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A recent study in rats comparing the effects of whey protein hydrolysate (WPH) with whey protein concentrate (WPC) has produced a novel, somewhat unexpected finding. While a number of subtle differences emerged between the two proteins in this ‘untargeted global metabolic profiling’ study, the most significant findings concerned the pronounced effect the WPH had on serum free fatty acids. 30 minutes after ingestion, rats consuming the WPH had significantly higher serum free fatty acids compared with rats consuming the non-hydrolysed equivalent in the form of WPC1.

As a means to explain the finding, the researchers also identified a simultaneously significant increase in epinephrine levels after 30 minutes compared with rats receiving WPC. The authors of the study theorised that there may be a novel bioactive peptide present in WPH that stimulated adrenal catecholamine release, leading to the relatively high epinephrine levels after 30 minutes (shown in figure below).

Effects of WPH vs WPC on Epinephrine Levels in Rats

 

 

The authors supposition about the link between novel peptides and epinephrine release was made based on an earlier study in the 1990’s showing a similar phenomena when rats were injected with a different novel peptide2. The other postulated mechanism for the increased serum free fatty acids centred on the proven ability of dietary protein to induce increases in pancreatic glucagon secretion3. However, this mechanism only explained the general increase in fatty cids seen with WPC and WPH compared with control1. It does not, however, explain the unique spike in fatty acids seen with WPH after 30 minutes.

To make the findings of the study even more interesting, the particular whey protein hydrolysate used in the study was Proto Whey - a market leading whey protein hydrolysate produced by supplement company BNRG. The whey protein concentrate used in the study served as the starting raw material for producing the WPH, which incidentally had a 15% degree of hydrolysis. As such, the protein content of the two whey proteins were identical  (i.e. 80%) and only differed in their final molecular weight distributions (provided in table below).

Molecular Mass Distribution Analysis of WPH and WPC

Molecular Mass (Dalton)

WPC (%)

WPH (%)

>20000

0.13

0.52

10000-20000

64.97

8.38

5000-10000

20.25

8.53

2000-5000

8.56

9.57

1000-2000

1.49

16.28

500-1000

0.71

25.36

<500

3.90

31.37

 

Given the novel findings of this study, future research will probably attempt to determine (i) potential mechanisms responsible for WPH –induced fat burning, and (ii) whether whey protein form affects the rate of fat burning, and (iii) whether the degree of hydrolysis affects the potential mechanism and (or) rate of fat breakdown.

 

1. Roberts MD, et al. Comparing serum responses to acute feedings of an extensively hydrolyzed whey protein concentrate versus a native whey protein concentrate in rats: a metabolomics approach. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2014; 39:158–167.
2. Watanabe T, et al. PACAP stimulates catecholamine release from adrenal medulla: a novel noncholinergic secretagogue. Am J Physiol. 1995;269(5):E903–E909.
3. Calbet JA & MacLean DA. Plasma glucagon and insulin responses depend on the rate of appearance of amino acids after ingestion of different protein solutions in humans. J Nutr. 2002;132(8): 2174–2182.

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