For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering a reader question about beans. But it’s not just about beans. It’s about something called the Bean Protocol, a rather new dietary approach that many of my readers have expressed interest in. The Bean Protocol is supposed to improve the liver’s ability to clear out toxins, thereby preventing them from recirculating throughout the body in perpetuity. Today, I’m going to discuss where it fits in a Primal eating plan.
Have you heard about this “Bean Protocol”? From what I can tell people are eating tons of beans and getting great results. It’s supposed to remove toxins from the liver or something else that only beans can do.
What do you think?
I did some digging around. I read the Bean Protocol coverage over at PaleOMG, where Juli has been following the protocol for several months now and seeing great results. There’s a Bean Protocol E-course that I did not sign up for, but I think I have a decent handle on the topic.
How to Do the Bean Protocol
Here’s the gist:
- No caffeine
- No sugar
- No dairy
- No gluten
- No processed food
- No factory-farmed meats; no fatty meats
- Eat 6-8 half-cup servings of beans or lentils a day.
- Fill the rest of the food with lean meat, leafy green vegetables, alliums (onion, garlic, leek, etc), and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower).
What’s Supposed to Happen on the Bean Protocol
The soluble and insoluble fiber in the beans binds to toxins which the body can then flush out more easily. Without the fiber from the beans, your body can’t process and excrete the toxins, so they simply recirculate, stay in the body, and sometimes express themselves in the form of acne and other diseases. Adherents credit the bean protocol for fixing longstanding issues like acne, Crohn’s, and many other conditions.
Is this true? Is there any evidence of this in the scientific literature?
Well, there isn’t much direct evidence for beans improving liver clearance of toxins, but there is circumstantial evidence. For one, prebiotic fiber is good for liver health. There are plenty of studies to support this.
Synbiotics (a combination of probiotics and prebiotics) and BCAAs taken together improve hepatic encephalopathy, a feature of liver failure where the liver fails to detoxify excess ammonia.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28583137/‘>2 Inulin also increases bile flow.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21815229/‘>4
The Bean Protocol also emphasizes cruciferous vegetable consumption. The crucifers, which include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, can exert beneficial effects on liver health. Sulforaphane, one of the most prominent compounds in cruciferous vegetables, has well-established effects on toxin clearance. It can speed up the clearance of airborne pollutants and counter the carcinogens formed from high-heat cooking.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2959165/?tool=pubmed‘>6
Back to Basics
By emphasizing lean meats and eliminating sugar, alcohol, and industrial food, you are eliminating the major causes of fatty liver in the diet: sugar, seed oils, and alcohol.
My point is not to disparage the Bean Protocol. I think it has some merit. My point is to point out that beans alone probably don’t explain the benefits people are seeing. There’s a lot more going on than just beans.
Lectins and Phytic Acid in Beans
Okay, okay. So while beans aren’t the only (or even necessarily the best) way to obtain prebiotic fiber to modulate gut bacteria and improve liver health and therefore toxin clearance and metabolism, they are promising. But aren’t beans bad for you? Aren’t they neolithic foods full of lectins and anti-nutrients that are anything but Primal?
Lectins are anti-nutrients and beans do have them. Studies show that they can damage the intestinal lining, prey upon already-damaged intestinal lining, and prevent the body from repairing that damage.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25599185‘>8 People have actually been hospitalized from lectin poisoning.http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2621.1990.tb06789.x/abstract‘>10
Most of the research indicting legume lectins used animals consuming large amounts of raw lectins. Those people who got lectin poisoning ate undercooked kidney beans. Don’t eat raw or undercooked beans and make sure they’re soaked overnight. Canned beans are also prepared pretty well.
Okay, what about phytic acid?
Phytic acid is the primary storage form of phosphorus in plants. When you eat a food containing phytic acid, it can bind to several other minerals, like calcium, magnesium, and zinc, and prevent their absorption. Diets based entirely in high-phytate foods can thereby lead to nutrient deficiencies. As legumes are one such high-phytate food, people are justifiably cautious about basing their diet on them.
Soaking legumes is really good at reducing phytic acid. In one study, cooking straight up without soaking reduced phytate by 20%, cooking after soaking in the soaking water reduced it by 53%, and cooking after soaking in fresh water reduced it by 60%.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12887152‘>14 That basically takes care of the problem.
If you want to really eliminate phytic acid you can sprout your legumes. You can also buy pre-sprouted beans.
What about the carb content of beans?
Legumes are higher in carbs than many other Primal foods but not as high as you might think. The musicality of the legume partially offsets its carbohydrate density. All those sugars and fibers being digested by gut bugs and producing the farts are carbs that you aren’t consuming as glucose. If you pay attention to “net carbs,” you’ll love legumes—at least compared to something like potatoes or bread.
Which, by the way, is why legumes appear to be so helpful in the Bean Protocol.
A half cup of cooked black beans has 20 grams of carbs with 7.5 coming from fiber.
A half cup of cooked chickpeas has 30 grams of carbs with 5 coming from fiber.
A half cup of cooked pinto beans has 22 grams of carbs with 7.7 coming from fiber.
A half cup of cooked lentils has 20 grams of carbs with 7.8 coming from fiber.
And much of that fiber, remember, comes in the form of galactooligosaccharides, that same prebiotic shown in studies to improve gut health and even increase lead excretion. But these are also FODMAPs, which, depending on your gut biome, can be helpful or painful. Some people won’t be able to handle the gas, some will get downright painful bloating, while others will get huge prebiotic benefits. Your mileage may vary, so just figure out what works.
Are beans actually nutritious, though?
Legumes aren’t nutrient-dense compared to something like liver or oysters, but they’re more nutrient-dense than grains and many other foods.
Again, a half cup of beans isn’t very many carbs. Maybe 20 grams, with only two thirds of that turning into glucose. You’ll get a lot of food for your gut and a decent whack of some important nutrients like folate, copper, magnesium, and manganese. That half cup of black beans provides 32% of your daily folate requirements, 20% of copper, 14% of magnesium, and 17% of manganese. A half cup of lentils provides 45% of your daily folate requirements along with 28% of copper and 21% of manganese. Not bad for a measly 20 grams of carbs.
A Plea: Lentils
If you want to try the Bean Protocol and insist on doing the 8 servings a day version, I’d recommend you go with lentils.
A cup of standard lentils gets you:
- 40 grams carbs, almost 16 g fiber.
- 230 calories.
- 18 grams protein. Legume protein can’t replace animal protein, but it can offset some of your requirements.
- 90% of folate.
- 28% of vitamin B1 (thiamine), 25% of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), and 21% of B6 (pyridoxine). B vitamins generally aren’t issues for folks eating Primal, but they can’t hurt.
- 55% of copper.
- 17% of magnesium.
- 43% of manganese.
Lentils added to a meal slow gastric emptying, which should keep a person fuller longer.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29767425/‘>1 They were getting “more” out of their food simply by chewing it up more.
Heed your salivary amylase levels: How much salivary amylase you produce is determined by your genetics, with historically agricultural (and thus starch-consuming) populations tending to possess more copies of the salivary amylase gene than other populations. There’s no good way to test salivary amylase gene status because the commercial genetic analysis sites don’t cover it. You’d need a more specific (and expensive) test for that. Ancestry can be a rough proxy; try to match your carb intake with the carb intake (and thus amylase copies) of your recent ancestors. But whatever number of amylase copies you (might) carry, chewing more times per bite will increase the efficacy of the salivary amylase you do produce.
As for meat and other animal foods which salivary amylase doesn’t affect, chewing is still important because it breaks apart the fibers and makes the nutrients contained therein more accessible to protein-digesting enzymes (proteases) in the stomach.
Mechanical Digestion, in the Stomach
Leaving the mouth, the food travels down the esophagus on into the stomach, where hydrochloric acid and a protein-degrading enzyme called pepsin break the food down into a big semifluid mass of partially-digested food components, water, enzymes, and acid known as chyme. The stomach walls undulate (move up and down) and mix the chyme,
How to Optimize Stomach Digestion?
Get your thiamine. Thiamine is a B-vitamin involved in hydrochloric acid production. If you want optimal stomach acidity—and you definitely do want it—you need to be replete in thiamine. The best source of thiamine is pork.
Watch the antacids. While heartburn meds can make a person feel better in an acute case of heartburn, they do so by inhibiting production of hydrochloric acid, which makes the stomach more alkaline and worsens your digestion in the long run. Pepsin cannot work without adequate acidity.
Try bitters. Post-meal bitters stimulate production of hydrochloric acid and assist many of the digestive organs, making the whole operation run more smoothly. But they must be bitter. Covering up the bitter flavor with something sweet mitigates the beneficial effect on digestion.
Get enough sodium. Low sodium levels reduce hydrochloric acid production. Make sure you’re salting your food to taste, as our moment-to-moment desire for salt is a good marker for sodium requirements. As long as you’re not eating packaged junk food, you won’t crave too much salt.
Try supplemental hydrochloric acid. A little betaine HCl, especially with protein meals, can really help if your acid production is too low. If you take betaine HCl and you feel a burn, you probably don’t need it.
Since the stomach is too acidic for amylase to work, the chyme migrates down to the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine immediately after the stomach where the pH is more alkaline. The pancreas produces protein-digesting enzymes as well as amylase and delivers them to the duodenum, where the full range of digestive enzymes can get to work liberating nutrients for absorption down the line. This is also where bile is introduced to assist in fat digestion.
Eat meals rather than graze. The human digestive system operates best when it encounters whole meals with plenty of time between subsequent meals, rather than a steady stream of incoming food. It even tries to enforce this; when a bolus of chyme enters the duodenum, the opening leading from the stomach to the duodenum tightens up to prevent more food from coming in. Overriding this with constant snacking will only impair your digestion and back things up.
Go for a walk. A short walk after eating speeds up the transition of food from the stomach through the duodenum into the small intestine. It “gets things moving,” in a good, beneficial way.
Small Intestine Digestion
After softening up in the duodenum, the chyme passes on into the small intestine where the bulk of nutrient absorption occurs. All along the intestinal walls lie villi — microscopic finger-like projections that increase the surface area of the intestinal lining and pluck nutrients from the passing slurry to be absorbed and assimilated. (You may have heard of villi in the context of gluten. Gluten can wipe out the villi in some people, leading to nutritional malabsorption.)
Optimize your serotonin. 95% of the serotonin in our body occurs in the gut; it’s one of the primary regulators of intestinal peristalsis — the muscular contractions that move and mix food through the digestive tract.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19332970‘>3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21418261‘>5http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2004.02274.x/abstract‘>7 I created Primal Probiotics with precisely these probiotics to tip the balance in your favor.
Get Primal Probiotics here
Digestion must be approached as a single unit. You don’t just pick one of these tips to try. You do them all, together, if they apply to you.
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Burping, disrupted sleep, abdominal pain, nausea, even vomiting and choking … if you’ve experienced these symptoms, you’re likely suffering from chronic acid reflux, also commonly known at GERD.
You’re not alone. Roughly 25%-30% of Americans experience GERD-related heartburn multiple times a week.https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/239665#1‘>2I personally suffered bouts of GERD and acid reflux during and even after my endurance training years, and my symptoms persisted until I finally gave up grains once and for all.
More debilitating than average, occasional heartburn, GERD symptoms chip away at your daily quality of life, and if left unattended, can even eventually lead to esophageal cancer https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26053301/‘>4, and supposed ‘miracle’ pills are more pervasive than ever: from TUMS and Pepcid to prescription medications, the market is flooded with treatment options. How did a condition usually associated with late-stage pregnancy and over indulgence become an epidemic?
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What is GERD, or Acid Reflux? Are They the Same Thing?
Reflux, more commonly known as ‘heartburn,’ occurs when stomach acid moves backwards into the esophagus, sometimes as a result of the esophageal sphincter (the muscle that connects the stomach and esophagus) malfunctioning. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/expert-answers/heartburn-gerd/faq-20057894‘>6
Acid Reflux and GERD Symptoms
People who suffer from acid reflux and GERD tend to experience some combination of these symptoms regularly:
- Chest pain or burning sensation in your chest
- Regurgitation or even vomiting
- Stomach pain/discomfort
- Bad breath
- Tooth decay
- Respiratory problemshttps://gi.org/patientnews/food-triggers-play-key-role-in-acid-reflux-expert-says/‘>8
According to some doctors, the physiological causes are diverse: sliding hiatus hernia, low lower esophageal sphincter pressure, a relaxation of the lower sphincter, the acid pocket, obesity, among others.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28251844/‘>10
There is also a correlation between NSAID (think: aspirin and ibuprofen) and GERD – which might account for the many athletes and trainers who I know who rely on pain relief from medication, and then struggle with acid reflux https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31788039/‘>12 With so many factors contributing to the causes of GERD, it’s easier to understand why so many suffer. However, the physical response to GERD and the treatment don’t quite connect. While the problem is rising acid, most medications treat excess acid, which doesn’t address the weakened esophageal sphincter, and might make one wonder, are these ‘wonder medications’ just treating the symptoms, and not the actual problem?
How to Stop Heartburn: the Most Common Acid Reflux Treatments
So what helps heartburn and acid reflux? Is there such a thing as acid reflux relief? Over the counter antacids like TUMS and Pepcid are often a short term solution, and it’s possible you’ve even heard about the recall of major drug, Zantac, and its link increasing risk of cancers.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29132520/‘>14
Most conventional doctors will treat GERD or acid reflux by prescribing one of the PPIs and recommending lifestyle changes (such as avoiding “food triggers”). Consistent symptoms usually result in further evaluations of the esophagus through endoscopies.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18924330/‘>16 and weaker bone integrity. Some even believe PPIs can cause kidney diseases, heart attacks, and dementia.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24310148/‘>18
Are there other remedies besides medication?
If chronic discomfort or long term side effects of PPIs don’t entice you, there are other options. Since doctors and patients are becoming more aware of the various side effects of antacids and proton pump inhibitors, there’s been an increased interest in non-medical therapies and remedies.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29032757/‘>20 Some people use teas and natural products meant to combat morning sickness because they contain similar herbs.
Home remedies for reflux
People have used the following remedies for GERD and reflux, with varying results:
- Apple cider vinegar, diluted in water, before meals
- Digestive bitters before meals
- Small amounts of baking soda mixed with water (Careful, this could make low stomach acid even lower.)
- Betaine HCl, to increase stomach acid (Another one to be careful with. This only works if your reflux symptoms are caused by low stomach acid. It can make matters worse if you have too much stomach acid.)
- Avoiding eating or snacking late in the evening
- Avoiding lying down after eating or snacking
- Stress management
- Probiotics, which may be part of a complete digestive system balancing regimen
Getting to the source of the problem is most effective, so work with your doctor to see what steps to take.
Acid reflux diet
The most common advice is be aware of what acid reflux and GERD foods to avoid. In general, the data on food and diet related to GERD and acid reflux symptoms can be sparse and conflicting, however, there is promising data that your diet can help protect against symptoms.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28884564/‘>22
Could low-carb be the answer? One small study points to lowering carb intake as a means for relief. https://www.marksdailyapple.com/gerd-sufferers-rejoice/‘>24. If the underlying problem is a malfunctioning esophageal sphincter, we have to look at healing the system, not the acid (which is an important part of our body’s processes). I recommend Dr. Norman Robillard’s book, “Heartburn Cured: the Low Carb Miracle,” where he suggests that our high-carb diets are to blame. Our bodies are unable to properly breakdown the carbohydrates, creating gas in the upper digestive system, triggering the reflux.
Action Steps for GERD and Acid Reflux
How do we begin to heal the system, and not just the symptoms? Here are some things you can experiment with and see how you feel:
- Repopulate your gut with probiotics and good bacteria
- Eat low-carb
- Try omega-3s as a step toward addressing inflammation
Have you overcome GERD or acid reflux? I’d love to hear how others have tackled this and what has worked for you.
The post Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and GERD: Symptoms, Causes and Remedies appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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After cutting back on sugar and carbs for a while, you understandably start to miss sweets. A common misconception is that you have to skip sweets to meet your goals, which isn’t the case at all. There are plenty of sugar alternatives that fit within the Primal and keto lifestyles, and stevia is one of them.
Stevia is widely used in the low carb community to satisfy sugar cravings or simply add a touch of sweetness to a hot beverage or dessert, but should it be? What is stevia? Is it safe? What is its effect on insulin, if any, and does it have a place in a Primal Blueprint eating strategy? Let’s investigate.
What Is Stevia?
A lot of people categorize stevia as an artificial sweetener, but it’s important to note that stevia is not an artificial sweetener at all – it’s a plant-derived natural alternative to sugar.
Stevia is an herbaceous family of plants, 240 species strong, that grows in sub-tropical and tropical America (mostly South and Central, but some North). Stevia the sweetener refers to stevia rebaudiana, the plant and its leaves, which you can grow and use as or with tea (it was traditionally paired with yerba mate in South America) or, dried and powdered, as a sugar substitute that you sprinkle on. It’s apparently quite easy to grow, according to the stevia seller who tries to get me to buy a plant or two whenever I’m at the Santa Monica farmers’ market, and the raw leaf is very sweet.
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The Sweet Compounds in Stevia: Stevioside and Rebaudioside
Most stevia you’ll come across isn’t in its raw, unprocessed form, but in powdered or liquid extract form. The “sweet” lies in the steviol glycosides – stevioside and rebaudioside – which are the natural compounds isolated in these extracts. Some products use just one, while others use both stevioside and rebaudioside. Stevioside is the most prevalent glycoside in stevia, and some say it provides the bitter aftertaste that people sometimes complain about; rebaudioside is said to be the better tasting steviol glycoside, with far less bitterness.
Most of the “raw or natural” stevia products use the full range of glycosides, but the more processed brands will most likely isolate one or more of the steviol glycosides. The popular Truvia brand of stevia products uses only rebaudioside, as do both PureVia and Enliten. Different brands provide different conversion rates, but compared to sucrose, stevioside is generally about 250-300 times as sweet and rebaudioside is about 350-450 times as sweet.
Is Stevia Safe, or Bad for You?
The government has approved only isolated steviol glycosides as safe to use in food. Whole or crude stevia is not Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) according to government standards.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5591507/table/Tab1/‘>2 This is due to lack of safety information, not so much the presence of known harmful effects.
Does Stevia Affect Insulin?
I wrote an extensive piece on whether artificial sweeteners spike blood sugar a while back. There is one in vitro study that showed stevioside acts directly on pancreatic beta cells to stimulate insulin secretion and another which shows similarly insulinotropic (insulin-producing) effects of rebaudioside, which may give you pause.
Insulin secretion sounds like an insulin spike, no? And since we tend to be wary of unneeded insulin spikes, maybe we should avoid stevia. It’s not so simple, of course. For one, this was an in vitro study, performed in a super-controlled laboratory petri dish type setting; this was not an in vivo study of animals or people eating stevia in a natural, organic way. The results of in vitro studies do not always match results when you try to replicate them in vivo (in a person).
Secondly, insulin secretion isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I mean, we need it to shuttle nutrients into cells, and we’d die without it. As I mentioned in the dairy post a while back, insulin is millions upon millions of years old. It’s been preserved throughout history because it’s an essential hormone. It’s not always the bad guy, especially if your insulin sensitivity is where it should be.
In fact, the evidence is mounting that stevia actually is an insulin sensitizer that can aid in glucose tolerance and clearance after a meal. The Japanese have been using stevia for decades in the treatment of type 2 diabetics. Let’s look at a few recent studies. In fructose-fed rats, a single instance of oral stevioside increased insulin sensitivity and reduced postprandial blood glucose in a dose-dependent manner. The same study also found that diabetic rats given stevioside required less exogenous insulin for the same effect. Taken together, these results suggest that stevia may not just be a good sugar substitute for diabetics, but an effective supplement for treatment of their insulin resistance.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20303371‘>4 Another strike in stevia’s favor.
Stevia Side Effects
Allergy to stevia has been reported, but it is rare.
Most people do not experience side effects when using stevia, but some people do experience effects like:
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
Most often these effects are from using stevia that is mixed with sugar alcohols, like erythritol or xylitol. If you can tolerate sugar alcohols, you will probably be okay using combination stevia and sugar alcohol products. To be sure, start slow, and watch for symptoms.
Stevia is considered safe for the diabetic population, but sometimes it is combined with ingredients that affect carb count, like dextrose and maltodextrin. If you’re diabetic, check your ingredients label and carb counts before adding it to food.
Historically, stevia has been used as a form of birth control, so use of stevia may contribute to fertility issues.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21089163‘>6 Alone, low-dose stevia lowered cholesterol without the potentially beneficial effect on HDL. It’s also useful to note that high-dose stevia negatively affected some toxic parameters – so don’t eat spoonfuls of stevia (not that you would) – but long term low-dose stevia was deemed safe.
But you know my bias is to look at things from the perspective of human evolution and ancestral environments. And there is a ton of collagen on your average land animal. Close to half the weight of a cow is “other stuff”—bones, skin, tendons, cartilage, and other collagenous material. Most meat eaters these days might be throwing that stuff away, if they even encounter it, but humans for hundreds of thousands of years ate every last bit of that animal. Even as recent as your grandmother’s generation, utilizing every last collagenous bit of an animal to make soups, stocks, and stews was standard practice. This was the evolutionary environment of the ancient meat-eating human: rich in collagen.
There is strong evidence that humans are meant to eat the meat and the bones, skin, and sinew. That we function best when we eat the amino acids in muscle meat and the amino acids in collagenous materials. That the more muscle meat we eat, the more collagen we require. That we live longer, live healthier, and look and move better with plenty of collagen in our diets.
First, I’m going to tell you why collagen is so essential.
Then I’m going to tell you how to get it.
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Collagen Benefits: Why It’s Essential
The collagen question is a complicated one. The benefits are both “superficial” and deep. Most people know about its effects on skin and joints, but there are also “deeper” reasons to eat more collagen, including conferring longevity and protection from disease.
Glycine to Link Other Amino Acids
Collagen is the single greatest source of glycine in the human diet. Glycine is an interesting amino acid. It’s conditionally essential, meaning we can make it in-house but certain situations render it essential. What are these conditions and why is glycine so important?
Basic Physiological Requirements
We simply can’t make enough glycine to cover our basic daily needs. The average person needs 10 grams of glycine to cover all the physiological requirements. The average person makes 3 grams every day and gets 1.5-3 grams from their diet, leaving a glycine deficit of 4-5.5 grams per day.2 Collagen is about 1/3 glycine, so a 12 gram serving of collagen—about a heaping scoop of collagen peptides—will give you the glycine you need to fill the gap. Some people will need a bit more, some a bit less. But almost everyone needs some.
Further reading: What is the Difference Between Collagen and Whey Protein?
High Meat Intakes
As I mentioned earlier, meat comes packaged with collagen in natural settings. You kill a deer, you get a lot of meat and a lot of skin, connective tissue, cartilage, tendons, and bones. And you eat all of it. These have different amino acid profiles. Meat contains a lot of methionine. Collagen contains a lot of glycine. Animal studies confirm that the more methionine an animal eats, the shorter their lifespan—unless they balance it out with glycine.3
Human studies suggest this, too.
- In one study, the relationship between red meat and diabetes was abolished after controlling for low-glycine status. People with low glycine levels and high meat intakes were more likely to have diabetes, while people with higher glycine levels could have higher meat intakes without any issues.4
- In another study, low circulating levels of glycine predicted diabetes risk.5
- Meanwhile, high levels of glycine predict normal blood sugar control.6
- In fact, low glycine comes before diabetes onset, suggesting causation.7
- Low glycine levels are also common in patients with chronic kidney disease.8
- High levels of glycine even predict higher physical activity in women.9
These are observational studies and cannot prove causation. But the trend is consistent, with higher levels of glycine being linked to better health and lower levels being linked to worse health across a broad range of conditions.
Meat is incredibly healthy and has been a vital part of the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years, but it’s possible that the way most people eat meat in developed countries—eating chicken breasts over chicken wings and skin, lean steak over oxtails and shanks, muscle meat over bones, skin, and tendons—is unhealthy. Increasing your collagen, then, could balance out the meat intake by providing ample glycine.
Collagen to Support Sleep
A great sleep remedy I’ll incorporate when I really want to knock out fast is a cup of bone broth with extra collagen or gelatin added. About midway through drinking it, I’ll start feeling sleepy. But why? What’s going on?
Once again, glycine is doing the lion’s share of the work here.
- It enhances production of serotonin, a necessary precursor for the sleep hormone melatonin.10
- It drops body temperature when taken at night, which improves sleep quality.11
- It improves subjective sleep quality; people feel like they get a better night’s sleep after taking 3 grams of glycine before bed.
- More importantly, it improves objective sleep quality; people perform better the next day after taking 3 grams of glycine the night before.12
These studies used isolated glycine, but I much prefer using collagen.
Collagen and Skin Elasticity
Your skin is made of collagen. To maintain its elasticity and stave off wrinkling, we must provide the foundational substrates for collagen synthesis and deposition. That’s, well, collagen and two of its most prominent constituent amino acids: glycine and proline.
The beneficial effects of collagen supplementation on skin health are well-documented:
- 2.5 grams of collagen per day for 8 weeks reduced eye wrinkling by 20% and increased skin elastin (a skin protein that does exactly what it sounds like—provides elasticity) by 18%, an effect that persisted for one month following cessation of the supplement.13
- 1 gram of a chicken sternum cartilage collagen extract per day reduced wrinkling by 13% and skin dryness by 76% while increasing collagen deposition by over 6%.14
- 6 months of collagen supplementation even reduced the appearance of cellulite.15
Now, in case you’re thinking skin appearance is a superficial benefit, consider that how old your face appears is one of the better predictors of your overall health.16 The quality of the collagen in your skin is a window to the quality of your internal collagen—your joints, your fascia, your other tissues. Improve one and the rest will follow.
Joints are Comprised of Collagen
Just like skin, your joints are made of collagen. Just like taking collagen can improve your skin, taking collagen can improve your joints—especially if there’s a problem.
In athletes complaining about joint pain, taking collagen hydrolysate supplements reduced pain.17
In osteoarthritis patients, a collagen supplement reduced pain scores and improved walking ability.18
Taking or eating collagen is low-hanging fruit for anyone with joint pain.
Collagen for Performance
Even the old claims about collagen being useless for muscle gain and gym performance are falling apart. Growing evidence shows that collagen can be protein-sparing; by providing extra “non-essential” amino acids, it allows you to utilize the essential amino acids for more important, performance-related processes. For instance, in resistance training seniors, taking collagen supplements (and collagen alone; no whey or anything else) increases the anabolic response to lifting.19
Taken pre-workout along with 50 mg of vitamin C, 15 grams of collagen can actually improve the performance of your tendons by increasing collagen deposition and remodeling. We usually think of building muscle from our training, but with collagen, you can build connective tissue too.20 I actually used this same protocol to heal my own Achilles injury several years ago.
And if you use collagen to improve the quality of your sleep, your mental performance will also improve.
Accelerating Healing with Collagen
Most traumatic injuries involve damage to the connective tissue, skin, or fascia. Since we have good evidence that collagen supplementation speeds up healing time in ulcer patients and topical collagen can improve wound healing when added to dressings, and we know that pre-workout collagen can increase collagen deposition in tendons, it’s a safe bet that taking extra collagen can also speed up the healing time from any wound or trauma that requires the laying down of new collagen.2122
Best Collagen Sources: Foods and Supplements
Although getting hold of and consuming an entire animal is probably the ideal, optimal way to get the collagen you need, supplemental collagen is an easier alternative for most people that’s about as effective.
What are the best sources?
- Gelatinous meats: shanks, necks, feet, cheeks, oxtails, ribs
- Bones and cartilage
- Bone broth
- Powdered gelatin
- Collagen hydrolysate
- Primal Kitchen collagen bars
Eat gelatinous meats. Many meats are low in collagen, but not all. Shanks, necks, feet, cheeks, oxtails, ribs, and all the other cuts that take extra time in the slow cooker to become tender are high in collagen. Favor these meats instead of yet another chicken breast.
Clean your bones. You know those crunchy caps at the end of chicken drumsticks? That’s cartilage, a big whopping dose of concentrated collagen. Eat it. Or those stringy tendons and sinew attached to the ends? Eat those too.
Eat skin. Skin is almost pure collagen. Chicharrones or pork rinds are the most widely available way to eat skin. If you ever get your hands on pork belly with the skin on, this is the way to cook it so that the meat is fall-apart tender and the skin is crunchy and delectable (and full of collagen).
Drink bone broth. Bone broth is trendy right now, and for good reason; it’s a rich source of collagen. Bone broth is simple to make but takes valuable time. If you can’t do it yourself, there’s a budding bone broth industry more than willing to ship frozen or shelf-stable broth to your door.
Use powdered gelatin. I always keep a can around for cooking. My favorite use is a quick 10-minute Thai curry: toast the spices and curry powder in coconut oil, add coconut milk, reduce, and whisk in a couple tablespoons of gelatin powder to obtain the desired texture and mouth feel. Delicious and a huge dose of collagen. You can also add powdered gelatin to pan sauces to replicate the use of demi glace, or even make healthy jello out of herbal/green tea/coffee with non-caloric sweetener.
Use collagen hydrolysate. Several years back, I suffered an injury to my Achilles tendon. I’d already been eating gelatinous meats and drinking broth, but I really wanted to step up my collagen intake. I was moved to create my own collagen powder with 20 grams of collagen protein (more collagen than 2 cups of bone broth) per serving. Eating 20-40 grams of supplemental collagen per day fixed my Achilles right up.
Eat Primal Kitchen bars. Each Primal Kitchen® collagen bar contains 7.5 grams of pure collagen from grass-fed cows (it’s what gives the bar its unctuous chewiness). With collagen being about 33% glycine, that’s almost 2.5 grams of glycine in each one—almost enough to satisfy those 3 grams used to improve sleep quality and reduce joint pain in studies.
Bone broth, chicharrones, tendon stew, gelatin, collagen powder—I don’t care how you get it, just get it. Collagen is non-negotiable.
That’s it for today, folks. How do you get your collagen? How much do you take or eat a day?
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