- What Is Collagen and Why Is It So Important?
- What Causes a Loss of Collagen
- Food Sources Rich in Collagen
- Are There Benefits to Collagen Supplements?
- Potential Hair Growth Benefits
- Potential Healthier Skin and Nails Benefits
- Potential Benefits for Joints and Bones
- Potential Weight Loss Benefits
- Side Effects of Collagen Supplements
- What’s Better? Collagen Supplements vs Protein
- Is It Good to Take a Collagen Supplement Every Day?
- How Long Does a Collagen Supplement Take to Work?
- Collagen Loss: How to Prevent It
I’ve seen collagen supplements on the shelves of my local grocery store, in health food stores that I frequent and even in online ads. This has become a very popular supplement that is advertised to help with joint health, to turn back the hands of time thanks to its anti-aging properties and so much more. If you’ve never really given much thought to collagen as a daily supplement, this article will be beneficial for you. I want to talk about the basics of collagen; what it is, why you would use it and how it’s produced by the body.
Most people don’t realize that collagen makes up one-third of our entire body. It’s present in our skin, connective tissues, joints and bones. As we age, our body will produce less collagen, which is what usually results in signs of aging. Our skin loses its elasticity, and our joints don’t have the support that they need to function comfortably.
To make this article the best we possibly could, we interviewed Nichole Dandrea, MS, RDN of Purely Planted and author of The Fiber Effect. Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN owner of Real Nutrition also made some key contributions to this article on the benefits of collagen so you'll be motivated to add collagen into your health and wellness routine.
What Is Collagen and Why Is It So Important?
There's been a big buzz around collagen and its benefits, but the truth is that collagen has been important for quite some time now. There has, however, been a big surge in the amount of collagen supplements, which explains why many people are starting to realize how important collagen can actually be.
So, what is collagen?
Nichole Dandrea, MS, RDN says, “Collagen is the main protein in your body, protecting your organs, joints, and tendons, and supporting skin elasticity. It holds your bones and muscles together and maintains the lining of your gut. It's like the “glue” that holds everything together!”
Collagen can be consumed in different food sources (which we’ll get to later), but the production of it inside of our body starts to decrease after the age of 30. Supplementation can add that collagen back in, so we not only feel good, but we also look good. It’s difficult to get an adequate amount from diet alone however, which is where the use of a supplement becomes beneficial.
Why can it be so important to our overall wellness?
Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN answered that question for us saying, “It is the most abundant structural protein in the body found in connective tissue, skin, tendons, bones and cartilage. It helps with tissue repair and maintenance, immune response and cellular communication. All of which are essential for healthy living.”
What Causes a Loss of Collagen
I’ve mentioned that collagen production decreases naturally as we age, but there are other factors that can affect the amount of collagen that we have in our body at any given moment. A poor diet that contains a great deal of fat and refined sugar is very damaging to collagen production and collagen reserves. When we consume sugar, those sugar molecules will attach themselves to collagen proteins that are in our skin, joints, etc. This is due to a process called glycation, which will lead to the production of free radicals that increase inflammation and the breakdown of collagen.
Shapiro agrees with what causes loss of collagen noting, “Aging mostly. Collagen is created by cells called fibroblasts and as we age they become less efficient causing our collagen to become fragmented which increases signs/symptoms of aging. Lifestyle factors also play a role including smoking, excessive alcohol intake and consumption of a high sugar/processed diet.”
Dandrea explains there are two things that cause collagen loss, “There are two things that cause collagen breakdown, which are out of our control and that's age and genetics. While you can't stop the aging process and can't control your genes, you can certainly slow aging down and turn genes on or off through lifestyle factors like diet and environment. A diet high in sugar, saturated fat, processed foods, and fried foods can wreak havoc on collagen and activate dormant genes that may cause inflammation and lifestyle diseases. Other lifestyle factors that play a part in collagen breakdown include smoking, stress, lack of sleep, and excessive sunshine. “
Speaking of smoking, it is also very bad for collagen production. If you’re a regular smoker, this process reduces the amount of oxygen and blood flow that your skin will receive. This also affects your circulation, breaking down much needed collagen and elastin. It’s optimal to stop your bad habits and focus on a healthy diet and lifestyle that will support collagen production.
Food Sources Rich in Collagen
Because of my profession, I like to consider food as medicine to some degree. In addition to taking a collagen supplement, you can increase your consumption of foods that are rich sources of it. Many of them may already be in your home, but you can focus on incorporating them more into your daily routine if possible.
Bone broth is used in many of the same ways that traditional broth is, but there are many more nutritional benefits associated with bone broth. When the bones of an animal are cooked down for long periods of time, this releases collagen from the bones into the liquid surrounding them. The end result is a broth that has a very high nutrient profile and contains high amounts of protein, amino acids and even electrolytes. Beef bone broth is high in type I collagen, while turkey and chicken broth are high in type II collagen. Type I collagen is beneficial for beauty, while type II is necessary for joint health.
Chlorella is a form of algae that comes in supplement form. It is used by many people thanks to its high concentrations of beta carotene, RNA and DNA, which initiates that process of regeneration of our cells while also increasing the production of collagen in the body.
Skip the farm-raised version of this fish and opt for the wild variety. Wild salmon contains substantial amounts of zinc, which is needed by the body for collagen synthesis. It is also very high in omega 3 essential fatty acids, which are also necessary sources of type I collagen. Most people aren’t consuming enough omegas in their diet, and this isn’t something that we produce on our own. If you’re not a big fan of salmon, you can also get your zinc from mackerel or tuna.
There is a multitude of leafy greens that you can add into your diet either by way of salads, smoothies or sautéing them. Greens contain a vast profile of nutrients, many of which can support the healthy production of collagen in the body. High in chlorophyll (an antioxidant), greens protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.
Both the egg itself and the membranes in the eggshell contain high amounts of collagen. Also included is sulfur, which is a type of trace mineral that is used by the body for the production of collagen.
There are many fruits that contain vitamin C, but it is most prevalent in citrus fruits. Our body requires vitamin C in order to produce collagen. It links with amino acids to prevent the breakdown of collagen while also improving our immune response.
Are There Benefits to Collagen Supplements?
I’ve talked to you a bit about the need for collagen when it comes to beauty and joint health, but there really is a large number of benefits that come from the regular use of collagen. Let’s take a look at them a bit more in depth. There are specific collagen supplements for hair growth that have type I collagen and are specifically designed for healthier hair.
Potential Hair Growth Benefits
Type 1 collagen is the best option for hair growth, as well as beauty-related needs. Type 1 collagen is the richest source of essential amino acids, such as protein, that can thicken hair, reduce hair loss and speed up hair growth.
Potential Healthier Skin and Nails Benefits
When you have a healthy consumption and production of collagen, this can have a direct result on how your skin and nails look. Your skin will glow, it will be clear, and you should see a difference in the number of fine lines and wrinkles that you experience. A person’s skin will sag as they age because of decreased collagen production, which is why it’s important to supplement early on. Nail issues that can result from a lack of collagen in the body include peeling, brittle and weak nails.
Potential Benefits for Joints and Bones
There are connective tissues around our joints that are largely made up of collagen. When you don’t have enough collagen in the body, this can lead to chronic pain in your joints, stiffness, inflammation and eventually arthritis. Collagen supplementation allows for the body to keep the joints healthier, so you feel more mobile and comfortable as you get older.
As for your bones, they are largely made up of collagen as well. A deficiency can result in osteoporosis, which is a condition that causes weak and brittle bones. Supplementing can prevent fractures and breaks while making you feel strong.
We've covered this one before and shared our collagen powder for joints recommendations.
Potential Weight Loss Benefits
Our muscular tissue in the body is made up of ten percent collagen. Inside of collagen exists things like glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, which are amino acids that play an important role in muscle gain. They help with the normal synthesis of creatine, which is an organic compound that is utilized by the body to deliver energy to your muscles when you’re working out. Not only can you use collagen to increase your muscle composition, but this can make you stronger in a way that boosts your workout potential so you can lose weight more effectively.
Side Effects of Collagen Supplements
All supplements come with some degree of risks, but collagen is generally very safe for most people to consume. Some people complain that their collagen supplement left a bad taste in their mouth. This is more common if you’ve used a flavorless supplement. Most of these products source their collagen from things like cows and fish, which don’t necessarily taste pleasant on their own.
You should also be aware that collagen can raise the calcium levels in your blood. When you have too much calcium in the body, this can cause things like bone pain, constipation and even heart arrhythmia. Most studies have shown that these side effects are more common when collagen is sourced from sharks, so be aware of this when you’re shopping for a collagen supplement.
Because of the different sources that certain collagen supplements come from, there is the potential that you could have an allergic reaction to a specific product. If you’re allergic to shellfish, definitely check the ingredient list on a collagen supplement before taking it. These products can also increase your risk of allergic hypersensitivity, so after you take a dose of a new product, keep an eye out for symptoms such as hives, swelling, itching, shortness of breath or dizziness. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of these issues.
What’s Better? Collagen Supplements vs Protein
While collagen is considered a protein, there are different benefits that are associated with collagen supplements versus protein products. Determining which product is better is determined by the needs that you have. For example, some people are looking for a way to improve their joint health and bone health, which is what turns them on to collagen in the first place. Promoting healthy aging is another benefit of collagen. However, protein is specifically used by the body to build and repair tissues, to make enzymes, hormones and form other bodily chemicals. Collagen contains a small amount of protein per serving, but it’s not something you would use to supplement your protein intake if you’re focusing on working out, weight loss, etc.
Is It Good to Take a Collagen Supplement Every Day?
Collagen is a primary protein that exists in the body. We need it every day in order to maintain our connective tissues, skin, tendons, muscles, ligaments and blood vessels (just to name a few). Taking a collagen supplement each day will help ensure that you have enough in your system to accommodate these processes.
How Long Does a Collagen Supplement Take to Work?
While you may see some short-term benefits after starting a collagen supplement, it’s generally recommended that you wait about 12 weeks before determining if your increased intake is going to benefit you. This is the amount of time it takes for your body to heal and regenerate tissues and cells, helping you feel youthful, mobile and healthy. You also need to make sure that you’re taking your supplement regularly in order to see its full potential.
Collagen Loss: How to Prevent It
Decreased collagen production is inevitable as you get older, but there are ways that you can prevent a negative impact from occurring. Your diet should include important amino acids such as proline and glycine. Also ensure you’re getting enough Vitamin C and copper. Some key foods to incorporate include egg whites, mushrooms and asparagus. Food sources rich in protein and collagen include pork, chicken, soybeans and spinach.
Avoid all of the things that can further decrease your collagen production, such as smoking, stress, dehydration, lack of sleep and too much sun exposure.
Shapiro's message? Very simple, but powerful:
Follow a healthy diet full of plants and high quality protein, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake too. Avoid foods that contain advanced glycation end products (AGEs) like processed meats – hotdogs, bacon – and fried foods. These speed up the aging process. Also taking collagen supplements have been shown to help in some research studies to strengthen skin and bones and tendons. Finally stay active, exercise daily and weight train to promote healthy bones and muscles.
Dandrea has some similar and super helpful tips on how to prevent collagen loss, which I've highlighted below:
Eat plant based foods
Eating a wide variety of colorful plant-based foods can support collagen maintenance and protect it from breaking down. Plant-based foods are also naturally low in sugar and saturated fat. Plant-based foods contain a plethora of phytonutrients, nutrients specific to plants, which often act like antioxidants, scavenging free radicals that could potentially break down collagen. Many plant-based foods are also high in vitamin C and copper, two nutrients that support collagen synthesis.
Studies show that plant-based foods may also help with sound sleep because they're high in fiber, which may help to create a deep, slow wave and restorative sleep, which is important in managing stress and preventing collagen breakdown.
Find ways that work for you to manage stress, like connecting with nature, taking a walk outside, exercising, gardening, or meditating.
Get some sunshine, but not too much
Getting some sunshine daily is good for your health because it's the best way for your body to naturally get enough vitamin D. However, hours of basking in the sun is not so good for your skin. Get about 20-30 minutes of sunshine a day for vitamin D production then call it quits if you want to protect the collagen in your skin.
While it may seem like collagen is all of a sudden getting some time in the spotlight, it actually deserves this focus. Taking a collagen supplement each day offers a great deal of benefits for your body that aren’t just skin deep. The younger you start, the better you’re going to feel as you get older. It’s a lot easier to prevent damage caused by a lack of collagen than it is to try and repair your body and get back to where you were when you were younger.
My Take Home Tips For You!
Other than mixing collagen powder into your smoothie each day or adding it to a cup of water, there are some other ways you can utilize it. Here are my tips for success.
Scramble Your Collagen
A great way to start the day is with some scrambled eggs white, fruit and whole grain toast. Mix your collagen supplement into your eggs, and you won’t even know that they’re in there.
Your Morning Cup of Joe
Collagen can hold its structure even when it is heated, so feel free to put your collagen powder into your cup of coffee (or tea) each morning.
When you’re mixing up some pancake batter for a weekend breakfast, put a scoop of collagen into it. It adds a little nutritional perk to your breakfast. You can even opt for one of these great protein pancake mixes that are popular right now.