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Dear Mark: A Few Collagen Questions

For today’s edition of Dear Mark [1], I’m answering some questions from the comment board of last week’s collagen post [2]. 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 [2] could throw off blood lipids [3], 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 [4]? In mice, cholesterol goes up [5] 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 [6], too.

Another study [7] 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 [8]; 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 [9] 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 [10]. 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 [11], 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 [12] 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 erik@boneliquorbroth.com 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 [13]). 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 [14] isn’t as tough or rubbery as octopus [15], but it’s a better source of collagen [16] 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 [17] 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 [18]. They all work. You just have to be willing to cook.

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