Collagen: The Powerful, Sleep Inducing Protein You’re Not Getting Enough Of That Can Heal And Repair Your Body
There are many foods, vitamins, and minerals that can help us sleep, but none may be as important, and provide so many other benefits, than collagen. Collagen is the most plentiful protein in humans and animals, and typically when we think of collagen supplements, we might think of gelatin, like Jell-O, which is actually made from collagen.
Because Jell-O is made using collagen, it actually provides no benefit as a collagen supplement, because simmering the mixture to get it to thicken as it cools denatures the long protein fibers, or fibrils, and breaks them down into smaller amino acid compound. The structure of gelatin is very similar to collagen however, but you must source gelatin from other food sources, such as animal skin, bones, ligaments, and connective tissues.
Connective tissue, such as our tendons and cartilage is what connects everything together in our bodies, providing the skeleton with the flexible joints and hinges that we need. Ounce for ounce, collagen is actually structurally stronger than steel. When we are depleted of collagen, as we age, those joints and connection points begin to degrade and we feel pain and aches that are often unbearable.
However if we consume the right kind of collagen, and consider that our ancestors ate “nose to tail”, and consumed virtually every part of an animal, including its collagen rich joints and bones, tails, and hooves, we can actually repair our bodies by increasing our collagen stores.
By increasing our collagen consumption, we are obtaining a host of benefits, including more restorative and rejuvenating sleep. Note that when we refer to gelatin below, we’re not talking about Jell-O, but rather gelatin that is unprocessed and is sourced from animals, sourced from bone broth and the food stuffs and animal components we discussed above. Remember, we are biologically pre-programmed to require the intake of collagen, and its typically in the form of gelatin.
Collagen is made of almost pure protein (98-99%), and one half cup of gelatin provides almost 2 grams of protein.
Collagen is rich in vital amino acids, including proline, glutamic acid, and lysine.
Collagen was part of our ancestral “nose to tail” diet, which included all of the grissle and gelatinous features. We no longer consume gelatin rich cuts of meat, which are typically discarded. Vegans consume none at all. Hunter-gatherers were healthy people largely free from widespread chronic illnesses common to modern people.
Because we no longer consume whole animal diets, we might be ravaging our bodies and missing out on the unique benefits of consuming gelatin to create healthy collagen in our bodies.
Eggs and muscle meats—as opposed to organ meats and meaty bones—are high in the amino acid methionine. In some people, eating too much methionine can lead to a buildup of a toxic compound called homocysteine in the blood. High levels of homocysteine are an independent risk factor for a variety of serious concerns, from dementia and Alzheimer’s to heart disease, and fracturing bones.
This might explain why researchers sometimes find a correlation between high meat intake and chronic disease. This meat consumption though, reflect consumption of lean cuts and butchered meat and poultry, where the collagen rich components are trimmed away and considered to be refuse. If we could add gelatin back into our diets, we would likely see these disease factors reduced.
What helps keep methionine and homocysteine levels in a healthy balance? Gelatin contains a large amount of glycine. It accounts for almost 30 percent of gelatin’s composition, making gelatin the richest food source of this amino acid. Glycine keeps the balance between methionine and homocysteine. Although your body can make glycine, you usually don’t produce enough to fulfill the body’s need for it, and you need to consume ample amounts from your diet.
Collage sourced from gelatin also protects your joints and bones, too. Bone is living tissue, composed of mostly collagen. It acts as the glue that holds our tissues together. Research shows that gelatin may have a beneficial effect on cartilage metabolism and inhibit the breakdown of collagen in bone.
It may be effective in treating both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Its amino acids glycine and proline have anti-inflammatory properties too, of which gelatin is a component, which research has shown is effective at reducing arthritis-associated joint pain.
Lysine, also in gelatin, strengthens bones by helping the body absorb calcium and form collagen. The body cannot fabricate this amino acid, so it must come from your diet. Lysine has also been shown to hasten fracture healing in animal studies, as well.
Gelatinous Foods That Contain Collagen May Slow Or Reduce Age Related Muscle Loss
Research has found that increasing glycine intake, either through supplementation or high-glycine foods such as gelatin, can help slow or reduce the age-related loss of muscle. (For some people, this weakness can cause them to become less physically active as they age or even to fall due to reduced strength and stability or injure themselves when they exercise.) Supplemental glycine can protect muscle in a variety of wasting conditions brought on by serious illness such as cancer or due to very reduced calorie intake.
Gelatin Is Good for Your Gut
Gelatin contains the amino acids glycine, proline, and glutamine, which improve gut integrity and digestive strength by increasing gastric acid secretion as well restoring a healthy mucosal lining in the stomach. Gelatin also absorbs water and helps keep the proper amount of fluid in the digestive tract, promoting good intestinal motility and transit, and healthy bowel movements. Gelatin-rich soups and broths are one of the key components of the certain diets designed to heal the gut and promote healthy digestion.
It Makes Your Hair Shine And Can Increase Hair Growth And Lustre
Collagen is one of the primary structural elements of skin, in fact the fabric which keeps it flexible and thick. As we age, we naturally lose collagen, causing our skin to sag, and it takes on the texture of tissue, and causes wrinkling. Consuming gelatin rich foods provides glycine and proline, the essential building blocks for collagen, and you can consume enough of it to create this important protein to drastically improve your skin’s health and appearance.
In particular, several studies have shown improved skin elasticity and hydration, as well as a reduction of deep wrinkles, with collagen hydrolysate supplementation. A diet rich in gelatin may also protect against the aging effects of sunlight, preventing wrinkles in the future. And gelatin appears to induce hair growth and even lead to thicker, fuller hair.
It Can Help You Sleep
Gelatin foodstuffs have been found to help with sleep due to the fact that it is abundant in glycine. Just a few tablespoons can provide roughly three grams of glycine, which is enough to cause detectable improvements in sleep quality. Glycine is also an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning that it can decrease anxiety and induce calmness, which helps with sleep induction and provides restorative and rejuvenating sleep.
There’s even more benefit suggested by research regarding gelatin foodstuffs. Gelatin may also aid in weight loss, help control blood sugar, improve cognitive and mental health, slow the growth of certain cancers, and much more.
Are You Vegetarian Or Vegan? : A Warning
While gelatin isn’t acceptable to vegans, who shun all animal products, it may be to vegetarians who are open to eating some animal-derived foods, such as eggs and dairy. If this describes your dietary approach, here’s why you should go out of your way to eat gelatin. Vegetarians and vegans don’t consume as much glycine as meat eaters, and we’ve seen here just how important this building block of collagen is for health.
Some Paleo followers who eat mainly muscle meats and ignore the nose-to-tail diet concept can also be susceptible to low glycine intake. Studies have shown that vegetarians and vegans have significantly higher homocysteine levels than omnivores, putting them at significant risk for cardiovascular trouble. This is possibly due to nutrient deficiencies in vitamin B12 and choline, which help keep homocysteine in check.
The Best Ways to Get More Gelatin: Bone Broth and Beyond
One obvious way to introduce gelatin back into your diet is to eat more skin and gelatinous cuts of meat, especially those that are on the bone like shank pieces or ribs. These aren’t necessarily the tastiest parts of the animal to everyone, but the benefits are wholesome and nutritious. There are other options out there.
In traditional cooking, meat bones serve as a base for delicious stocks and sauces, and bone broth is a first course that enhances digestion of the food to come. Nose-to-tail eating is making a bit of a comeback in this regard, as many people are using their caveman ancestors “secret” for great recipes and as a powerful health drink.
Since bones are full of collagen, which forms gelatin when simmered, bone broths provide all of the health benefits noted above in spades. Bone is also chock-full of an array of important minerals and nutrients, from calcium and iron to vitamins D, C, and B1 (thiamin). Best of all, bone broth is easy to make at home.
Cook It Low and Slow
To transfer the active chemical ingredients from the bones into the broth, you need heat, time, and acid (typically vinegar, tomato, and/or wine). Don’t rush it: Cook your broth slowly over low heat to extract as much nutrient content as possible. A slow cooker is immensely helpful. The lower the heat, the less destruction of the collagen fibers and the more collagen yield you will get from your batch.
Go with Grass Fed
Grass-fed and farm raised beef, as well as free-range chicken bones, give the best results. You can also use bones from duck, lamb, turkey, or pork, as well as fish. Seek out chicken feet, heads, and necks or calves’ feet (and heads and necks, if you can find them) from a local farm or butcher. When selecting from beef, look for cuts with a lot of bone in them, including some knuckle bones, if possible. Marrow bones are by far the best.
The Longer You Cook It, the Better
Simply put the bones, browned or not, based on your preference, into a stock pot or slow cooker. Cover with enough filtered, cold water to cover the bones by an inch. Then add your acid, bring everything to a low boil, then simmer on very low, removing any scum that has risen to the top. After skimming, add vegetables and herbs and spices if you wish and simmer six to 48 hours for chicken and 12 to 72 hours for beef, making sure to check in on it regularly. The longer you can let it cook, the better.
Strain It, Store It, and Sip It
Once finished and cooled, strain your broth using a fine strainer. For a clearer stock, line your colander or sieve with cheesecloth.
Store covered in the refrigerator for about five days or in the freezer for several months. Try the “ice cube” method: Put stock in ice cube trays, freeze until solid, then store in freezer bags and take out one or two at a time for recipes. Pour warmed broth into a mug and sip like tea, or use as a base for gravies, sauces, and soups—or anytime a recipe calls for cooking liquid.
Buy High-Quality Bone Broth
If you don’t have the time (or desire) to make your own bone broth, there are great packaged options out there. Choose broth that’s organic and made from pasture-raised animals or wild-caught fish. This minimizes toxins and maximizes nutrients.
Many grocery stores don’t sell bone broth; it is not the same as the chicken or beef stock that’s widely available in the soup aisles of most supermarkets, which doesn’t have the same high level of nutrients as homemade or organic broth. You can, however, find organic, pasture-raised bone broths online.
Buy Gelatin Powder
If you eat a Paleo or ancestral diet, you can easily incorporate gelatinous cuts of meat and bone broths into your meals. But if you’re vegetarian, it’s difficult to get gelatin from a meat-free diet.
For vegetarians (and even omnivores), I recommend a high-quality gelatin powder to add to food or to create healthy gelatinous desserts.
One favorite brand of powdered gelatin is Great Lakes, which comes from grass-fed animals. It’s available in both hydrolyzed and whole form; each type has its own health perks.
Hydrolyzed means the protein is broken into individual amino acids, making them easier to absorb. Use this type to improve skin and joint health or get better sleep. Hydrolyzed gelatin can be mixed into any type of liquid, including cold liquids, so it can be added to smoothies or juices. It is also great as a real-food protein powder.
Whole-protein gelatin is better for improving gut health. It helps carry fluid through the intestines and can even coat the lining of the digestive tract as a soothing and protective layer. This is the type used to make gummy snacks and desserts and must be mixed into warm liquids.
Fish gelatin is available if you prefer not to consume land animals.
Some people report a histamine reaction after consuming gelatin or gelatin powders and supplements, so gelatin may not be appropriate for those with severe histamine intolerances.
As we age we all expect to notice some signs in the way we look and feel. If you’ve ever jumped up to demonstrate ‘the perfect cartwheel’ you know exactly what we’re talking about.
The simple fact is that once we enter our late twenties, our body is just not quite as nimble as it used to be. And while the odd reminder is unavoidable, health issues like chronic joint problems, digestive troubles and even low mood can hinder our quality of life.
Our body produces all of our collagen naturally – until our early twenties, when it begins to slowly wane, by about 1.5% per year1. So the creaking, popping joints, aging skin and digestive issues aren’t necessarily simply a factor of age, they’re actually all symptoms of diminished collagen levels.
Happily, the science is showing that it doesn’t have to be this way. By supplementing with hydrolyzed collagen we can boost the body’s natural production and experience all of the positive effects.
Collagen peptides, which are short chains of amino acids, along with free amino acids, are the building blocks needed to make new collagen. When we take a daily collagen supplement, we are restoring collagen levels in the body. Resulting in the ultimate health boost.
How does this health boost show up in our daily lives? Primarily by improving the way we feel, although there are some serious perks for our appearance too (and we’re not complaining).
10 MOST IMPORTANT HEALTH BENEFITS OF COLLAGEN
Increases Skin Elasticity – By replenishing the connective tissues, skin maintains its ability to stretch structurally without remaining slack. Our body uses collagen to rejuvenate this structure, giving our skin the ability to ‘bounce back’. You can feel it when you touch your skin. With the right amount of collagen, your skin looks and feels firm. This firmness, or plumpness, contributes to the visible reduction of fine lines and wrinkles.
Reduces Appearance of Cellulite and Stretch Marks – Although genetics play a role in the onset of cellulite and stretch marks, collagen levels also affect their appearance on our skin. As collagen levels drop, skin becomes thinner. This causes the appearance of cellulite and stretch marks to become more dramatic. Skin with a healthy amount of collagen has a firm structure and is less prone to collapsing into cellulite.
Manages Inflammation – This is an important one: chronic inflammation is thought to be the main culprit in a long list of health issues. Happily, studies have shown that glycine, one of the key amino acids in collagen supplements, works to reduce inflammation.
Improves Quality of Sleep – Sleep is a key factor in everything from metabolic function to healing and mental health. The good news is that glycine can help. Studies have shown that glycine improves the overall quality of sleep and even significantly improves fatigue and daytime sleepiness in people who experience insomnia.
Eases Anxiety – Who doesn’t experience some anxiety from time to time? But if stress and anxiety become chronic, it can seriously affect our daily lives. Guess what? Glycine is also an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means that it’s a natural way to calm the brain and create balance.
Decreases Joint Pain – While we can’t promise that you’ll be doing an effortless cartwheel series across the lawn, we can tell you that collagen has been shown to reduce the risk of joint deterioration, regenerate cartilage and improve joint pain. Which is key to keep you moving the way you used to.
Balances Appetite – Many people report feeling full for longer after taking collagen in the morning. That’s not entirely surprising as collagen is actually a protein.
Improves Digestion – By now you’ve probably heard of the term ‘leaky gut’. This is a situation where certain lifestyle choices begin to catch up to us. A leaky gut has been linked to a whole host of physical and mental health issues, from nutritional deficiencies to anxiety. Collagen can help to ‘heal and seal’ the gut lining, which results in a wide range of benefits, like improved digestion, nutrient absorption and even a lighter, brighter mood.
Kickstarts Energy Levels – Glycine is also thought to boost metabolism and energy levels, so you just might be hopping, and not crawling, out of bed.
Improves Mood – This might go without saying, but when you feel better, you are better. Collagen has been scientifically linked to a wide range of granular benefits, the overall result of which is a boost in quality of life.