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Gelatin is a form of animal collagen used commonly in medicines, cosmetics, and foods like marshmallows, yogurt, and gelatin-based desserts. Gelatin itself is just a hydrolyzed version of this collagen which has been broken down through the hydrolysis process in order to create this substance.
When the gelatin is hydrolyzed it is done so for the purpose of making it more easily absorbed by the body. Therefore, hydrolyzed gelatin is more often used in supplements then in the other applications listed above.
Hydrolyzed gelatin is created from the collagen which acts as connective tissue in the skin and bones of animals. Because of these properties it is widely marketed as being healthy for rebuilding similar types of connective tissue in human beings.
Although it is an incomplete protein, hydrolyzed gelatin is one of the six amino acids that make up collagen. Without it there is some question as to whether or not collagen would be effective in promoting healthy bones, skin, and connective tissue.
Hydrolyzed gelatin is marketed as a supplement to various groups of people, not the least of which are competitive athletes. Some believe that hydrolyzed gelatin’s ability to help rebuild bone and connective tissue means that it also can help to speed the healing process after broken bones, sprains, and ligament tears.
Others believe that in addition to these properties, using hydrolyzed gelatin regularly can help athletes avoid future injuries when muscles, tendons, and ligaments are already strained.
Athletes who are especially concerned about their weight sometimes take hydrolyzed gelatin for nutritional purposes. The primary reason for this lies in the notion that this substance encourages the body to use fat stores for energy before proteins or carbohydrates. This ostensibly helps promote weight loss while also helping the athlete develop lean and powerful muscles.
Unfortunately, there's absolutely no evidence to suggest these ideas are accurate! In fact, the Federal Trade Commission has filed lawsuits in the past to prevent supplement makers from making such claims. One company in particular, Mark Nutritionals, was eventually forced to shut down in 2003.
As a supplement for bone and joint issues, hydrolyzed gelatin is often marketed to those suffering from arthritis, osteoporosis, and other similar conditions. There have been several clinical studies suggesting the efficacy of hydrolyzed gelatin as a dietary supplement for these conditions is real.
In studies from both the Czech Republic and Germany, patients who were given hydrolyzed gelatin to treat arthritis reported a measurable decrease in pain, inflammation, and joint stiffness. Many of the subjects reported that hydrolyzed gelatin was as effective as standard analgesics.
The German study also suggested that daily use of hydrolyzed gelatin may be effective in slowing down the advancement of osteoporosis in some people. Several tests were done to further this suggestion and, although they proved encouraging, all of them concluded that no decision was definitive. Nothing substantial has been done on this front since the late 1990s despite recommendations from the previous studies.
Hydrolyzed gelatin is regularly used in foods, medicines, and so many other applications. However, there is a controversy surrounding this substance based on what we call "Mad Cow Disease."
Otherwise known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), this disease devastated the cattle industry in Europe during the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was thought that diseased cattle became ill after eating certain types of animal feeds. The infectious agent which causes the disease occurs naturally in the cow, and is routinely found in just about all the animal's tissues.
It is believed by some critics that Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans can be contracted by eating animal byproducts made from cattle who are suffering from BSE. This disease literally eats holes in the human brain, causing symptoms that can be mistaken for a tumor or Alzheimer’s. It is usually diagnosed after death, during an autopsy.
Since hydrolyzed gelatin is an animal byproduct that comes from the bones and skin of cattle, there are fears that perhaps this substance may be responsible for some cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob. In order to avoid the spread of this devastating disease, governments around the world have instituted very strict safeguards involving animals diagnosed with BSE.
According to WebMD, hydrolyzed gelatin is safe for most people at lower dosages, and possibly safe for medicinal use in dosages of up to 10g per day for a period of six months. There have been some minor side effects associated with taking it as a supplement, including moderate heartburn, bloating, gas, and stomach discomfort.
None of these side effects appear to be serious and last only until the body has rid itself of hydrolyzed gelatin. Because much about this substance is still unknown, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are encouraged not to take it.
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