Written by Ben Carlisle
Last updated on: Sep 18, 2022
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Most research suggests pea protein is ok for those who suffer from leaky gut. Some suggests it may be beneficial, due to being anti-inflammatory and hypo-allergenic (1). However, more research is needed into this topic.
Leaky gut syndrome, also known as intestinal permeability, is still an area which requires more research. The extensive intestinal lining within the body covers more than 4,000 square feet of surface area (2). This lining can become jeopardised leading to the condition of leaky gut syndrome.
Within the digestive system there are about 100 trillion bacteria. These bacteria are both good and bad. Together these bacteria are referred to as gut microbiota (3). Research into the balance of this bacteria is ongoing, however there is increasing evidence to suggest gut microbiota is important in supporting the epithelial barrier of the gut (4). The epithelial barrier is the thin tissue lining the gut wall.
Interestingly, this research shows how gut microbiota helps supports the permeability of the gut wall. This can help individuals take an active role in supporting their bodies defence against developing leaky gut. This is due to the knowledge, microbiome is shaped by the foods we consume. Experiments have revealed dietary alterations can induce large microbial shifts within just 24 hours. Further research revealed pea protein can positively affect the growth of gut bacteria and have a beneficial impact on the intestinal environment (3). It is this research which has now led many to believe, pea protein could help those with leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut is a commonly used term for those who suffer from damage, breaks or tears within their intestinal lining. Unfortunately, there is still not enough known about this condition. But, there is an increase in both scientific research and general interest into leaky gut syndrome. It is hoped this increase in research will result in the development of treatments which can be offered to those who suffer from leaky gut to help reduce the effects of this condition (5).
The extensive intestinal lining of the body, acts as a barrier against what should or shouldn’t be absorbed into the bloodstream. However, those who suffer from leaky gut have significant damage on their intestinal limning which enables partially digested foods and toxins to enter into the tissues beneath it (6). This can result in inflammation and changes in the gut’s normal bacteria, which in turn can cause issues within the digestive tract.
There is some research to suggest leaky gut could be connected with other autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, as well as conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritis, allergies, asthma, acne, obesity and mental illness (6). Unfortunately, further studies into leaky gut with human subjects still needs to be done in order for scientists to make informed conclusions on this.
Unfortunately, they are many unwanted side effects of leaky gut. These include, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, bad skin, brain fog, changes in weight, allergies, fatigue and mood swings.
Whilst everyone has some level of damage to the guts lining, some are more at risk of developing moderate to severe damage. Research has shown some people are more likely to develop leaky gut syndrome than others because of genetic factors. However, some research has discovered how we eat could also be responsible (6).
Lifestyles changing over the last decades, and a rise in people consuming diets which are high in sugar and low in fibre could be a contributing factor to developing leaky gut. Scientists warn the stress levels our bodies are put under, along with alcohol intake can negatively impact the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut (6).
The effect of mental wellbeing upon our body’s health is something which has attracted a lot of interest recently. Interestingly, research has shown mental stress for an extended period inhibits the capacity of the immune system to respond speedily and slows down its ability to heal (7).
Pea protein powder has many benefits. The most obvious is the extra protein it provides. However, it also contains all nine essential amino acids, is rich in iron and has good levels of the branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. In fact, research has found pea protein powder to be as effective as whey protein powder when it comes to promoting strength, performance, body composition, and muscular adaptations (14).
The high levels of leucine, isoleucine and valine in pea protein powder, play a critical role in the regulation of energy homeostasis, nutrition metabolism, gut health, immunity and disease (8). The side effects of leaky gut can be fatigue, stomach problems and a lowered immune system, so the presence of these amino acids could be highly beneficial to those suffering with leaky gut.
Further research, undertaken by the mind charity organisation showed pea protein is able to influence and improve the bacteria living within the gut to produce health microbes. Whilst also boosting short-chain fatty acid production (9). Short chain fatty- acid production helps to reduce overall inflammation within the gut and microbes influence human health and ability to fight diseases (10).
Additionally, there is evidence to suggest pea protein could reduce cholesterol levels and fat production. In this study 3 grams of pea protein hydrolysate was consumed once per day for three weeks. The results showed blood pressure was reduced in both human subjects and lab rats (11). Pea protein also has the ability to increase intestinal SCFA levels, which are considered anti-inflammatory and important for maintenance of the mucosal barrier (12).
Not all pea protein powders will contain the same ingredients, therefore it is important to check the the labelling before purchasing if you have any concerns. Try to avoid pea protein powders which contain additional additives like stevia, natural flavourings, and gums. This is because studies have shown non-calorific artificial sweeteners can drive the development of glucose intolerance and cause intestinal trouble (4). Some of the best pea protein powders on the market are completely free of stevia.
Additionally, stevia extracts may affect gut microbiota and if the dosage is particularly high it can cause flatulence. Patients with inflammatory bowel disease are at higher risk of responding negatively to sugar alcohol (13).
If you are following a plant based diet it is important to be aware, despite pea protein being a complete protein it is low in methionine. This means you need to factor in methionine elsewhere in your diet to make sure you are getting enough off all the essential amino acids you need.
Finally, it is important to carefully measure out the amount of protein powder you are consuming. This is because over consumption of any protein powder is likely to cause stomach complaints and make you feel bloated or uncomfortable.
Whilst more research and evidence is needed the current research and theorems support the idea pea protein has properties which can help those with leaky gut syndrome. This is due to the positive effect it has on the stomach’s microbes. Additionally, pea protein powder is hypoallergenic and many studies have found health benefits associated with the consumption of pea protein. If you are suffering from leaky guy and are unsure whether to take pea protein powder, it is recommended you consult with a medical professional.