What is Collagen?
Collagen is a fundamental protein that acts as a crucial part to the foundation of our skin, hair, bones, joints, muscles, and other connective tissues. Moreover, collagen proteins account for more than 25% of the total protein content in our bodies!
As we get older, our bodies’ natural ability to produce collagen slows down. This leads to wrinkled skin, thinning hair, frail bones, weaker joints, and other detriments. Lifestyle choices like poor diet or too much sun exposure can lead to an even further decline of collagen production. Unfortunately, in most modern diets, we aren’t consuming enough foods with collagen to help counteract and slow the aging process down. In fact, many modern lifestyle choices may actually be speeding up the aging process.
And that’s where collagen peptide supplements come into play! These hydrolyzed peptides are easily digested and nutrients are fully absorbed by the body, aiding in a plethora of collagen health benefits. What sort of benefits, you might ask? We had a feeling you would want to know…
Collagen Health Benefits
Other than the fact that our bodies need collagen proteins to function on a day-to-day basis, studies have shown that there are numerous collagen health benefits behind the consumption of these proteins.
Here are some of those collagen health benefits that you can expect when taking collagen supplements:
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your skin, contributing to about 75%-80% of its genetic makeup. Adding collagen supplements to your daily diet has been linked to diminishing wrinkles and cellulite, while increasing skin hydration and elasticity (20,32).
Hair & Nails
Studies have shown that consumption of collagen proteins strengthens nails and increases their growth (45), as well as helps to strengthen and thicken hair.
Just like in our skin, collagen is the most prevalent protein in connective tissues. It makes up 90% of those tissues, which includes joints, tendons, and ligaments. Taking collagen supplements has been linked to reduction of joint pain and deterioration, as well as increased joint extension and overall joint health (9,17,27).
Studies show that introducing collagen into your diet can increase bone formation and metabolism, as well as reduce bone fragmentation. These collagen health benefits are especially helpful for people who are not getting enough calcium into their diets (64,67).
There are many other amino acids, like glutamine, arginine, and ornithine, that you can find in collagen that have a many collagen health benefits. These amino acids have been linked to increased muscle strength and lean body mass, as well as a decrease in fat mass and muscle soreness (7,42,54).
Studies show a correlation between an intake of collagen proteins and increased amino acid concentrations in the blood. These amino acids have been linked to helping lower blood pressure and reduce platelet aggregation (12,52).
In correlation with joint health, collagen proteins have been helpful in combating inflammatory diseases, like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Collagen, and respective collagen health benefits, has further links to indicate these proteins help treat inflammatory bowel disease, and even cardiovascular diseases (11,14,23,30,35,49,60,66).
You can take care of one of your most important organs – your heart – by consistently supplementing your diet with collagen proteins. These proteins have been linked to combating heart disease, as well as atherosclerosis (1,2,14,43).
Studies show that collagen proteins can be used to help promote axonal growth and protect degenerating neurons, linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (5). This means that these proteins, and their corresponding collagen health benefits, can help prevent certain forms of dementia by promoting the growth of healthy brain cells.
Dietary collagen encourages the body’s regulation of lipid metabolism, helping reduce fat accumulation and weight gain (34,59). Collagen proteins are also more filling than other proteins, helping you feel full for longer without using junky fillers.
Amino Acids: What’s Inside Collagen
Amino acids are the much-needed building blocks for proteins. Our bodies need a total of 20 different amino acids to function throughout our day to day lives. Of those 20 amino acids, only 9 of them are “essential.”
An essential amino acid is an amino acid the body can’t produce enough of on its own, which is why we need to include them in our diets. Collagen peptides include 18 amino acids, 8 of which are essential. The majority of those amino acids correlate with some sorts of collagen health benefits.
Some of the more important ones that are present in those peptides are:
Glycine, the most abundant amino acid present in collagen, helps with many things throughout the body. Glycine improves sleep quality (15,44) and decreases fatigue/sleepiness (13), increases collagen synthesis (70), decreases systolic blood pressure (52), helps with osteoarthritis with anti-inflammatory properties (70), reduces chances of clots (12), helps protect against stomach ulcers (73), and helps maintain a healthy nervous system.
Another major amino acid in collagen is proline, which is key for the stability of collagen synthesis. Proline also improves metabolism, supports wound healing, helps mediate immune response, as well as promoting antioxidative reactions, protecting against damaging free radicals (72).
Collagen contains a significant amount of glutamine, which engages in increasing collagen production (41) and helps with restoring skin damaged by UV-rays from the sun (68). Glutamine also helps our bodies improve energy production, while boosting the immune system, digestive system (51,57), and soothing gut inflammation (51).
Arginine, another important amino acid in collagen, helps with improving athletic performance and wound healing (54), improving muscle mass, reducing fatigue, and overall improvements to heart health.
When consumed as part of our diet, these amino acids travel through the stomach to the small intestine, where they’re further digested and absorbed by intestinal cells. These intestinal cells transport the amino acids to your bloodstream, move to the liver, and then are distributed throughout your body. This distribution then leads to the majority of subsequent collagen health benefits that we all love to see and feel!
Types of Collagen
There have been at least 28 types of collagen identified, yet most of the collagen in our bodies (80%-90%) are types I, II, and III. Each of these three types offer different collagen health benefits. Together, they provide the vast majority of collagen health benefits you might experience when consuming collagen, which is why they comprise the larger number of collagen supplements out there.
The predominant types that you might hear about are:
- Most abundant in human body
- Reduces wrinkles
- Hydrates skin, Improves elasticity
- Stronger nails
- Thicker, faster growing hair
- Supports muscles
- Stabilizes ligaments/tendons
- Improves cartilage/joint health
- Support eye health
- Where You Can Find It:
- Chicken sources, found in chicken bone broth
- Where You Can Find It:
- Works in correlation with Type I
- Improves skin elasticity
- Increased blood flow for muscle support
- Where You Can Find It:
- Bovine sources, found in beef bone broth and beef bone broth powder
- Egg sources, prevalent in eggshells and egg whites
- Where You Can Find It:
Difference between Collagen, Hydrolyzed Collagen, Collagen Peptides, and Gelatin
In your search for the perfect collagen supplement, you might also find yourself wondering what all the variations mean. Some say ‘hydrolyzed,’ others are labeled as ‘peptides,’ and some just mention ‘collagen’ somewhere on the front of the package.
It’s important to understand the differences, and similarities, among these labels and the collagen health benefits associated with each:
In its pure form, collagen is a very large and heavy molecule. That makes it difficult for the body to break down. In short, we’re unable to fully absorb the nutrients that are readily available. Collagen, in this form, can be found in meats, connective tissues, bones, etc.
By adding natural enzymes to collagen proteins, the proteins are broken down and become hydrolyzed. When they are hydrolyzed, this means that the collagen molecules are smaller. This allows us to digest it and absorb the nutrients much more easily. Research shows that long-term ingestion of hydrolyzed collagen can lead to substantial collagen health benefits (46).
There is no real difference between the ‘peptide’ version and the ‘hydrolyzed’ version, as both are broken down via hydrolyzation. Once again, this allows for our bodies to break down, and absorb, much more of the collagen nutrients. Collagen peptides can be mixed into liquids, allowing for effortless consumption.
If there were a middle ground between collagen and their peptide form, it would be gelatin. Gelatin is what happens when you partially hydrolyze collagen, breaking it down into a liquid form. When cooled, this partially hydrolyzed collagen forms gelatin. However, gelatin doesn’t dissolve as easily as fully hydrolyzed peptides. Gelatin requires hot water to dissolve into a drinkable liquid. This allows our bodies to digest it properly and absorb the nutrients that are available.
Factors Contributing to Collagen Loss
We understand that as we age, even as early as in our 20s, our bodies start to decrease collagen production. This leads to an aging appearance, with sagging skin and wrinkles, thinning hair, stiffer joints and weaker bones. But did you know that your lifestyle can also contribute to this downward spiral of collagen loss?
Here are some of those lifestyle choices that may be leading you towards that downward spiral:
The toxins from smoking cause damage to collagen production, and is linked to accelerated side effects of aging on your skin, like more wrinkles and sagging skin (77).
Lack of Sleep
Without enough sleep, cortisol hormones rise, and high cortisol has been linked to the breakdown of collagen proteins throughout the body.
Consuming Too Much Sugar
When your body digests too much sugar, that sugar clings to collagen proteins, a process called glycation. This process creates AGEs, or Advanced Glycation End products, which are extremely destructive to collagen proteins, and their respective collagen health benefits (78).
Without proper protection, your skin is victim to the harsh UV-rays of the sun. Not only do those UV-rays gradually degrade the extracellular matrix of your skin that collagen makes up, it also accelerates the activation of genes related to photoaging.
Stress (both physical and emotional)
Just as a lack of sleep can raise your cortisol levels, stress increases cortisol hormones in your body, which damages collagen integrity in your skin (79).
Poor Diet/Lack of Vitamins
Without the proper nutrients for your body to promote the synthesis of collagen, there is a lack of its production throughout the entire body.
Linked with poor diet, an unhealthy gut can release toxins and transcription factors, like matrix metalloproteinase. These biological molecules can break down extracellular matrix macromolecules like collagen proteins (80). To put it simply, toxins released from an unhealthy gut can break down these proteins all throughout your body.
Factors like air pollution, cigarette smoke, processed foods, and UV-rays, all contribute to free radical production in your body. Free radicals have been linked to the breakdown of collagen proteins, as well as beneficial hyaluronic acid.
Easy Ways to Add Collagen to Your Diet
While we can’t stop the natural decline of collagen production as we age, we can make lifestyle choices that help prevent accelerated collagen loss and damage.
Here are a few foods rich in collagen and supporting compounds that can help promote collagen synthesis and slow down its loss:
These foods have quite a few different types of collagen proteins, linked to numerous collagen health benefits, and are a great way of adding those proteins into your daily diet:
- Bone Broth
- Eggshell Membrane, Egg Whites, and Egg Yolk
Collagen Promoting Foods
While some foods contain actual collagen proteins to replace those you’ve lost, these foods are loaded with nutrients that help replenish and promote collagen production in your body:
- Citrus Fruits
- Leafy Green Veggies
How Collagen Supplements Work
To productively synthesize collagen, our bodies need a steady supply of certain amino acids such as glycine, proline, arginine, etc. Collagen supplements work by providing a simple way to supply those amino acids to your body. This way, your body has access to those particular amino acids needed to produce those oh-so-important collagen peptides and their as-important collagen health benefits.
Hydrolyzed collagen allows for fuller digestion/absorption, and it’s been shown that regular consumption of those hydrolyzed peptides increases the amino acid concentration in your blood (46).
Therefore, when looking for the best collagen supplements out there, make sure that they are hydrolyzed, non-GMO, and made from 100% pasture-raised, grass-fed ingredients.
Now you’re informed on the ins and outs of collagen, why it’s important and what we can do to optimize our bodies’ natural production of it. But you’re probably still wondering whether if you should give it a try.
Well, let’s put it this way. Just like when kids eat their morning gummy vitamins, it’s important, at any age, to add a healthy amount of collagen into your daily routine. Whether you’ve just entered adulthood, or already have many years of experience (and the aches and pains to go with it!), it’s never too early or too late to start supplementing your diet with additional collagen and collagen-supporting foods.
It doesn’t matter whether you get it from the foods you eat, or if you are stirring it into your drink on-the-go. Given the numerous collagen health benefits, from cosmetic to healing and disease prevention, collagen is an essential addition into anyone’s, and everyone’s, lifestyle.