Gelatine is a protein derived from collagen that provides structure and strength to joints, skin, muscles and all connective tissue. It also does a lot more than we realise. With a bit more knowledge, you can use this humble ingredient to achieve a lot of health benefits – and avoid some serious pitfalls.
Let’s start with the benefits
Joints and bones
Long-term, regular use of gelatine is associated with less pain in joint-related diseases, including osteoarthritis, which is the age-related wear and tear of joints. It seems to encourage the development of new cartilage in the joints, which means it naturally reduces pain. It also provides matrix and structure for bones, tendons, skin and ligaments.
Basically, gelatine is a combination of amino acids that occur in a specific form or pattern. This particular pattern makes it important in maintaining our structure of bones, joints, muscles and connective tissue. Anyone who puts high demands on their structure should consider regular gelatine use (after understanding the cons below).
This is new and interesting. Gelatine has three important functions in our guts:
- It actively protects it from damage. Considering the extremely high incidence of leaky gut in our society, that’s a huge plus.
- It absorbs water and keeps it in the digestive tract which makes for healthy bowel movements, and is a good tool against both constipation and diarrhoea. After all, constipation is where the stool passes so slowly that all the liquid gets absorbed through the bowel before it can be passed, making passing difficult. Diarrhoea is the opposite – it passes too quickly and not enough liquid is absorbed from the bowel.
- It increases gastric acid secretion which most of us are slightly deficient in, particularly as we age. See Are you making your heartburn worse? to understand the mechanisms.
Blood glucose, appetite and inflammation
Gelatine amino acids (probably mostly the glycine), drive down inflammation and keep blood sugar balanced over the medium to long term. The blood sugar balancing isn’t such a surprise because we know proteins balance our blood sugar. Protein is also well-known for encouraging hormones that produce satiety, so it’s also not a big surprise that gelatine has an appetite-curbing function.
What is a surprise is how this particular balance of amino acids drives down inflammation.
Gelatine comes from the parts of the animals that western society doesn’t really eat anymore: the soft cartilage tissue, the bones (e.g. soft fish bones). This might also explain studies finding that red meat consumption drives up inflammation – because we don’t eat the whole animal, so we don’t eat the methionine counter-balancing gelatine.
Skin and hair
Hair and nails becomes stronger and less brittle. Hair loss (alopecia) is also minimised with gelatine use.
Skin retains more moisture and collagen structure improves.
We know we need exposure to the sun for Vitamin D, anti-depression and for a more robust microbiome, but we are also told to avoid sun damage and that suntan lotion contains bad chemicals. Gelatine helps by making us more resilient to sun damage.
Eating one to two tablespoons of gelatine at night promotes better sleep and helps you fall asleep more easily. This is probably due to the glycine in the gelatine.
It’s still being tested, but gelatine might help reverse liver damage. It is also beneficial for brain function in ways we’re only starting to understand. It acts as a calming neurotransmitter, so it could assist with panic and anxiety, and might be beneficial in conditions like OCD and schizophrenia.
Gelatine isn’t a quick win, but it supports you from the inside out. EXCEPT (sorry, it’s an imperfect world, there has to be an “except”…)
When gelatine isn’t good for you
If you are prone to calcium oxalate kidney stones, then adding gelatine to your diet could make it worse.
Also, if you are sensitive to oxalates in general, watch for negative effects. The glyphosate (pesticides) on foods that the animals eat get stored in fat, cartilage etc, so it is also present in gelatine, and it converts to oxalates.
How to eat more gelatine
Nutrients in food are naturally packaged in little bundles of sub-nutrients that belong together. These are nicely delivered for our biological use in labelled ‘envelopes’ that our chemistry interprets and efficiently delivers to where they belongs. Its a fascinating, complex system that we don’t understand. Reducing it to an individual component like just supplementing with glycine rather than gelatine is too simplistic. Even reducing collagen to gelatine or meat to collagen is reducing the whole and losing the benefits of the packaging.
Given that, the very best place to get your gelatine is by eating cartilage, soft bones and good bone broth (there are lots of recipes on the net, bone broth is popular).
In addition, or if you can’t manage to eat enough in your diet, then you can supplement with gelatine. I use the sheets because the ones I buy aren’t preserved, but you need about 4 sheets to equal one teaspoon of powder for gelatine content. It would be even better if you can find organic gelatine because it shouldn’t have glyphosates.
You can make gelatine-moulded salads, or simply add gelatine to your tea or coffee – it’s practically tasteless and you can add it to anything liquid that you eat or drink.
Supplementing with only glycine isn’t recommended. It’s like giving someone who can’t knit wool when they need a jersey. It has some value, but it’s more likely to trip them up or become a ball of knots than it is to ever become a jersey.
No one food is a miracle for everyone, so always be open minded and trust your body’s reaction to foods (and medicines). There are solid genetic and biomic reasons why you react differently to even your twin sibling, so trust yourself.