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November 13, 2008

Studies Show Potential Dangers of Denatured Protein in Foods and Protein Supplements

Protein As a reader of the Integrated Supplements Blog, you now know full–well that all protein supplements are not created equal.

You know that the cholesterol found in whey protein concentrate is prone to oxidation; and that oxidized cholesterol is a major driving force behind the development of arterial plaque of heart disease:

Oxidized LDL – The New "Bad" Cholesterol

Study Finds Oxidized Cholesterol In All Dairy Powders Tested – Levels Increased With Storage

Oxidized Cholesterol in Dairy Protein Powders Part 2

How To Combat The REAL Risk Factor For Heart Disease And Aging

You know that only properly prepared whey protein isolate will deliver the full antioxidant and immune system–supporting functions which whey protein is known for:

Are You Wasting Your Money On Whey Protein? Studies Find Up To 53% Denatured Protein in Whey Protein Concentrate.

If Your Protein Supplement Doesn’t Boost Glutathione, You’re Just Wasting Your Money

And, thanks to several recent blog posts:

Protein–Derived Toxins in Foods and Nutritional Supplements

Neutralizing Protein–Derived Toxins With Soluble Fiber and Resistant Starch

You know that the denatured proteins found in many protein powders, bars and ready–to–drink protein shakes are far from healthy, and are instead likely to impart many harmful effects with continued use.

At Integrated Supplements, we’ve touted the importance of undenatured protein supplements from day one; but as a seemingly lone voice of reason in an industry increasingly being taken over by short–sighted greed and baseless promotion, we’ve watched as other supplement companies continue to churn out low–quality, and potentially harmful nutritional products – while shamelessly masquerading them as the latest in cutting–edge nutrition.

So, as companies within the food and nutritional supplement industry continue to ignore the fact that their products contain a wide array of protein–based toxins, we think it’s time to set the record straight. We think it’s important to show our customers what the scientific research really has to say about the denatured and altered proteins found in many protein–containing nutritional products.

Protein Denaturation – A Matter of Degree

In simple terms, a protein is said to be denatured when its chemical shape changes in response to heat or extremes of pH (acid or alkaline). Some proteins (many enzymes, for example) lose their biological function when denatured; and, as we’ve seen elsewhere, particularly fragile proteins from whey protein isolate (The ones which aid in glutathione synthesis) must remain undenatured in order to exert their full biological activity.

But, not all proteins are rendered completely useless when denatured. Many common food–based proteins are known to be somewhat denatured under normal cooking conditions; and, of course, these proteins still offer nutritional benefit. For example, an egg white which stiffens and turns white when cooked, is an example of a protein denaturing right before our very eyes. And our body is still able to break the egg white down into its constituent amino acids, and to absorb and utilize these amino acids for use as the building blocks of our muscles, organs, tissues, and metabolic enzymes.

So, as methods of processing and preserving foods exploded in the early part of the twentieth century, there was often a tendency among food producers to simply assume that any changes in protein structure which took place as a result of processing were unlikely to be particularly harmful.

But we now know better.

Quite logically, it turns out that the denaturation of proteins is dependent upon the severity of processing conditions. In other words, protein subjected to extremes of heat or pH simply incurs more damage. It’s now known that even many of the cooking methods we employ in our own homes can create known protein–based cancer–causing toxins. The National Cancer Institute reminds us that carcinogenic heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are often produced from muscle meats heated to high temperatures as in grilling, broiling, or barbecuing:

Article Link – Heterocyclic Amines in Cooked Meats.

Quote from the above article:

Research has shown that cooking certain meats at high temperatures creates chemicals that are not present in uncooked meats. A few of these chemicals may increase cancer risk…Frying, broiling, and barbecuing produce the largest amounts of HCAs because the meats are cooked at very high temperatures. One study conducted by researchers showed a threefold increase in the content of HCAs when the cooking temperature was increased from 200° to 250°C (392° to 482°F). Oven roasting and baking are done at lower temperatures, so lower levels of HCAs are likely to form, however, gravy made from meat drippings does contain substantial amounts of HCAs. Stewing, boiling, or poaching are done at or below 100°C (212°F); cooking at this low temperature creates negligible amounts of the chemicals. Foods cooked a long time (“well–done” instead of “medium”) by other methods will also form slightly more of the chemicals.

So, it’s very clear from the existing research that processing (either via cooking methods or industrial processing) is often the key determinant of whether a particular food is healthy or harmful.

And it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that the industrial processing of food components is known to produce a slew of unique protein toxins which could scarcely be created by normal cooking conditions. This particular fact is one which most producers of foods and protein–containing supplements wish their customers would ignore.

Are These Things Really Healthy?

The powdering of protein–containing products (like protein powders sold as nutritional supplements), and the extrusion of breakfast cereals (which allows cereal companies to create all sorts of “puffs,” flakes and shapes for grains) are two of the most prevalent examples of industrial processing techniques known to create particularly harmful denatured proteins.

Of course breakfast cereals and protein supplements are often marketed as healthy nutritional choices and there are even several companies who have combined the two, and who have begun marketing protein–fortified breakfast cereals in recent years. But as is so often the case, we’ll see that the marketing and the actual science tell different stories entirely.

When you think about it at a chemical level, it’s more than a bit naïve to assume that foods can be taken from their fresh state, heated to extremely high temperatures, exposed to chemical and physical processing, spray dried, and left to sit on a store shelf (or in a warehouse) for many months (if not years), and still maintain the beneficial nutritional properties of the fresh food. But isn’t this is exactly what the sellers of many breakfast cereals and protein powders want us to believe?

Sure enough, a closer look at the chemistry of the denatured proteins in such foods has revealed scores of protein–derived compounds with known or suspected toxicity. In turns out, as we at Integrated Supplements have repeatedly mentioned, that it takes great care (low temperature, stable pH, selective filters, etc.) to produce protein–containing products without denaturing protein, and without creating protein–based toxins.

AGEs And Aging

If you’ve read any of our previous articles on oxidized cholesterol, you know that cholesterol oxidation can occur both in our bodies (under conditions of oxidative stress), and in our food. And with oxidized cholesterol increasingly being implicated in a whole host of degenerative conditions from heart disease to cancer, it’s safe to say that we’ll want to avoid eating foods which contain oxidized cholesterol as much as possible. Hence our position that any health–conscious person should avoid any powdered product (like many protein powders) which contains cholesterol (as cholesterol in powdered form is particularly prone to oxidation).

And similarly to cholesterol, altered protein structures – resulting from the chemical interaction of proteins, sugars, and fats – can be produced both in our foods and in our bodies as well.

Scientists call these altered, denatured proteins glycation products (when the chemical changes proceed far enough, the resulting structures are called advanced glycation endproducts, or, AGEs, for short). Various glycation products and AGEs have been found to be consistently elevated in the body under conditions of aging and disease.

For example, a particular glycation product, called furosine, has been shown to be elevated in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes:

Study Link – Plasma protein glycation in Alzheimer's disease.

Quote from the above study:

Recent studies have suggested that formation of advanced glycation end–products (AGEs) in some brain proteins could be associated with Alzheimer's disease…Protein glycation was evaluated in plasma with a highly specific HPLC–UV technique, using furosine, which is the acid hydrolysis product of epsilon–deoxy–fructosyl–lysine Plasma furosine was almost two times higher in subjects with Alzheimer's disease (p<.005) than in controls, but still 50% lower than in diabetic patients (P<.02).

And similar to the glycation phenomenon which occurs in our body under the conditions of aging, certain types of food processing are known to result in the production of high amounts of furosine in some very common foods – two of the most notable for our discussion, again, being products often marketed specifically for their supposed health benefits – breakfast cereals and protein powders:

Study Link – Lysine availability is diminished in commercial fibre–enriched breakfast cereals.

Quote from the above study:

Furosine is a heat–induced marker for thermal treatment in foodstuffs and is directly related to the loss of lysine availability…Data showed a statistically significant effect of protein content, added–dietary fibre and physical form of the samples (flakes/puffed) on the level of furosine present in commercial breakfast cereals. The higher the protein content in the formulation, the higher were the furosine levels, regardless of the protein source. Significantly higher furosine levels were found in puffed commercial breakfast cereals.

The following study tested the furosine content of several commercially available sports supplements produced using milk based ingredients like whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, and casein. The furosine levels the researchers found in some of these products was shockingly high:

Study Link – Assessing nutritional quality of milk–based sport supplements as determined by furosine.

Quote from the above study:

Furosine content ranged from 2.8 to 1125.7 mg/100 g protein in commercial sport supplements being usually lower in samples containing mainly whey protein isolates or casein, as compared with whey protein concentrates. It is estimated that 0.1–36.7% of the lysine content is not available in this type of products. The use of high quality ingredients for the manufacture of sport supplements reveals important, since it could be the major source of protein intake of certain group of consumers in high or moderate training regime. Furosine is an appropriate indicator to estimate the nutritional quality of sport supplements. A reference value of 70 mg furosine/100 g protein content in dried sport supplements could be set up for controlling the quality of milk–based ingredients used in the formulation. Samples with higher levels are suspected of use of low quality milk–based ingredients or inappropriate storage conditions.

Note: Again, the products used in the above study were commercially available products – the same ones you’ll find on the shelves of your local supplement store. Although the products weren’t identified by name, the study results lend clear scientific validity to what we at Integrated Supplements have been saying all along – far too many companies within the nutritional supplement industry use the lowest quality raw materials they can find – ingredients which are decidedly unhealthy and at least mildly toxic. This is exactly why we created Integrated Supplements CFM® Whey Protein Isolate using the patented CFM® whey isolate raw material known to contain the lowest level of denatured protein (less than 1%) of any whey protein available. This is also why we are passionate about educating our customers on the inner–workings of the nutritional supplement industry.

Eat AGEs – Eat Aging

Knowing that glycation products formed in our body are, in part responsible for the degenerative effects of aging, and knowing that glycation products have repeatedly been associated with various degenerative diseases, it’s logical to think that perhaps eating these same glycated proteins may not be such a great idea if we value our long–term health.

So, the question naturally arises – what does the scientific literature have to say about the effects of actually consuming glycated proteins?

To put it simply, the effects aren’t pretty.  But you'd almost never find this fact out from the supplement industry.  There's simply too much money to be made by selling athletes and fitness enthusiasts one processed powder after another. 

For example, one of the most common questions posed by users of protein supplements is: can too much protein be harmful?

In a feeble attempt to address this question, the prevailing myth perpetuated by the supplement industry is that the body is able to “get rid” of whatever protein is consumed in excess. To some extent the body is able to rid itself of excess protein, but the common stance of the protein supplement crowd completely ignores the toxic effects of the denatured and glycated proteins commonly found in nutritional supplements.

In fact, according to the existing research, “getting rid” of glycated proteins is exactly what the body does not do efficiently – and this is what makes many protein–based nutritional supplements uniquely toxic relative to minimally–cooked protein–rich foods.

Actually eating large amounts of these denatured proteins and glycation products (as many users of protein powder, protein bars and ready–to–drink protein shakes unknowingly do), has been shown to add to the AGE burden of the body, and may be particularly detrimental to kidney function:

Study Link – Advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) as uremic toxins.

Quote from the above study:

Dietary AGEs may contribute significantly to the total AGE load of the body, particularly in uremia.

It has also been found that eating glycated protein causes a major increase in systemic inflammation – including inflammatory disease markers such as C–reactive protein, even in healthy subjects:

Study Link – Diet–derived advanced glycation end products are major contributors to the body's AGE pool and induce inflammation in healthy subjects.

Quote from the above study:

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are a heterogeneous group of compounds that form continuously in the body. Their rate of endogenous formation is markedly increased in diabetes mellitus, a condition in which AGEs play a major pathological role. It is also known, however, that AGEs form during the cooking of foods, primarily as the result of the application of heat. This review focuses on the generation of AGEs during the cooking of food, the gastrointestinal absorption of these compounds, and their biological effects in vitro and in vivo. We also present preliminary evidence of a direct association between dietary AGE intake and markers of systemic inflammation such as C–reactive protein in a large group of healthy subjects. Together with previous evidence from diabetics and renal failure patients, these data suggest that dietary AGEs may play an important role in the causation of chronic diseases associated with underlying inflammation.

AGEs are also known to damage blood vessels, and many researchers have implicated AGEs as the major factors responsible for the vascular damage associated with kidney disease and diabetes. Building logically from this, some researchers have proposed a very plausible connection between the ingestion of glycation products in foods and the development of diabetes and subsequent diabetic complications like kidney disease:

Study Link – Possible link of food–derived advanced glycation end products (AGEs) to the development of diabetes.

Quote from the above study:

The formation and accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) have been known to progress at an accelerated rate under diabetes, and there is accumulating evidence that AGEs play a role in the development of diabetes by inducing islet beta cell damage and/or insulin resistance. Further, there are several animal studies to suggest that dietary AGEs are involved in insulin resistance, visceral obesity and the development of diabetes.

Denatured Protein – Not Just “Wasted”

In this, and the previous two Integrated Supplements Blog posts, we’ve shown you clear evidence that denatured and/or glycated proteins are very commonly found in nutritional supplements. We’ve shown you as well how these denatured proteins may either act directly as, or increase the production of, protein–derived toxins which may hasten the development of degenerative disease.

So, despite the common misconception that denatured proteins are merely inert, or “wasted,” the evidence is overwhelmingly clear that they are, instead, often mildly and cumulatively toxic.

There’s extensive research in the scientific literature regarding the many toxic substances which are formed when protein–containing foods are processed – but most supplement and food companies continue to almost completely ignore it. In bringing just a bit of this research to public attention, we hope that the message is clear: If you value your health, you simply cannot afford to ignore the effect of processing on protein quality.

We’ll have more to say about denatured and glycated proteins and their presence in nutritional products in upcoming Integrated Supplements Blog posts – stay tuned.


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