Dear Mark: A Few Collagen Questions

collagen clear fnalFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering some questions from the comment board of last week’s collagen post. You guys came up with some really interesting, useful ones that deserve closer examination. First, I explore whether—and how—increasing one’s collagen intake could conceivably worsen a person’s lipid profile. There’s actually a possibility, believe it or not. Next, I give a recommendation for optimal gelatin intake in terms of grams per day. After that, I tell a reader how to know if his store-bought broth is truly gelatinous (and offer an alternative source), discuss the worthiness of octopus and squid as collagen sources, and give a non-bovine gelatin recommendation to a beef-sensitive reader.

Let’s go:

Mark, you convinced me on the merits of collagen and I love the taste of bone marrow and bone broth. However, my recent lipid profile showed a spike in total cholesterol to 287 and LDL to 198, from about 230 and 130 respectively. This seems too high a risk for the wonders of collagen! Please advise.

Interesting. If I’m understanding you correctly, your lipid profile changed after you started eating more broth?

What could be going on? I’ve never considered the chance gelatin could throw off blood lipids, so I did some digging.

A big reason gelatin/collagen is so important is to balance out our meat intake. You know this. The glycine in gelatin balances the methionine in muscle meat. What happens when the imbalance is flipped—when you have too much gelatin and not enough muscle meat? In mice, cholesterol goes up when you feed gelatin and remove all sources of tryptophan (an amino acid found abundantly in meat, often accompanies methionine). Triglycerides and total cholesterol go up (this was an old study, so they may not have been up on the importance of different types of lipoproteins). Keeping the gelatin level constant and adding back in L-tryptophan prevented the rise.

So make sure you’re not only eating gelatin. Eat some steak, too.

Another study found that only ApoE knockout mice experienced negative changes to their blood lipids when eating a gelatin-rich diet (10% gelatin and 10% casein versus 20% casein). Their total cholesterol decreased, but the HDL decreased enough to increase the total:HDL ratio and double the rate of atheroma formation. The “wild-type” mice saw no effect. ApoE is the access code for lipoproteins that carry nutrients past the blood brain barrier to deliver them. Low-activity ApoE variants have trouble delivering nutrients to the brain and are associated with bad blood lipids, Alzheimer’s, and other types of health conditions; an ApoE knockout is the extreme version of this.

So make sure you’re not an ApoE knockout mouse. Do you have whiskers and a tail? Are you actually reading and comprehending these words? Are you in an office or a glass cage filled with newspaper shavings and your own feces? Look at the keyboard; do you see scrawny rodent paws or human hands? If you are human, it might be worthwhile to get your ApoE profile sequenced.

Whatever you do, never drink gelatinous broth before going outside in cold weather. The gelatin may thicken in your blood, leading to painful, often fatal blockages. This is the dreaded “myocosbyal infarction.”

Okay, I’m convinced. So how many grams a day of gelatin would I want to use?

We need about 10 grams per day for basic metabolic functioning. We can make 3 grams from endogenous synthesis, leaving 7 grams that must come from the diet. Gelatin is about 33% glycine, give or take a few. A tablespoon of gelatin is 11 grams, all protein, so you’re getting a hair over 3 grams of glycine per tablespoon. A couple tablespoons of gelatin should be enough. Check your nutritional label to confirm the protein content of the gelatin you’re using.

Sleep research uses 3 grams of glycine to great effect, so that’s probably the bare minimum.

I drink about 3 to 5 ounces of VERY gelatinous bone broth every morning (usually from Prather Ranch here in the Bay area). Anyone know how much glycine that would provide?

It depends.

What does “VERY” gelatinous bone broth mean to you?

Does it stay in its container turned upside down?

Can you bounce a dime off it, or does the coin disappear into the broth? How about a nickel or a quarter?

Can you plunge a fork into it and have it stand straight up?

Is it still gelatinous at room temperature?

Does it make your lips sticky when you drink it?

If you didn’t say “yes” to any of those, your broth might not be all that gelatinous and might want to find another source. I’ve got a buddy in the Bay Area who makes very legit broth in small batches. You can email him at [email protected] if you’re interested.

In the end, the only way to know for sure how much gelatin is in your Prather Ranch broth is to recreate its consistency using powdered gelatin that you measure. Good luck!

I am wondering how beneficial it is on the collagen spectrum, and if the collagens found in octopus (and squid) are made nutritionally available during human digestion?

Great question.

Yes, octopus is an underutilized, often-ignored source of collagen. Research shows that octopus collagen is quite similar to calf skin collagen (PDF). Both are about 30-35% glycine. Both have about the same physical properties. In other words, they can serve the same dietary role for humans despite following independent evolutionary paths (the octopus and the cow have very distant common ancestors).

That goes for any “tough” animal food that “needs a lot of cooking.” They’re all going to be high in collagen, because it’s the collagen maintaining the structure of the meat.

Squid isn’t as tough or rubbery as octopus, but it’s a better source of collagen than most common sea creatures.

However, my nutritional therapy practitioner had me tested for all sorts of reactions to food and beef was rather high on my list as reactive. Are there any other sources of collagen that I could access?

Pork gelatin is available and delicious.

And as mentioned earlier, any “tough” cut of non-beef animal will provide ample collagen. Necks, feet, tails, snouts, ears, tendons, shanks, wings. All the odd bits. They all work. You just have to be willing to cook.

That’s it for today, everyone. Thanks for reading!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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59 thoughts on “Dear Mark: A Few Collagen Questions”

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  1. For the reader whose cholesterol went up after starting consuming more glycine, could it be due to the winter effect on cholesterol? I recall there was a recent article here that mentioned that cholesterol often goes up during winter.

    1. Hey Mark, my vision of fitness goals are clear now thanks to you though I had a question regarding rest in between sets say for squats and pullups. How much rest do you have in between sets when working at 80% of your max each set?

      Regards Virgil, 27 years old.

    2. Mark, what was that scary comment on going out in the cold after drinking gelatinous broth> Does the same apply to your primal chocolate bars with 15 g of collagen given I am in the UK ( which is cold!) and having just taken delivery of a box of your delicious bars?

  2. That last comment about going outside and getting a painful or fatal blockage is pretty crazy. How long should you wait? How cold does it have to be? That seems like a pretty terrifying warning without a little bit of explanation. Also, he said don’t drink gelatin rich broth. Does that mean some tea with powdered gelatin mixed in is okay or is that just as bad?

    Or is that a joke that I’m missing? When I googled “myocosbyal infarction,” Mark’s Daily Apple was the only result.

    1. It was a joke. There’s no such thing as a myocosbyal infarction, except possibly in reference to what Bill Cosby might be suffering regarding his alleged indiscretions. I don’t know if Mark intended it as such, but I kinda like the term. Reminds me of Trump’s reference to Bill Clinton’s “bimbo eruptions.”

    2. Seemed it was in jest.

      Most of us that drink bone broth don’t shoot it directly into our veins, nor do we typically get cold enough in our veins/arteries to actually make it gel up even if we did put it directly into our blood.

      Just thinkin’

    3. I’m gonna go ahead and take that as a joke. After all, I just had a massive mug of super glycine loaded bone broth and it’s -5 degrees outside here in my driveway and I feel fin…AAAACKKKK! …THUD.

      1. Haha that’s good! After thinking about it, it hit me “myocosbyal” as in Cosby. I haven’t had enough coffee today.

        1. Heh. Yeah I had to look at the word a couple of times too before I got the joke. Made me do a double-take because I generally have a big mug of broth (today’s comes from a whole roasted turkey – tons of gelatin) before heading out to my second job on the cold airport tarmac. I don’t wanna die!

      2. Good to know! We live in cold northern climes, and often have bone broth with breakfast, right before going out to feed the horses. You had me worried….. I missed the joke and was trying to Google it.

      3. I didn’t get the joke either but I googled it and only got a hit to this article so I figured you were having us on. XD

      4. I had ordered gelatin based on the previous article, then read this and had a couple of sleepless nights, living in Canada in winter I was getting worried. Glad I came back and searched through the comments…

    4. I was scared by that! I hope it’s a joke. If it was, it was not obvious.

    5. Once in a while, Mark makes a joke that nobody gets. If you’re not sure, it’s probably meant to be tongue in cheek.

  3. I like to put some Great Lakes collagen (just ordered more directly from them) in my coffee with butter, coconut oil, 100% chocolate powder and an egg. It makes it a hot frothy “smoothie” for these cold winter days (in Oregon so it’s really not that cold compared to some places)….. and my blood doesn’t gel up, but then I’m not a mouse nor a rat so maybe that’s why?

    I like to pretend that it’s keeping the wrinkles at bay for my 60+ year old skin.

    I wonder if I should take a tablet of L-tryptophan for those days I don’t eat beef.

    1. I thought I was the only one! Now there are two of us. When I don’t have the cocoa, I also like hazelnut syrup and cinnamon. In addition to the egg and coconut oil, I also like to add heavy cream.
      I put it all in a quart canning jar and shake it to emulsify and froth.

  4. “Are you in an office or a glass cage filled with newspaper shavings and your own feces?”

    Sometimes, but replace newspaper shavings with emotion. Yeah… not my greatest moments but we’ve all been there. Am I right? … Anyone? … Bueller?

  5. Oh Oh! I just ordered two cans of Great Lakes Gelatin (Hydrolysate), following last week’s post. I hope it won’t go to waste. I figured it would be easier then making my own (I did until now), plus it being sourced from grass fed cows. My total cholesterol is 253 and LDL 175 but my HDL is 65 and trig is 64 so good ratios there…

    At least I don’t have to worry about drinking broth and stepping outside, in fear that it will thicken my blood, as it never gets that cold around here 🙂

  6. Wow, I thought I knew a lot about collagen…I am constantly pushing it to my blog readers. I use Great
    Lakes and Vital Proteins daily, make bone broth when I can, and try to cook and eat meat on the bone as much as possible. But I never even thought of squid or octopus…great to know! Collagen has made a bigger difference than anything else I have tried in the overall health of my skin.

    1. Hello Elizabeth,

      Do you supplement collagen or manage to get it all from food?

  7. Where can you get your ApoE sequenced? I know I am double mutated for ApoE from 23&me but have no idea if it’s ApoE 4, ApoE 3, etc.

  8. For your beef sensitive person – Make stock/broth from chicken bones. Easy peasy.

  9. honeycomb tripe is virtually all collagen, if anyone is brave enough for that.

    1. Try menudo. Add chopped onions, cilantro, lime, and hot sauce.

      Hominy is in it. But I see nothing wrong with a little hominy.

    2. What is shunned and overlooked in one culture is a delicacy in another. Others don’t eat pork or steer clear of seafood; or wheat for that matter 🙂

      Cleaning it is an arduous and smelly task (never tried it) but the rewards can’t be summed. In particular, chamber No 3 when stuffed with rice, exotic spices, minced meat and chopped tomatoes and slow cooked over night – middle eastern style. And you are in Rome, why not treat your self and try from a street vendor who’s been serving it for ages?

      see here:

    3. What is appalling to you, might be considered a delicacy in other cultures; and vice a versa (like seafood for instance). Trip is divided into 4 parts and one in-particular (#3) is amazing when stuffed with exotic spices, minced meat and chopped tomatoes and cooked all night. And guess what, it’s very popular in Italy and know in Rome as “Trippa alla romana” [] and in cities like Florance []

  10. Two words, pork jelly. It is awesome and makes meals taste great. And yes, it generally will detail leaving a container using only gravity.

    1. Head cheese, too. It’s like a jello salad with snouts and other bits and pieces

  11. Good information Mark, your expertise on this subject is really starting to gel …

  12. Someone asked before what the other 67% of collagen was if 33% was glycine. I would still like to know this as well.

    1. A whole bunch of other amino acids, but in much smaller quantities. The Great Lakes collagen hydrolysate can gives a full listing.

  13. I have managed to get my parents to jump onto the bone broth bandwagon, but my dad gets a weird side effect: he retains a bunch of water and sometimes gains over 5 pounds of water weight in a day after having broth. He used to think it was due to the MSG in commercial broth, but homemade has the same effect. Any ideas what could be going on?

    1. No, but he should stop drinking it if he’s getting a bad reaction from it. Not all “healthful” foods are right for everyone, including bone broth.

      1. He did, of course. But he misses it and my mom makes the best soups. It could be helpful to figure out where the problem lies so he could do something about it and continue enjoying his soup.

    2. Could he be salt sensitive? Some people are, and how much salt people need/do well on seems very individual.

  14. Fascinating to think that eating more meat could lower cholesterol. Now there’s something you don’t read everyday!

  15. Anyone have any brand recommendations for non-mammal gelatin or collagen powders? I have the “alpha-gal” allergy and can’t have any mammal-derived foods, so bovine and porcine gelatin are both out. I make a pot of chicken stock every week, but I would love an easy powder to add to drinks and recipes. There are several brands of fish-based gelatin out there, but I haven’t tried any of them yet…

    1. Your question apparently stuck somewhere in the back of my mind. Today I was on Amazon, looking for a good price for the gelatin that I buy, and stumbled on “Collagen Peptide from Fish.” This stuff seems pretty pricey, but it is for 2 60 day packs. That makes it about 70 cents a day. (Hmm, maybe a should go that route, my gelatin powder is about $1.67 a day…..)

      Oh, and the alpha-gal allergy is specifically non-primate mammals. But since we don’t eat monkeys here, it’s pretty much a moot point.

  16. I made protein bars with collagen yesterday, they were delicious! Luckily we have meat daily or I’d be worried about an imbalance. The bars, gelatin squares, and chocolate shakes have been fun treats.
    That might also explain one of my blood tests. My triglycerides were higher than expected but it was an outlier so I chalked it up to stress. Looking back I hadn’t fasted, I’d eaten a shake with collagen. Interesting!

  17. Ordered some collagen hydrolysate after reading the last column. Can’t wait to try it — I’m desperate to try just about anything that might help my dry skin and thinning hair. Gotta love perimenopause!

  18. Looking at the GreatLakes site- there is gelatin and collagen available- any thoughts on choosing the gelatin over the collagen… I’ve been using the Collagen from GreatLakes, assuming it’d give me both (as the collagen is broken down)… please advise? Thanks in advance!

  19. I’m looking at my Great Lakes gelatin and the link. It says two rounded tablespoons gives you 11 g of protein. What am I missing?

  20. I’ve no aversion to consuming pork or beef gelatin. For the Great Lakes brand, taste-wise, is one (pork or beef) more tolerable than the other?

  21. If you are adding Jello to your diet to get more collagen instead of broth, what is the recommended amount. I don’t know anyone who only eats 1 Tbl. Jello.

  22. As a vegeterian, no meat thouhg i eat fish, i am very concerned to read that drinking bone broth makes LDL cholesterol goes up if you don’t eat meat. How bad is it and is there an alternative?

    1. You’re actually a pescatarian. A person who only eats fish meat and not other kinds of meat. If you’re also eating eggs, you shouldn’t have to worry about adding gelatin as eggs have plenty of biologically available tryptophan in eggs.

      I think I’m retiring my vegetarian title. After I added fish oil (strictly for health reasons) a couple years ago it was pretty much a stretch to say I was still vegetarian. Now that I’m experimenting with beef collagen….well, I think it’s over with. it was a good 30 year run though.

      But I still don’t eat any flesh because i really don’t care for it. If I did, I’d eat it. I eat my animals in supplemental form. But to the general public, that stills spells vegetarian ( not eating actual flesh).

  23. I got the Great Lakes Collagen. Dissolves instantly in any liquid hot or cold. Tried it in just water. Barely noticeable. In fact I may had imagined the “taste”. About as tasteless as a food can be.

  24. Thanx! I do eat 3 eggs a day. I guess my vegetarian life is over too.
    I do feel the bone broth is very healthy for my skin, joints and muscle.
    I recover better and quicker from my crossfit WODs. At age 52 to recover and avoid injuries is the biggest challenge.

  25. A supplement I’ve been taking is ‘Collagen Complex’ I’m trying to understand if this is doing what it needs to do (my hair and skin seem to have flourished on it)…..or if there is a better way to go….

    Collagen Complex contains a natural compound known as choline stabilized orthosilicic acid – apparently it works to “turn on” the cells in your body that generate collagen, keratin, and elastin. Collagen Complex works to turn on your body’s collagen producing “factories” called fibroblasts- i.e. collagen fibers form and take hold. The gaps in collagen associated with fine lines and wrinkles start filling in.
    Choline (as Choline-Stabilized Orthosilicic Acid) 100 mg
    Silicon (as Choline-Stabilized Orthosilicic Acid) 5 mg
    Thoughts on this?

  26. It looks like the link says two tablespoons of gelatin give you 11 grams of protein. Does that mean you would need about four tablespoons of gelatin per day to hit the recommended seven grams of glycine?

  27. I have been learning more and more about the benefits of collagen (as a results of reading to and listening to more and more of your posts, thanks!) and I heard Elle mention on the podcast that she loves Bulletproof Collagen powder. I noticed that the one you link to is also a powder. From my reading, it seems as though the opinion is that we absorb it better when it is in liquid form…. is mixing that powder into liquid good enough, or should I be looking for a liquid collagen to add to my diet?
    I obviously want to capitalize on the benefits as much as possible and with so much info out there I’m feeling a bit confused… help!

  28. In regards to the second question and answer (about recommended daily amount of gelatin):
    I have read that gelatin powder (such as Great Lakes – red container) has a much lower absorption rate (about a third) and is less easily digestible, when compared to hydrolyzed collagen (Great Lakes – green container).
    It likely has to do with gelatin being a longer chain polypeptide than collagen hydrolysate, but does it mean one or the other is more useful for the body?
    Collagen hydrolysate tends to be more expensive, but would it give a bigger bang for the buck than gelatin?

  29. Hi mark, could too much collagen powder without beef and only fish (just been eating canned salmon and tuna for two months) give you a hernia? I’m using organika. I stopped weight training for a month before to heal an injury and was not going heavy.

  30. I’m strictly vegan and in study group for outlier athletic individuals with LPa and coronary artery disease. Recently my naturopath suggested Great Lakes collagen but I need to lower my overall lipid levels so I’m concerned. Since I need to stay vegan would you know a vegan source of collagen?

  31. I have been diagnosed with the allergy to alpha galactose and don’t eat beef. Pork is okay so far. I would like to use collagen diet supplements. I am concerned that the products will not have ingredient labeling that includes the antigen alpha gal. How can I get the collagen supplements I want without the risk of that allergic reaction?