Gelatin is obtained from animal by- products. Its main uses are in the treatment of weight loss, arthritis of the bones, rheumatism and osteoporosis or brittle bones.
Derived from the Latin 'gelatus' which means 'stiff' or 'frozen' Gelatin or Gelatine is commonly used as a gelling agent in food, cosmetics, photography and the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals.
Gelatin may be used as a thickener, stabilizer or texturiser in foods such as cream cheese, yogurt and margarine.
In its natural form, it is colourless, has no additives and contains no sugar. Foods rich in gelatin have a long history and have been part of traditional diets. In China, Gelatin is used in the production of a number of different varieties of Chinese soup dumplings.
Gelatin is also used to clarify the appearance of juices, such as apple juice, and of vinegar.
Gelatin for domestic use comes in the form of sheets, granules or powder. On being soaked in hot water, it gradually cools to form a gel. However, it does not dissolve in cold water. Some instant types can be added directly to the food while others have to be soaked prior to use. The process is irreversible, that is, once gelled, Gelatin will not return to its former state.
Gelatin comprises of protein, water and mineral salts. It contains half of the 18 essential amino acids needed for survival. One of the active ingredients in Gelatin, Glycine can speed up healing of wounds. It also enhances liver functions to effectively detoxify the body.
The other active ingredient, Lycine is used helps build muscle and better absorption of calcium.
Gelatin is used in foods, cosmetics and medicines.
The main component in Gelatin is collagen that is also found in cartilage and is therefore considered beneficial for bone regeneration. Although there is insufficient proof after the fact, there is some evidence that Gelatin relieves painful joints in patients suffering from osteoarthritis.
However, in animals, studies have shown that ingestion of Gelatin helps to increase the cartilage content in their joints.
Studies conducted in animals also show that Gelatin supplements reduce swelling caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Gelatin is mainly found in animal parts such fibrous tissue and organs that are not consumed on a large scale making it important to be taken as a supplement.
More recently, fish by-products are under consideration as they eliminate the religious issues surrounding Gelatin consumption. Non-animal sources are also being investigated as of 2011 including seaweed and agar.
The process of obtaining Gelatin is long drawn out and can take up to several weeks, and the differences in the processes can have a major effect on the quality of the end product.
Gelatin can also be prepared at home by boiling different cuts of meat and bone. When cooled, the mixture will turn into a gel naturally.
There are a number of benefits including:
Foods cooked with Gelatin make digestion easier as its molecules attract water thus helping the body to rehydrate.
Studies have found that food allergies in babies are considerably reduced when their milk is fortified with Gelatin.
It has also been proved that Gelatin enriched foods can alleviate fatigue, Crohn’s disease, asthma and colitis.
New studies show that eating foods containing Gelatin help to maintain a more youthful appearance.
Although Gelatin is also used in the preparation of low-fat meals, it is not recommended because these products are full of sugars, artificial sweeteners and colours.
In its dry form, Gelatin contains up to 98 percent protein. However, it has less overall nutritional value than other sources. It has a high content of non-essential amino acids, glycine and proline that are naturally produced by the human body. But it has insufficient amounts of amino acids which the body does not produce.
But Gelatin is used as a blood coagulating agent. When a piece of Gelatin is placed (Gelatin sponge) on a bleeding wound, it checks the blood flow as the contact with the platelets causes them to clot resulting in the stoppage of blood.
The best way to eat Gelatin is in combination with other foods such as chicken, salads, in smoothies, soups and oatmeal.
There is no recommended dosage, but it is safe to take a moderate amount daily. It can also be mixed in some foods that contain plant gelatin to make a confectionary that is widely consumed in the winters.
There are no serious side effects of Gelatin, but the most common are concerned with ingestion, including upset stomach, burping and flatulence.
There have also been some reports about Gelatin allergies.
It is also unknown if Gelatin is safe for pregnant or lactating women.
Patients on other medications should talk to their doctor before they start using Gelatin supplements in case of adverse reactions.
While the USA Food and Drug Administration regulates dietary supplements such as Gelatin, it treats them like foods rather than medicines.
Also, manufacturers of supplements do not have to guarantee their safety or effectiveness before making them available on the market making it, even more, necessary to check with a doctor. A supplement that uses gelatin is Geniux.
There were fears about BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) or Mad Cow Disease with regard to Gelatin being obtained from the body parts of infected animals which may transmit the infectious disease to humans. However, a 2004 study confirmed that the process of obtaining Gelatin destroys most of the viruses in the raw material.
That said, the USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1998 issued stricter guidelines for the sourcing and processing of Gelatin to significantly reduce the risk of Mad Cow Disease.