Whey protein concentrate (WPC) and hydrolysate (WPH) are protein ingredients used in sports, medical and pediatric formulations. Concentration and hydrolysis methods vary for whey sourced from cheese and casein co-products. The purpose of this research was to investigate the influence of whey processing methods on in vitro gastrointestinal (GI) health indicators for colonic motility, epithelial barrier integrity and immune modulation. WPCs from casein or cheese processing and WPH (11% or 19% degree of hydrolysis, DH) were compared for their effects on motility in a 1 cm section of isolated rat distal colon in an oxygenated tissue bath. Results showed that WPC decreased motility irrespective of whether it was a by-product of lactic acid or mineral acid casein production, or from cheese production. This indicated that regardless of the preparation methodology, the whey protein contained components that modulate aspects of motility within the distal colon. WPH (11% DH) increased contractile frequency by 27% in a delayed manner and WPH (19% DH) had an immediate effect on contractile properties, increasing tension by 65% and frequency by 131%. Increased motility was associated with increased hydrolysis that may be attributed to the abundance of bioactive peptides. Increased frequency of contractions by WPH (19% DH) was inhibited (by 44%) by naloxone, implicating a potential involvement of opioid receptors in modulation of motility. Trans-epithelial electrical resistance and cytokine expression assays revealed that the WPC proteins studied did not alter intestinal barrier integrity or elicit any discernible immune response.
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