Gelatin is a type of protein with many uses, including pharmaceutical, therapeutic, and culinary. It is derived from various animal and a few plant sources.
Some people use gelatin for its potential health benefits, such as for the following:
However, there is very little scientific evidence to support these and other uses of gelatin.
This article will discuss gelatin’s origins, potential benefits, side effects, precautions, interactions, and how to take it.
Dietary supplements are not regulated the way drugs are in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. Whenever possible, choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab.com, or NSF.
However, even if supplements are third-party tested, they are not necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, talking to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and asking about potential interactions with other supplements or medications is essential.
- Active ingredient(s): Amino acids, proteins
- Alternate name(s): Denatured collagen, partially hydrolyzed collagen
- Legal status: Available over the counter in the United States
- Suggested dose: Varies depending on the product and reason for use
- Safety considerations: Possible side effects, and some people should take precautions
What Is Gelatin?
Gelatin is the product of partially hydrolyzed collagen taken from bones, joints, and other types of connective tissue of animals. Typically, gelatin comes from cows and pigs, but other sources are available, like fish and other marine life, chickens, and seaweed.
Gelatin is clear and tasteless, which is why it is commonly used to make medication capsules or used as a food additive. Gelatin gives food products like jellies and cakes texture, chewiness, and stability.
Because gelatin comes from collagen (a protein), it is completely made up of proteins and amino acids. Of course, the exact amino acids in gelatin will vary depending on the source. But gelatin typically contains proline, hydroxyproline, and glycine, which are the three main amino acids found in collagen.
Gelatin contains additional nutrients. One tablespoon of gelatin provides the following nutrients in grams (g), milligrams (mg), and micrograms (mcg):
Benefits of Gelatin
Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.
For the most part, gelatin is used for its protein and amino acid content. Various types of gelatin have been studied for potential antioxidant, antihypertensive (high blood pressure), anticancer, anti-photoaging (skin damage due to the sun), and cholesterol-lowering effects as well.
However, these health claims aren’t supported by high-quality research, as many studies have been performed in lab settings rather than on humans.
Research on some of the potential benefits of gelatin is outlined below.
Wound Healing & Other Skin Conditions
Collagen, from which gelatin is derived, is the most abundant protein in human skin. As such, there is evidence that gelatin may be useful for wounds and various skin conditions.
According to a 2021 expert review, gelatin is an excellent option for wound healing simply because it is a collagen derivative. Researchers believe gelatin is highly compatible with human skin, but clinical trials are lacking. Most evidence to date of gelatin’s wound-healing abilities is from lab studies.
Other preliminary research has shown that certain types of gelatin may help reduce signs of aging skin, including fine lines and wrinkles.
A year-long study found that feeding rats marine gelatin increased skin thickness and collagen density. Another lab study concluded that gelatin from Pacific cod skin had a protective effect against skin damage caused by the sun.
These findings suggest that gelatin may slow the natural process of aging skin, but more research is needed.
Gelatin is known to contain nutrients that are important to bone health. Unfortunately, though, there isn’t much research on how gelatin supplements may benefit bones.
One study examined the effects of two types of gelatin on bone mineral density (BMD) in young rats. Results showed that both marine and porcine (pig) gelatin improved BMD and decrease bone brittleness in the rats.
Another rat study found protective effects of gelatin on bone health. In the study, rats with induced osteoporosis (a bone disease causing decreases in bone mineral density and bone mass) were treated with gelatin from the skin of tilapia (a type of fish). The tilapia skin was associated with improved calcium absorption and bone growth in the rats, which was thought to be due to the amino acids found in the gelatin.
Still, these same results would have to be replicated in human trials before gelatin can be recommended as a treatment for osteoporosis and general bone health.
Some research suggests that gelatin may be good for joint health.
There is anecdotal evidence that gelatin helps with joint pain caused by osteoarthritis (joint disease from wear and tear and aging) and other conditions. However, there have yet to be any well-designed studies or human trials to support these claims.
It is speculated that gelatin may help relieve symptoms of joint pain due to its anti-inflammatory properties. But while older studies have found that gelatin relieves symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease causing a loss of the protective synovial fluid around joints), this hasn’t been proven further.
A 2020 lab study found that incorporating gelatin hydrogel with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) slowed the progression of osteoarthritis in mice better than EPA alone. However, these effects were due to gelatin’s ability to slowly release EPA over time rather than all at once. This means that, in this study, gelatin didn’t play a direct role in preventing osteoarthritis.
More research is needed on the potential role of gelatin in joint health.
A somewhat unexpected potential benefit of gelatin is that it may improve the health of your gut.
A lab study examined how gelatin peptides might affect gut inflammation and the microbiome. In vitro studies (those performed in a lab, not using a living organism), gelatin was shown to suppress inflammation by modulating various cytokines. And in mouse models, gelatin improved the gut microbiome and reduced symptoms of colitis, including gut inflammation.
Some people swear by gelatin as a gut healer, but there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support such claims. Further research should be conducted.
What Are the Side Effects of Gelatin?
Gelatin is considered safe when used in amounts commonly found in foods. However, side effects may occur if you take larger doses of gelatin.
Large gelatin doses of 15 g per day or more may cause:
It’s important to note that little is known about the effects of using gelatin as a supplement for long periods. More human studies are needed to determine its overall safety.
Despite its perceived safety, gelatin supplements may not be right for everyone.
Gelatin is considered safe when consumed in amounts commonly found in foods, but there is uncertainty about the use of gelatin supplements in some people. For example, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to know if gelatin supplements are safe for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Therefore, it’s recommended that people in these groups avoid using gelatin.
Because gelatin typically comes from animals, it is not appropriate for use by people who are vegan or vegetarian. Vegans and vegetarians should look for plant-based gelatin.
Although there is no evidence to back it up, there is some concern that gelatin from animal sources could become contaminated. This may be possible if sick animals are used to make gelatin products.
How to Consume Gelatin
Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs.
Dosage varies for gelatin supplements. This is due to a lack of reliable information regarding the safe use of gelatin products.
Always follow dosing directions as written on the product label or as recommended by a healthcare provider.
Gelatin is found in various foods, including jelly, cakes, and marshmallows. It’s also a common ingredient in capsules for various supplements and medications.
Gelatin powder is a versatile supplement option. It can be mixed with smoothies, hot or cold drinks, soups, sauces, oatmeal, ice cream, or homemade baked goods for a protein boost.
What Happens If I Take Too Much Gelatin?
Gelatin is not considered toxic, but taking more than you should may cause problems.
Since gelatin is safe for most people, there are no set intake limits. However, there is some evidence that taking more than 15 g of gelatin per day may cause side effects, including sore throat, swollen gums, and mouth sores.
It’s important to use supplements like gelatin safely. Always follow dosage directions and talk with a healthcare provider if you have any questions about proper supplement use.
Gelatin is not known to interact with any medications, supplements, herbs, or foods.
Keep in mind, though, that some gelatin supplements may contain other ingredients. Talk with a healthcare provider if you’re unsure of any supplement ingredients, especially if you’re taking prescription medications.
Always carefully read the ingredients list and nutrition facts panel of a supplement to know exactly what is included. Please review supplement labels with a healthcare provider to discuss any potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.
How to Store Gelatin
It’s important to store supplements properly to help maintain their quality.
Gelatin should be stored in a cool, dry place (like a pantry or cabinet) and kept out of the direct sunlight.
Keep gelatin supplements in an air-tight container, and reseal gelatin bags or packets after opening. Check package labels regarding refrigeration of products.
Discard gelatin once it passes its expiration date as listed on the packaging.
Sources of Gelatin & What to Look For
Gelatin is found in various foods and can be used as a dietary supplement.
Gelatin isn’t a substance vital to your overall health and nutrition, but it does contain important amino acids. Therefore, if you’re looking to add gelatin to your diet, then choose whichever form is best for you.
Food Sources of Gelatin
Gelatin can be found in jellies, cakes, marshmallows, and various dairy products. It’s also an ingredient in certain soft candies, like gumdrops, and desserts, like Turkish delight.
You can also add gelatin to homemade meals or baked goods. You can find gelatin powder or gelatin sheets, which are small squares of gelatin, in grocery stores or online.
Remember that most types of gelatin are from animal sources, but some plant-based options are available.
Gelatin supplements are mostly available as powders and capsules. You can purchase these online or in certain health food stores and supplement shops.
For the most part, gelatin supplements are from animal sources, like cows, pigs, or fish. But some plant-based gelatin supplements are available.
When choosing gelatin supplements, look for reputable brands with good reviews and recognizable names. It’s also best to find products approved by third-party agencies, including USP, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF. A stamp of approval from agencies like these means that the nutrition label is accurate and that the supplement doesn’t contain contaminants.
Gelatin supplements may provide benefits due to their nutrient profile, which mostly consists of proteins and amino acids.
Other supplements on the market may work similarly to gelatin, including:
- Collagen: Since gelatin is derived from collagen, it makes sense that collagen supplements work similarly. Evidence suggests that collagen may be beneficial for aging skin, bone health, sarcopenia (muscle wasting), wound healing, osteoarthritis, and other health concerns.
- Pectin: Like gelatin, pectin is often used to thicken and stabilize certain foods. Pectin is a source of fiber that comes from apples and other fruits and vegetables. As a supplement, pectin may act as a prebiotic, help lower blood sugar, and decrease cholesterol levels.
- Whey protein: Whey is a popular supplement option for those looking to add more protein to their diet. It may help you meet protein goals, but some people use whey protein for its perceived muscle-building benefits. Besides building muscle, whey protein may also help with recovery after exercise.
- Casein: Like whey, casein is a type of protein found in dairy products. Casein is digested slower than whey and may also be useful for exercise recovery and muscle building. Due to its slow digestion rate, casein may be beneficial when taken before bedtime and after exercise.
- Glycine: One of the amino acids in gelatin, glycine, may also be used as a dietary supplement. Glycine is a part of many important processes in the human body, such as protein synthesis and nerve signal transmission.
It may not be appropriate to use more than one supplement for a health condition at a time. Be sure to talk with a healthcare provider to help you decide which supplements are best for you.
Gelatin is a source of protein and amino acids derived from collagen. It typically comes from animal sources and has pharmaceutical, culinary, and therapeutic uses.
There is some evidence that gelatin may be useful for various health conditions, but more research is needed. Gelatin is found in certain foods or can be used as a dietary supplement.
Talk with a healthcare provider before giving gelatin a try.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does gelatin taste like?
Gelatin is typically used to alter the texture rather than the flavor of foods. This is because gelatin is flavorless. Gelatin is said to take on the flavor of whatever it is cooked or baked with.
Is gelatin vegetarian?
Not all gelatins are vegetarian. In fact, most gelatins come from animal sources.
However, vegetarian gelatin is available and is derived from seaweed, corn, or various vegetable gums.
How much protein is in gelatin?
Gelatin is a good source of protein. Just 1 tablespoon of gelatin powder provides 6 g of protein. Gelatin is also a source of both essential and nonessential amino acids.