By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Featured Columnist
Call me an optimist but I am one of those people who really likes to believe in certain urban tales. We won't call them "myths". One such belief is that Jello helps to grow your hair and fingernails. I like Jello and my hair needs help, so hope meets need and voila, I'm out there buying litte boxes of Jello mix. But does Jello actually help? Can it really grow hair?
Let's look at the evidence.
Jello Is Gelatin But Gelatin Is More Than Just Clear Stuff That Jiggles
Jello had to be a hit. I mean, it's jiggly, it can take on almost any color, and it feels fun to eat. It's a perfect light-hearted food. But, other than landing in hospitals, most of us stop eating loads of Jello about the time we become teenagers, which also happens to coincide with the time we stopped being fun ourselves. Coincidence?
Anyway, Jello has been popular in the US since its introduction in 1845 by the industrialist Peter Cooper. Cooper patented the product of powdered gelatin which only needed hot water to become Jello. He called his creation "Portable Gelatin".
The product wasn't called "Jell-O" until 42 years later when it was so named by Pearle Waite. Ms. Waite introduced many different flavors and colors of Jello-O, making the product fun, and the rest is history.
Gelatin, the main ingredient of Jello, was itself discovered by a French man named Denis Papin in 1682. Papin discovered that gelatin is created when you boil animal bones.
Gelatin exists in animal bones --- and in our own bones --- as a collagenous substance that helps in the interface between our joints to cushion them against shock and to work smoothly. Collagen also is the compound that is the main structure of the outer layer of skin, keeping it smooth, hair and teeth.
The fact that collagen is in hair is what started the belief that eating more Jello could help hair grow. Can it? What does science say?
Jello Does Not Help Hair Grow Longer But It Does Make It Thicker
One of the best designed studies on gelatin and hair was carried out in 1976 and called "The Effect of Daily Gelatin Ingestion on Human Scalp Hair". Published at the time in Nutrition Reports International, the study described the results of giving male and female participants a daily dose of 14 grams of gelatin. That's about half an ounce. In two separate experiments of 6 months, hair diameter grew from 5% to 45%. The average in the first experiment was a growth in diameter of 9.3% and the average in the second experiment was a growth in hair diameter of 11%.
However, after the experiment ended, the hair reverted by to its original, thinner diameter.
Notably, the length of the hair did not increase.
So, the study showed that, if you have thinning hair, taking gelatin can increase the thickness of the hair strands you have, making it appear as though you have more hair. You will increase the volume of hair but not its length.
Is Eating Too Much Jello Dangerous?
Can you eat too much Jello? Well, gelatin is animal protein, albeit animal protein without fat. Collagen protein, the main substance in gelatin, is believed to make up about one third of all protein in the human body.
There are certain diseases that can only carried in animal products such as mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). But the FDA, in a March 17, 2016, Constituent Update, stated that your risk of contracting mad cow disease from gelatin is minimal, so long as the manufacturer follows approved manufacturing processes.
Aside from animal-derived diseases, is there any danger in consuming Jello?
The FDA has not deemed Jello as an unsafe food product. Nor is there any study that to date has set an level of toxicity for gelatin. However, common sense should kick in. Over-consumption of any protein makes your kidneys work hard. You should include Jello in any daily quota you now have for animal protein.
If you are vegan, your daily quota for Jello is zero, since it is an animal protein product.