Protein malabsorption has become a common occurrence in our clients recently. It is the inability to properly digest protein and therefore, the nutrients from protein cannot be absorbed by the body. This is most likely caused by not producing enough digestive enzymes in the pancreas, and /or hydrochloric acid (HCL) in the stomach. The undigested protein, travels to the small intestine where it putrifies and acidifies. It may lead to leaky gut because these undigested particles may cross the intestinal barrier. Symptoms of protein malabsorption include indigestion, gas, bloating, acid reflux, GERD, constipation, diarrhea, malabsorption, nutrient deficiencies, hypoglycemia, depression, anxiety, trouble building muscle, ligament laxity. If the body is not breaking down proteins due to lack or enzymes or hydrochloric acid, it cannot reach the amino acids which are necessary for muscle building, healthy blood sugar levels, collagen structure, healthy tendon and ligaments, hypoglycemia (lightheadedness or passing out) reduced production of neurotransmitters.
Taking digestive enzymes and HCL with meals will aid in digesting the protein but first the lining of the gut must be intact and not leaky. Supplements can help support the healing of a leaky gut by sealing the tight junctures of the intestine (L-glutamine, Quercetin) and repairing the mucosal lining (Slippery Elm, Zinc Carnosine).
Supplements to aid in supporting the digestion of proteins include bromelain and pepsin. Pepsin is made naturally by the body and it is a powerful enzyme in gastric juice. TMG (trimethylglycine)/betaine, is known to support the body’s own production of hydrochloric acid. TMG is found in beets, whole grains, spinach and shellfish. Betaine HCL increases HCL in the stomach, destroys harmful bacteria in the stomach, increases the absorption of nutrients and stimulates the conversion of pepsinogen to pepsin. Betaine/HCL can be found in echinacea, beets, broccoli, and spinach. We do not recommend starting with Betaine/HCL as a supplement if there is any gastric irritation, but the foods sources are good options.
In addition, for those individuals with protein malabsorption, a wildatarian (bison, venison, wild fish, shellfish, cornish game hen) or vegetarian diet is best for the body’s ability to digest protein.
One symptom of protein malabsorption can be acid reflux. Some clients have been put on PPIs to control the acid reflux. PPIs work by reducing the amount of acid in your stomach. While this may temporarily fix the problem, it is not fixing the root of problem because your body will decrease its own production of stomach acid further exacerbating the overall problem of undigested protein.