Exercise helps build muscle strength and size and prevent loss of muscle tissue as you age. High-impact exercise also helps preserve bone mass. This lowers your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. That’s especially important for women with risk factors for osteoporosis. However, there’s another part of your anatomy to be mindful of – ligaments, tendons, and joint health. Yes! Tendons and ligaments age too and they can become injured when you work out. Once injured, they can be slow to heal and make working out difficult.
Aging Joints and Tendons
How do tendons age? Over time, they lose water and become stiffer. Stiff tendons are more prone toward injury. As you’re probably aware, tendons attach muscles to bones, whereas ligaments attach bone to bone. Ligaments help stabilize a joint, for example in the knee, where the ligaments keep it from moving from side to side. The space between two bones is called a joint. Inside the joint space, the ends of bones are covered with a thin layer of cartilage. This thin layer of connective tissue helps reduce friction. To make movement even smoother and more seamless, the joint space is filled with a lubricating fluid called synovial fluid.
Over time, the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones starts to break down from wear and tear. You don’t always have symptoms when this first happens, but, over time, joint motion may become painful and more restricted as you lose more cartilage and the tendons and ligaments stiffen. Exercise and stretching help lengthen the muscles and increase the range of motion of stiff, achy joints.
Another problem with ligaments and joints is that they can become injured. Tendon and ligament strains and tears are common among athletes and they take time to heal. It’s best to prevent them! What if you could rebuild and reinforce your tendons and ligaments and give them more resistance to injury? A new study carried out at the University of California at Davis shows this may be possible with a little help from gelatin and exercise.
Gelatin to Bolster Your Tendons and Ligaments?
You’ve probably heard of gelatin, mostly in the context of Jello, or as a supplement for stronger nails – but it may also be beneficial in another respect. In a small study, researchers asked eight, healthy men to take a gelatin supplement with added vitamin C. After drinking the gelatin/vitamin C supplement, the men did a five-minute bout of high-intensity rope skipping. Before and after the exercise, researchers measured the levels of various blood components. What they found was the gelatin supplement combined with exercise boosted amino acid levels in the blood as well as markers of collagen synthesis. When they applied these components to artificial ligaments they grew in the lab, it improved their function too.
You might wonder what an artificial ligament is. Researchers at the University of California at Davis have succeeded in growing ligaments from fibrin, a thick material that forms blood clots, and collagen-producing cells called fibroblasts. Their hope is to ultimately take a person’s cells and use those cells to grow a completely new ligament. Once the lab-grown ligament is ready, they could use it to replace a damaged one. Ligaments from a lab may be the wave of the future, but until then, we need to keep the ones we have healthy.
Although this was a small study, it shows that gelatin in combination with a short burst of high-intensity exercise may help build tendons and ligaments as well as reinforce them against aging.
What is Gelatin Anyway?
If you eat an exclusively plant-based diet, gelatin may not be for you. Unfortunately, gelatin isn’t vegan-friendly. That’s because it’s made from the connective tissue of mammals. Gelatin comes in two forms: standard and hydrolyzed. The standard contains the intact proteins while the hydrolyzed is broken down into the component amino acids. The advantage of the hydrolyzed gelatin is you absorb it better. You can also buy gelatin in capsule form. Although some companies offer vegan-friendly gelatin, it doesn’t contain actual collagen proteins and probably doesn’t have the benefits of real gelatin.
More Vitamin C Isn’t Better
What about the vitamin C in gelatin supplements? Vitamin C is an antioxidant vitamin that also has anti-inflammatory activity. Because of vitamin C’s ability to reign in inflammation, researchers have looked at whether higher doses of vitamin C might improve joint inflammation due to arthritis. In the guinea pig, higher doses made joint inflammation worse whereas moderate amounts appear to offer some benefit. It’s not clear whether the same is true in humans. Be safe and don’t take high doses of vitamin C with the idea that more is better. Taking too much may actually be detrimental.
Does Gelatin Have Other Benefits?
You’ve probably heard people recommend gelatin for stronger nails. Unfortunately, a 2007 study found no link between taking gelatin or collagen and greater nail strength. However, a small study did show 2,500 micrograms of biotin (a type of B vitamin) daily boosted nail thickness and reduced brittleness in women with brittle nails. However, based on research, it doesn’t seem to enhance the thickness or strength of healthy nails. Colloidal silicon also shows promise for improving nail strength and thickness. All in all, taking a gelatin supplement is unlikely to have the same benefits for nails as it does for your tendons and ligaments.
The Bottom Line
Keep in mind, this is a small study and the results are preliminary. However, the amino acids in gelatin could ultimately prove beneficial for athletes, older people, and anyone who wants to keep their ligaments and tendons healthy.
Regardless of whether you take gelatin or not, there’s growing evidence that exercise itself helps to strengthen tendons, especially exercises like squats. If you have arthritis, talk to your doctor before doing deep squats, but otherwise, squats are an exercise that strengthens muscles as well as tendons. Whatever you do, stay active! It’s good for every part of your body.
Eurekalert Science News. “Gelatin Supplements, Good for Your Joints?”
WebMD. “Excess Vitamin C May Worsen Osteoarthritis”
J Drugs Dermatol. 2007 Aug;6(8):782-7.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis”
ConsumerLab.com Answers “Can Vitamin Supplements Strengthen Brittle Nails
Related Articles By Cathe:
Does Weight Training Make You Less Flexible?