Is Pea Protein Inflammatory?

Written by Ben Carlisle

Last updated on: Sep 18, 2022

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Pea protein is not normally inflammatory. In healthy individuals, pea protein has actually been shown to reduce inflammation, because of its low Ph levels. However, individuals told to avoid foods with high levels of purine and those who are allergic or intolerant to peas may suffer from inflammation.

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An example, of individuals who should avoid foods high in purine is those who suffer from the medical condition gout. Foods high in purine include, legumes, meat and fish. Pea is a legume, which makes pea protein powder unsuitable for those who suffer with gout. The reason why foods high in purine should be avoided in people who suffer from gout, is because the body breaks purine down into uric acid. This uric acid can then cause crystals to form in the joints of gout sufferers which leads to inflammation (1). Typically, this inflammation causes swelling and discomfort.

What Is Inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s immune system’s response to an irritant (2). The body’s natural response is to send white blood cells to the affected area, the area then swells to increase blood flow to it and histamines are produced.

What is Pea Protein?

Pea protein is a plant based protein source, which contains all nine essential amino acids. This protein comes from yellow peas and is used for pea protein powder. The pea protein has been isolated from the fibre and starch of yellow peas which have been milled into a flour. Of all the plant based proteins, this is one of the leading supplements when it comes to protein content.

For this reason this plant based protein powder is a popular way for people (especially those wanting to avoid animal protein) to increase their daily protein intake. Getting enough protein is vital in order to restore cells, grow and repair muscle tissue, skin, bones, organs, hair and nails (3).

Pea protein powder not only increases your protein intake but when combined with resistance training can help build strength, preserve muscle and encourage muscle growth. Studies have also shown protein powder can increase satiety and help suppress cravings. This makes protein just as helpful for weight loss as it is from muscle growth (4). For this reason protein supplements are very popular for a range of health and fitness goals.

Just like whey protein, pea protein powder is easy to add into your diet. It is normally taken as a shake or smoothie. But can also be used in the cooking process of baked goods, as well as stirred into foods such as mash potatoes and yoghurt.

Why Is Pea Protein Anti-Inflammatory?

A recent study into the anti-inflammatory qualities of pea protein found it can increase intestinal short chain fatty acid (SCFA) levels. An increase in SCFA levels is considered to be anti-inflammatory and important for the maintenance of the mucosal barrier (5).

A study in 2011 reported, pea protein has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating potentials. It went on to suggest that the resulted peptides could be used as an alternative therapy for the prevention of inflammatory-related diseases (6).

Intestinal micro-biomes play an important part in moderating the body’s risk of developing chronic diseases including inflammatory bowel disease. Micro-biome is shaped by the foods we consume and experiments have revealed dietary alterations can induce large microbial shifts within 24 hours (5). The consumption of pea protein has been shown to increase microbial diversity, bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. All of these increases have an anti-inflammatory effect. Further anti-inflammatory ingredeints are in some of the best pea protein powders due to added ingredients such as hemp and Sacha Inchi protein which also provide essential fatty acids.

What Are The Other Health Benefits Of Pea Protein?

Pea protein powder is hypo-allergenic and free from the 8 main types of allergens (6). This makes pea protein powders a great choice for anyone with food sensitivities. Additionally, pea protein is low in lectins, contains all nine essential amino acids and is plant based.

Pea protein is also easy to digest and is rich in iron. With, studies finding nearly 50% of women in the UK do not meet the daily recommendation for iron consumption, pea protein powders may be a great choice for women (7).

Another benefit of pea protein is it contains arginine. Arginine helps with circulation and heart health. Additionally, it has high levels of the branched- chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine which all play critical roles in the regulation of energy homeostasis, nutrition metabolism, gut health, immunity and disease (8). In summary, pea protein powders have a complete amino acid profile and provide those who taken them a range of health benefits.

Signs You May Be Reacting Negatively To Pea Protein Powder

The common signs of having a negative reaction to something you have eaten include one or more of the following: skin sensitivities, pains in you stomach, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. Typically, skin sensitivity presents itself as a sudden reaction which is red and itchy. Stomach discomfort could include bloating, cramping or gas. In more severe reactions there can be one or more of the following symptoms;  nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Our body tends to react the same way when having a reaction or showing a sensitivity to a particular food. This can make it difficult to pinpoint which food is creating the issue. Whilst it is extremely unlikely for pea protein to cause your body to react as outlined above it is a good idea to stop taking it should you experience any of these reactions. If the symptoms were severe it is recommended to consult with a medical professional.

If your symptoms were mild, once you have recovered you may want to re-introduce the pea protein again and see how your body reacts. This should give you a clear indication as to whether the pea protein was causing the reaction or if it was something else. Of course, should your reaction reappear or symptoms not settle after stopping the pea protein you should seek medical advice.

What is Gout?

Gout is a form of arthritis. Studies have shown that gout is and arthritic condition that is often linked to metabolic conditions and the over consumption of food rich in purine (1). Purines are a group of chemicals found in all body tissues and in many of the foods we eat. Our bodies are repeatedly processing purines, breaking them down and then reusing or removing their by-products (9).

Animal protein sources rich in purine include bacon, turkey, shellfish, sardines and mussels. Plant foods rich in purine include, dried peas, beans, cauliflower and spinach. However, there is some evidence to suggest suboptimal purine can be linked to an increase in uric acid levels and the development of gout (1).

Signs And Symptoms Of Gout

Often the signs and symptoms of gout emerge at night and they tend to come on suddenly. Whilst it can occur in any joint, it often affects the big toe. Other common joints that suffer from gout are ankles, knees, elbows, wrists and fingers. Typically, the pain is most severe when it first begins (10). Once the severe pain has past, there is often a discomfort in the joint that can last between a few days and few weeks. The affected areas are often warm, swollen and inflamed. The swelling and pain can make movement limited.

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How Is Gout Effected By Pea Protein?

Legumes are a food source which contain high levels of purine. Pea is a legume and is the protein source in pea protein powder. Therefore, those who suffer from gout and want to take pea protein as a supplement to increase their protein intake, should always consult a medical professional before doing so.

Interestingly, the advice given to those diagnosed with gout on how they can prevent a gout flare up is changing. Previously, gout sufferers were advised to follow a purine restrictive diet. However, the advice is beginning to be modified. Patients are now encouraged to lose weight, consume less alcohol (as this is high in purines) and sometimes to take medication (4).

Studies have discovered high levels of acid around the kidneys increases the likelihood of kidney stones forming (11). This means due to the increase in uric acid those who suffer from gout, often go on to suffer from kidney problems (4).

A study into the kidney therapeutic potential of peptides derived from pea protein discovered pea protein is able to aid the body in flushing away excess uric acid. High volumes of oxalate can cause kidney stones to form and pea protein is low in oxalate but high in protein. Thus, suggesting it is actually a good option for those who suffer with kidney stones (12).

Pea Protein Is Not Inflammatory For Most Individuals

Pea protein is not inflammatory for most individuals, but if you have been told by a medical professional to avoid food sources high in purine. Or you have an allergy or intolerance to peas. Pea protein can trigger problems with inflammation.

However, it is important to note, the opinions from researchers into gout treatment is evolving. Studies, have shown that weight loss and lowering the consumption of alcohol could be more beneficial than following a purine restrictive diet (4). Protein powders have been shown to be an effective supplement to use when attempting to maintain a calorie deficit for weight loss. Furthermore, using a plant based proteins such as pea can help reduce body fat via a variety of mechanisms (13).

Further to this, studies have revealed that there are many beneficial side effects of consuming pea protein powder. It contains all nine essential amino acids and can increase intestinal SCFA levels, which are considered anti-inflammatory (5). It is also hypoallergenic and free from the 8 most common allergens. Therefore, for those with food sensitivities pea protein powder is a good choice that should not create an inflammation.

Should you experience any inflammatory reactions, like itchiness, stomach discomfort, nausea or even vomiting or diarrhoea after taking pea protein powder, it is important that you stop consumption immediately and seek medical advice.

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