Collagen on the Brain

By Sharon Puello MA, RD, CDN

Though most associate the word gelatin with neon colored desserts from their childhood, gelatin without the added sugars and flavorings is actually a health food. Sold as a collagen protein supplement, gelatin as well as its counterpart collagen hydrosylate, are gaining popularity due to their myriad of health benefits.

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From beautiful hair, skin, and nails, to improved joint function and enhanced digestion, collagen proteins seem to do it all. High in glycine, an amino acid which has been trialed as a treatment for schizophrenia, done well in studies aiming to reduce fatigue and enhance the quality of sleep, as well as improve the memory of both young and older individuals, this protein is a powerhouse for brain health.

Compared to other sources of protein, whether they be from animal or plant sources, collagen has by far the highest concentration of glycine. As glycine is an important neurotransmitter in the brain, particularly when it comes to aiding in the coordination of muscles and the ability of the body to withstand pain, we can see why glycine is critical to our daily functioning and quality of life.

There are two forms of collagen protein on the market: gelatin and collagen hydrolysate.

  • Collagen hydrolysate is the more processed, broken down form of gelatin which creates its non-gelatin like properties. In terms of dietary usage, many people prefer collage hydrolysate since it can be mixed into cold beverages without gelling. Additionally, for those with very poor digestion, it is often recommended as it can be easier to digest, before moving on to gelatin. Below are two of the most widely distributed brands on the market:
  • Gelatin has plenty of uses, including being used to make homemade gummy vitamins and gummy bears or being added to hot beverages such as tea or coffee to create a beautifully smooth consistency.

Aside from gelatin/ collagen hydrosylate supplements, foods can also be great sources of collagen protein and glycine. Some examples of foods high in collagen protein include homemade bone broths and pork rinds.

Due to collagen being naturally low in calories and carbs while high in protein (often providing 11 g of protein with just 43 calories) some may be tempted to try to obtain all of their protein from gelatin. However, gelatin is an incomplete protein in that it is missing the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is also very important for brain health. When most people hear tryptophan they often think of the holiday favorite, turkey, which can induce a relaxing post-meal coma. Other good sources of tryptophan however, include cage-free eggs, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, mozzarella, oats and oat bran, and white beans.

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