein – whether it’s due to low stomach acid, limits to pancreatic function, decreased absorption in the small intestine, or conditions that impact digestion like gastroparesis. (1) This is reflected in animal studies which have showed improved catch-growth with enteral formulas containing hydrolyzed protein (2), as well as human studies in sports nutrition showing increased muscle gains in response to strength training with hydrolyzed pea protein when compared to whey protein. (3) This speaks to the increased bioavailability of peptides – how well the body can access and use a nutrient (protein in this case).
Peptides as Bioactive Compounds
While important, their ability to impact health reaches far beyond their influence on growth, weight, or muscle mass. Peptides are bioactive compounds – they can be used by numerous tissues in the body and influence several biochemical pathways in a beneficial way, both because of the way they are metabolized and their ionic charge. This can create antioxidant activity, anti-inflammatory properties, lipid lowering properties, blood pressure lowering effects, and gut wall barrier impact. They have shown influences on endocrine, skeletal-muscular, cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, and neurological systems. (4)
Their far-reaching impact can offer numerous populations benefit when we consider all those that may struggle with the above areas – from chronic diseases (4-7), to digestive disorders (1-2), to those who have undergone trauma or surgery (10-12). As always, it is important to keep the needs of each individual in mind, working with your healthcare provider to know what is best for you.
- Caron J et al. Protein Digestion-Derived Peptides and the Peripheral Regulation of Food Intake. Frontiers in Endocrinology. 2017 April 24.
- Bortolotti M et al. Impact of qualitative and quantitative variations in nitrogen supply on catch-up growth in food-deprived-refed young rats. Clin Nutr. 2016 Jun;35(3):669-78.
- Babault N, Païzis C, Deley G, et al. Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12(1):3. Published 2015 Jan 21.
- Udenigwe, C.C., & Aluko, R.E. Food protein-derived bioactive peptides: production, processing, and potential health benefits. Journal of Food Science. 2012;77(1): R11-24 .
- Li H et al. Blood pressure lowering effect of a pea protein hydrolysate in hypertensive rats and humans. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Sep 28;59(18):9854-60.
- Huhmann MB, Yamamoto S, Neutel JM, Cohen SS, Ochoa Gautier JB. Very high-protein and low-carbohydrate enteral nutrition formula and plasma glucose control in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized
- Li H et al. Kinetics of the inhibition of calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II by pea protein-derived peptides. J Nutr Biochem. 2005 Nov;16(11):656-62. Epub 2005 Jun 13.
- Trisha L. Pownall, Chibuike C. Udenigwe, and Rotimi E. Aluko. Amino Acid Composition and Antioxidant Properties of Pea Seed (Pisum sativum L.) Enzymatic Protein Hydrolysate Fractions. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2010 58 (8), 4712-4718.
- Song et al. Ingestion of collagen peptides prevents bone loss and improves bone microarchitecture in chronologically aged mice. Journal of Functional Foods. 2019 January 52: 1-7
- Chen Q et al. Effects of early enteral nutrition supplemented with collagen peptides on post-burn inflammatory responses in a mouse model. Food Funct. 2017 May 24;8(5):1933-1941.
- Liu MY, Tang HC, Hu SH, Chang SJ. Peptide-based enteral formula improves tolerance and clinical outcomes in abdominal surgery patients relative to a whole protein enteral formula. World J Gastrointest Surg. 2016;8(10):700–705.
- Seres DS and Ippolito PR. Pilot study evaluating the efficacy, tolerance and safety of a peptide-based enteral formula versus a high protein enteral formula in multiple ICU settings (medical, surgical, cardiothoracic).
Clin Nutr. 2017 Jun;36(3):706-709.
- Minor G, Ochoa JB, Storm H, Periman S. Formula Switch Leads to Enteral Feeding Tolerance Improvements in Children With Developmental Delays. Glob Pediatr Health. 2016;3:2333794X16681887. Published 2016 Dec 21.