When I first read about the health benefits of gelatin a few months ago, I began recommending the consumption of bone broths to my patients with degenerative and inflammatory conditions, knee and joint pain, as well as my patients with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Broths and stocks are healing foods for the musculoskeletal system and are also alkalizing, making them helpful for these types of conditions. However, I am now even more excited about gelatin, having discovered an even wider range of health benefits that gelatin and its set of amino acids (in particular glycine and proline) provides us.
What is Gelatin?
Gelatin is a protein substance – essentially it is collagen. Collagen is sourced from non-muscle animal parts (varying from ligaments, tendons, bone and skin) which are dried and ground into powder. Because the western diet has veered away from eating these parts of the animal (which our ancestors prized) our protein intake usually consists solely of muscle meats. Because of this we are not obtaining the balance of amino acids that our body craves which can result in some health problems.
Nose-to-tail eating is a concept which involves not wasting any of the animal by making use of all of it parts (usually by eating them) – this not only reduces food wastage, but is also economical and pays more respect to the animal. Some celebrities and chefs such as Carlo Petrini and his Slow Food Movement, Fergus Henderson, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from River Cottage, Anthony Bourdain, Colin Fassnidge from restaurant Four in Hand, and Masterchef contestant Chris Badenoch have been promoting this concept for the above reasons, however many people still find that the whole concept makes them squeamish. If you are one of those people, please read on and I hope I can change your mind.
Benefits of gelatin
From reducing inflammation in joints to promoting thick hair and reducing cellulite and stretch marks, gelatin has a wide range of benefits.
- 1. It helps to reduce inflammation (1)(2), by balancing some of the hormones which when too high can cause excess inflammation (oestrogen and serotonin).
- 2. It assists in wound healing (3). Our body will break down our collagen to release glycine which helps to initiate wound healing, and supplementing with gelatin can speed the healing process. Gelatin has been used traditionally for wound healing and reducing excessive bleeding (e.g. nosebleeds) by consuming gelatin and even by applying it directly to wounds.(4)
- 3. It supports digestive health by protecting and healing the digestive lining (5)(6), making it a fantastic dietary addition for people with digestive problems and multiple food intolerances. Gelatin also contains glutamine, an amino acid which acts as fuel for our intestinal cells. Our digestion also benefits from adding gelatin rich foods to cooking, as when we cook muscle meats along with gelatin rich parts or meat that’s attached to bone, it helps the breakdown of protein and fat making it easier to digest and absorb. Gelatin also improves the passage of food through the intestines.
- 4. Healthy bones and joints (7). When gelatin is used as a supplement for knee pain or osteoarthritis, pain relief is usually within a few days. This fast result is due to its anti-inflammatory properties, but with continued use gelatin can also help to repair small tears in the joint cartilages. Consider adding gelatin to your post workout protein shakes, or even using it instead of your normal protein shake (glycine and proline are essential for muscle development, and gelatin contains about 6 gram of protein per tablespoon). There have been claims that when taken 3 hours after dinner, before bed, gelatin helps to boost human growth hormone making it helpful for muscle recovery as well as weight loss (the weight loss could also be due to its protective effect on the thyroid, see below). Gelatin is also considered beneficial for growing children’s bone health and to promote healthy development.
- 5. Better sleep. Drinking 1-2 tbsp of gelatin or 3g glycine before bed helps your sleep hormones, helping you sleep more soundly and reducing sleepiness the next day(8). Try adding 1 tbsp of gelatin into some chamomile tea for an awesome before bed beverage.
- 6. Beauty. When you think of collagen, it might conjure up images of women applying ‘plumping/anti-aging/anti-wrinkle’ facial creams. Collagen is actually poorly absorbed through the skin, but when ingested it does help to improve skin quality. It tightens skin, reduces/prevents cellulite, and supports hair skin and nail growth(9). It has been recommended for pregnant women to consume 1 cup of bone broth per day to reduce stretch marks. Including it in your diet will help your skin to remain youthful a little longer, as well as look more vibrant and heal better. Some bloggers recommend adding 1 tsp of gelatin into your shampoo to make your hair more voluminous, and it can also strengthen your hair.
Getting a bit more technical…
Most of what we know about the gelatins’ health benefits is from research done on Glycine, the main amino acid in gelatin (35% of the amino acids in gelatin are glycine, 11% alanine, and 21% proline and hydroxyproline(4)). Glycine has been shown to have a lot of benefits when supplemented in isolation or in the form of gelatin. Glycine is a non-essential amino acid, which means that we can make it ourselves in the liver from other amino acids, however by increasing its consumption in supplemental or dietary form via gelatin, we can help to address imbalances and use it as a therapeutic tool.
As mentioned earlier, when we’re not eating in a nose-to-tail method, our amino acids can get out of balance. The main issue is that we get too much of the amino acid tryptophan, which can affect thyroid function, energy production within our cells (mitochondrial health) and reduces our body’s ability to deal with stress. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, which can increase inflammation and upset the immune system when too high(4). Gelatin contains virtually no tryptophan, and can help to restore the balance.
According to Ray Peat, a health researcher and PhD in Biology/Endocrinology :
“When we eat animal proteins in the traditional ways (for example, eating fish head soup, as well as the muscles, or “head-cheese” as well as pork chops, and chicken-foot soup as well as drumsticks), we assimilate a large amount of glycine and gelatin. This whole-animal balance of amino acids supports all sorts of biological process, including a balanced growth of children’s tissues and organs.
When only the muscle meats are eaten, the amino acid balance entering our blood stream is the same as that produced by extreme stress, when cortisol excess causes our muscles to be broken down to provide energy and material for repair. The formation of serotonin is increased by the excess tryptophan in muscle, and serotonin stimulates the formation of more cortisol, while the tryptophan itself, along with the excess muscle-derived cysteine, suppresses the thyroid function.”(4)
Further reading –
How to take it
While you’ve been reading this, you’ve probably thought ‘isn’t gelatin what jell-o is made from?’ Well, yes it is! But I’m definitely not recommending you consume jell-o, which contains too many icky artificial colours, sweeteners and flavours. As you know, gelatin comes from cows (or pigs), so it is beneficial to ensure the gelatin is sourced from cows that are grass-fed and free from unnecessary harmful chemicals. I recommend Great Lakes gelatin (use the green bottle for mixing into liquids as it won’t congeal, and the orange one for making jellies, lollies, marshmallows and other foods from).
You can buy it on iherb here.
There are plenty of ways in which you can incorporate gelatin into your diet:
- Mix powdered gelatin into liquid and drink it. If you choose the hydrolysed gelatin you won’t taste the gelatin and it will mix in well to hot or cold liquids.
- Mix into chamomile tea for a great sleep tonic before bed.
- Opt for more gelatinous cuts (osso bucco, oxtail, beef cheeks, lamb shanks) of meat instead of just muscle meats (steak and chicken breast). These go great in a slow cooker, and are also much cheaper!
- If you’re having muscle meats on their own, try to consume some form gelatin alongside it (e.g. mint jelly as a topping, or make a dessert with gelatin for afterwards).
- Bone broths. You can find some recipes here, here, here, here and here.
- My favourite: A myriad of sweets: Pudding, Marshmallow, Mousse, fruit snacks and more fruit snacks, gummies,and jelly.
So have I convinced you on the wonders of gelatin? Do you have another browser open ordering some gelatin right now?
Let me know your thoughts, and I would love to hear if you discover any more ways to increase gelatin.
1. L-Glycine: a novel antiinflammatory, immunomodulatory, and cytoprotective agent. Zhong, Z, et al. 2, March 2003, Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care., Vol. 6, pp. 229-40.
2. Anti-inflammatory role of glycine in reducing rodent postoperative inflammatory ileus. Stoffels, B, et al. 1, 2011, Neurogastroenterology and motility : the official journal of the European Gastrointestinal Motility Society., Vol. 23, pp. 76-87.
3. Repair processes in wound tissues of experimental animals following administration of glycine. Zaĭdenberg, M A, et al. 11, 1981, Biull Eksp Biol Med., Vol. 92, pp. 599-601. Article in Russian.
4. Peat, Ray. Gelatin, stress, longevity. raypeat.com. [Online] 2009. [Cited: September 11, 2013.] http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/gelatin.shtml.
5. Protection of gastric mucosal integrity by gelatin and simple proline-containing peptides. Samonina, G, et al. 1, 200, Pathophysiology Journal, Vol. 7, pp. 69-73.
6. Gelatin Treats Ulcers. [Online] Medical News Today, August 22, 2006. [Cited: September 11, 2013.] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/50126.php.
7. Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature. Bello, A E and Oesser, S. 11, 2006, Current medical research and opinion., Vol. 22, pp. 2221-32.
8. Glycine ingestion improves subjective sleep quality in human volunteers, correlating with polysomnographic changes. Yamadera, Wataru, et al. 2, 2007, Sleep and Biological Rhythms, Vol. 5, pp. 126-131.
9. Shanahan MD, Catherine. Deep Nutrition: Why your genes need traditional food. s.l. : Big Box Books., 2011.