Collagen Conversations and Aitura, Racituri, and Aspic

This post has taken me all over the place:  from rheumatoid arthritis to osteoarthritis to atherosclerosis.   To brushing up on vitamin C, collagen

Aspic, full of rich gelatinous collagen

Aspic, full of rich gelatinous collagen

structure, and apolipoprotein a.  From reading research studies to anecdotes to “voodoo” doctors.

A gift of aspic prompted me to start sorting out all this bone broth and gelatin stuff that some nutritional rehab diets are so hip on.

After-dinner conversation in our home:

“Did you know that collagen has been shown to alleviate joint pain in athletes?”

“Huh.  No, I hadn’t seen that.  Let me see…”  And my husband cranes his neck to look at the research study’s abstract I have pulled up.  We really need to quit paying for our continuing medical education.

“I wonder what collagen II hydrolysate (high-drawl-iss-sate) is.  Look that up.”

“Hmmm…that would be the Great Lakes gelatin I have in the cupboard to make finger “Jello” with.”

“Well, how much did they use?”

“Ten grams.”wpid-IMAG0250.jpg

In typical medical doctor fashion, my orthopod man, who has a torn meniscus he’s waiting for a good time to fix, immediately goes to the cupboard and mixes 10 grams of Great Lakes gelatin in water.  As it turns into a gooey glob, he tosses it into the garbage saying, “Eh.  I’m not doing this.  I’m going to go buy the pills.”

Good grief.  Just eat the aspic.  “Aspic?” you say.  “What’s aspic?”

That leads me to another conversation.

When I recently disclosed my nutritional intervention plan, otherwise knows as the GAPS diet,  to my good friend Ioana (who hails originally from Romania), she nodded her beautiful black-haired head enthusiastically and said in her lovely accented English that I could listen to all day:

“When I was a child, I would leave the city and live with my grandparents on their farm for holidays.  I loved it there.  Fresh milk (meelk), honey, and meats.  We always made soups (soo-ups) with bone broths and vegetables, ate raw honey and milk (meelk), lots of fresh eggs, and made yogurt.  When I moved to Italy, I gave all of that up.  It wasn’t fashionable [in nutrition].” 

Traditional eating at its best.  Sally Fallon would be PROUD.  Oh, yeah.

Quite a cook, Ioana pulled out the tablecloth, and now she comes to my home bearing gifts.  Bone broth, Belgian endive soup, kombucha, fried chicken livers, and most recently:  AITURA.  See featured photo above.  Isn’t it just grand?

“It’s aitura (eye-tur-uh).  It’s an Eastern European delicacy!  We ate it for every Christmas and Holiday when I was a child.”

“Oh…but what is it?”

“It’s full of gelatin.  It’s pigs feet boiled with some meat.  I love it.  This is very traditional for us.”

“Mmmm.  Mmmm.  Do I eat it just like this?  With a spoon?”

“Yes.  Of course.  You will try it?  We normally put it on bread, but I like it just to eat.  It’s so good.  It’s also called aspic and racituri.” 

So nice of her to know boiled cartilage in three languages.

So there you go.  In Eastern European cultures, and I’m sure many others, they don’t color Jello green and make it taste like lime.  They make it fresh on the spot out of cartilaginous pieces of meat, like pig’s feet, and it’s so prized, they serve it for Christmas.  Prized.  Why?  Why?

Types of connective tissues, such as bone, cartilage, and the layer under your skin (dermis) are rich in the protein collagen.  Muscle meats (steak, chicken breast, etc.) are not nearly so rich in collagen (only about 1-2 percent composition overall).  So what?

Well, collagen has a much higher proportion of the amino acids glycine and proline than muscle meats.  So?

Although glycine and proline are not essential amino acids (meaning the human body–YOUR body, can make glycine and proline from all the typical meats you eat), perhaps they have effects beyond what I was told in school.  Theoretically, it shouldn’t matter if you eat aspic or bone broth.  The body breaks it all down anyway, and then puts it all together the way it needs to.  But in medicine and the human body, all is not as it seems.  Studies are finding, albeit sometimes small, benefits from collagen supplementation.

As I learn, I try to look for common threads.  My mom taught me, “There’s a little bit of truth in every rumor.”  A line from the GAPS book naggles my brain–“…eat the cartilage and soft tissues…very good for the body…muscle meats, not so much.”  Ioana’s Romanian beloved aitura (aspic).  Collagen supplementation studies with potential positive outcomes.    How do they all fit together?  Do they fit together?  Would The China Study purport something different had different proteins been used or a complex mixture of proteins?

I won’t be going out to buy collagen supplementation for myself at this point.  I’m a firm believer in food.  Food, I say.  My husband can keep popping his “C” and buying collagen to boot.  I will keep eating vegetables, fruits, and respectfully using all pieces of meat and bones to derive their full worth.  It does appear homemade broth is worth the effort, although there’s not really any effort to it at all. Skip the store stuff.  If you’re on GAPS, you have to skip it anyway.   And to get the extra collagen, choose cuts with skin and joints, and cook them long and low.

What?  You ask if I ate the aspic?  It was a gift.  What do you think?

If you click on the following sources, you can decide for yourself how much benefit you think collagen does or does not have.  A site for medical students with notes in outline form on connective tissue, which has abundant collagen.  Reminded me the basic science.  More basic science notes to remind me about connective tissue and collagen.  Review article from 2000 looking at collagen effect on osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.  Positive but not overly positive.  Sixty rheumatoid arthritis patients.  About half placebo and about half collagen.  Collagen group did better than placebo and even had some remissions.  1993.  2002 study pilot study (only 5) on rheumatoid arthritis.  Improved on collagen.  2006 review article concluded that evidence suggested rationale for using collagen in osteoarthritis (OA).  Couldn’t find full text. 2008.  Looked at pain in athletes.  Collagen supplementation reduced pain compared to placebo.  147 participants.  Not full text.   In 2006, a blurb about a Russian study (couldn’t even find a citation for it) supporting that gelatin helps in healing gastric ulcers.  I couldn’t find the study or abstract or such.  But they also have some animal studies:  Only abstract available without paying, but it looks like several nutrients, including glycine found in collagen is beneficial for the gut lining after a bowel resection.  In my mind, I extrapolate that to perhaps indicate beneficial effects in other bowel disruptions–villi flattened and damaged rom celiac, poor mucous production in chronic constipation, etc.  But that’s not fair, I shouldn’t extrapolate too much.  Good summary on bone broth by Mark Sisson.  Study on halting atherosclerosis with supplemental nutrients, including proline and lysine.  1996.

3 thoughts on “Collagen Conversations and Aitura, Racituri, and Aspic

  1. Pingback: The Best Zucchini Ever | the homeschooling doctor

  2. Jill

    Wonderful information! What a fabulous education is waiting out there for all of us. I just booked the feet from a batch of home raised pastured chickens. After refrigerating and observing the ‘jelloness’ of the result I decided to have a child bite. Mmmmm. I wonder if this will help my nagging Achilles tendonitis. My dream is to play basketball again before I turn 50. The Achilles has been my Achilles. Agony after any jumping. I swear it feels better after one day of eating aspic from chicken feet. I’m planning to fast on it for a minimum of 24 hours. I find it very satisfying. Thank you for posting this info!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Dear Jill,

      I would be VERY interested in knowing how your Achilles does. There are two types of Achilles tendonitis, and I have a chronic insertional type. This guy’s post was very interesting to me back when I was reading a lot about it. I haven’t read any of his other stuff, and I’m not endorsing him, since I don’t know anything about him. I just thought this post was well-put together. Led me to look up some studies on the types of exercises for insertional tendonitis. I didn’t have much luck with the traditional exercises for Achilles tendonitis.

      I know what seems to help my tendonitis, and so I like to hear what helps others to see if there is any overlap!

      I hope you get back on the court! My love is volleyball, and I can walk on the court feeling great, make a hard push off to go get a ball, and then my Achilles flares and it’s over. Or like you say, when I jump. Best wishes to you.

      Terri F


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