Immunomodulatory protein hydrolysate consumption may delay or prevent western immune-related diseases. In order to purposively develop protein hydrolysates with an optimal and reproducible immunomodulatory effect, knowledge is needed on which components in protein hydrolysates are responsible for the immune effects. Important advances have been made on this aspect. Also, knowledge on mechanisms underlying the immune modulating effects is indispensable. In this review, we discuss the most promising application possibilities for immunomodulatory protein hydrolysates. In order to do so, an overview is provided on reported in vivo immune effects of protein hydrolysates in both local intestinal and systemic organs, and the current insights in the underlying mechanisms of these effects. Furthermore, we discuss current knowledge and physicochemical approaches to identify the immune active protein sequence(s). We conclude that multiple hydrolysate compositions show specific immune effects. This knowledge can improve the efficacy of existing hydrolysate-containing products such as sports nutrition, clinical nutrition, and infant formula. We also provide arguments for why immunomodulatory protein hydrolysates could be applied to manage the immune response in the increasing number of individuals with a higher risk of immune dysfunction due to, for example, increasing age or stress.
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