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What is gelatine, and what are the benefits of gelatine supplements and in pharmaceuticals?

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Gelatin or gelatine is a translucent, colourless, brittle (when dry), flavourless material derived from collagen obtained from various animal matter. It is commonly used as a gelling agent in food, pharmaceutical drugs, photography, and cosmetic manufacturing. Gelatine is an irreversibly hydrolyzed form of collagen, in which the protein fibrils are reduced to smaller peptides. It is found in most gummy candy, as well as other products such as marshmallows, gelatine desserts, and some ice creams, dips, and yogurts. Gelatine can be supplied in the form of sheets, granules, or powder. In pharmaceuticals, gelatine is used to make easily digestible capsules or as an ingredient in ‘gummies’ or chewable tablets.

Supplements and multivitamins often come in tablet sizes that are hard to swallow and sometimes have a bitter after taste. To make the products more palatable, the industry is able to encapsulate the materials in capsules made of gelatine, or to form them into ‘gummies’. Although gelatine is 98–99% protein by dry weight, it also has an important role to play in our metabolism, and the following benefits of taking gelatine are well documented.

Benefits of taking gelatine

Digestive conditions

Gelatine is beneficial in preventing damage of the intestines and improving the lining of the digestive tract. The lining of the gut can be thought of as the body’s most important line of defense, as it keeps particles from food, bacteria and yeast inside the digestive system where they belong, and prevents leakage into the blood stream, which would trigger inflammation. People who have problems with their digestion can benefit from taking gelatine supplement. It can improve your ability to produce adequate gastric juices, and glycine from gelatine is important for restoring a healthy mucosal lining in the stomach and facilitating with the balance of digestive enzymes and stomach acid. Symptoms of inadequate enzymes and acid include acid reflux, bloating, indigestion and anaemia. Finally gelatine is capable of absorbing water and other fluids which helps prevent fluid retention and a bloated stomach while improving constipation.

Protects Joints and Lowers Joint Pain

Both collagen and gelatine are known to ease symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is common in older people and considered the leading cause of frequent joint pains. As people age, they tend to develop more stiffness, aches and limited mobility that worsen over time since collagen continues to break down and erode. Gelatine and collagen supplements help stall chronic inflammatory responses, which reduces pain and stops progressive disease that lead to impairments in joint function. In clinical trials, people taking gelatine (around two grams daily) tend to experience less inflammation, less pain in the joints or muscles, better recovery, and even improved athletic abilities compared to people taking a placebo.

Helps Improve Sleep Quality

Certain studies have shown that taking a few grams of gelatine before bedtime helps people who continuously experience trouble falling asleep, or who have general unsatisfactory sleep. Researchers have found that gelatine can have a positive effect on subjective sleep quality and find that it improves daytime sleepiness, daytime cognitive functions, sleep quality and sleep efficacy (sleep time/in-bed time), and improves slow-wave sleep without changes in the normal/healthy sleep architecture. Glycine also seems to improve sleep in a different way to traditional sleep medications or hypnotic drugs, i.e., less drowsiness and side effects the following day are experienced.

Lifts Mood and Improves Cognitive Abilities

The amino acid glycine in gelatine is considered an “inhibitory neurotransmitter,” which means it acts similarly to some anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications, only without the unwanted complications and side effects. People use glycine and other forms of amino acid therapy to naturally boost mental clarity and calmness because certain amino acids help lower “stress hormones” like norepinephrine and increase “happy hormones” like gamma-aminobutyric acid. Glycine can also help detoxify the liver for overall health and function.

Thus there are advantages to be had in taking gelatine as it is recognized that the modern western diet is much lower in gelatine that was common even a couple of generations ago. These days we tend to eat chicken breast rather than the other components of the chicken carcass that are high in gelatine. By contrast, the chicken broth of Mrs Beeton in the 19th Century was nutritious and a great help for the infirm because partly because it was high in gelatine.

There are two types of gelatine capsules used in the pharmaceutical industry for encapsulating other supplements or medicines – a soft capsule and a hard one. Soft capsules often contain gelatinous substance or oil-based formulation whereas hard capsules usually contain dry or powdered formulations. Soft gel capsules are also available in one piece while hard gels are sold in two-piece capsule – the two-piece can easily be opened whereas the soft ones cannot.

Note that although gelatine can be a problem for people who have sensitivities to certain food or drugs and other individuals who cannot take animal by-products for religious reasons (since gelatines are animal by-products). There are however some vegetable-based alternatives for constructing capsules which can be used for vegetarians and others that maintain a meat-free diet. Unfortunately these do not have the high-protein, collagen and glycine benefits of traditional gelatine.