A key reason to consider adding gelatin to your diet is for its potential healing effects on the gut. Let’s take a look at how it might help.

Gelatin is seen to have anti-inflammatory effects in the body and can be healing to the gut. Studies show effects on reducing diarrhea, improving the gut barrier, and anti-colitis effects. 

Gut barrier function

As you probably know, the major part of our immune system is in the gut, so keeping the gut healthy is key. Often times our gut can lose its good barrier function. When this happens, particles from foods and bacteria can pass through the barrier and enter into the bloodstream when normally they wouldn’t. These particles may then cause the immune system to see them as “foreign” and mount an attack on them. So it is important to have a good barrier so we don’t get autoimmunity and other barrier related issues. 

Gelatin is seen in studies to help to improve the mucus layer, which is an integral part of this barrier. It may also heal intestinal cells, and help build new tissue, especially the villi – those small fingerlike projections throughout the intestine.

This may all help in the prevention of autoimmune diseases, reduce the reactivity of the gut, and reduce chronic diarrhea. 

Inflammatory bowel disease – gelatin for colitis

One of the reasons I started looking at incorporating gelatin into the diet for clients was because of the research on its use for colitis. Animal research has shown that in a model of colitis, gelatin reduced disease activity, bodyweight loss, and preserved colon length. It also impacted dysbiosis and improved the gut mucus layer thickness and composition.  The conclusion of the study was that it enhanced the gut barrier, and re-established gut homeostasis by:

  • Restoring intestinal permeability
  • Improving mucus layer integrity
  • Modulating microbiota composition

How does gelatin have these effects? 

You may recall from last week’s what is gelatin blog post, that gelatin has quite a different ratio and composition of amino acids (building blocks of proteins) compared to other proteins. The amino acids high in gelatin are glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline.

A new animal study published this year tried to figure out what the mechanism of action of gelatin was in an animal model of colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The study compared the effects of gelatin to the single amino acids glycine and hydroxyproline.  The glycine and hydroxyproline are metabolites of gelatin, so when we eat gelatin, it is broken down into these chemicals and our blood and colon levels of glycine and hydroxyproline increase.  

Anti-colitis effects

The study examined different characteristics of colitis including body weight, food intake, colon length, inflammatory cytokines, histology, and biochemistry.
Gelatin, glycine, and hydroxyproline all showed good anti-colitis activity.  They all significantly
  • prevented colon shortening
  • reduced histology scores
  • reduced the levels of inflammatory chemicals (cytokines) in the colon
  • improved food intake
  • reduced body weight loss
  • reduced loose stools and fecal blood.
Some of these effects were greater with the isolated amino acids glycine or hydroxyproline than gelatin.  But the reduction in cytokine levels in the colon was greatest for gelatin. 
The conclusion of the study was that all three products – gelatin, glycine, and hydroxyproline showed good anti-colitis activity with improved clinical signs, colon histology, and biochemistry parameters. From this,  it was concluded that gelatin’s anti-colitis activity seems to depend on the anti-inflammatory effects of glycine and hydroxyproline.
While better overall results were seen with glycine and hydroxyproline, this doesn’t mean we want to be eating isolated amino acids. Rather, let’s focus on food and use gelatin as a good source of these anti-colitis nutrients. The study just helps us figure out why gelatin can help. It isn’t telling us to eat isolated amino acids. 

Part of the picture

So what can we get from all this?

If your gut is healthy, you can still add some gelatin to your diet. It is a good source of protein and may help to preserve your gut function.

If you have gut issues or have IBD,  you should be under the care of a health practitioner. Don’t just start including gelatin in your diet. Get a proper assessment and program of care.  Then, gelatin may indeed help and be part of a healing program.
And remember, some of the studies I discuss above are animal studies so we are not always sure how they translate into humans. As with many foods, getting studies completed in humans is expensive so finding funding is difficult, resulting in fewer studies than what we see with pharmaceuticals. However, as eating gelatin is a low-risk intervention, it may be worth considering adding it to your diet (under the guidance of a healthcare professional) to see if you notice any improvement. 
I recommend gelatin from grass-fed sources, or fish gelatin, not Jell-O or jelly, as I have discussed previously.  I’ll post another simple gelatin recipe this Friday.  

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