What is the Buzz About Collagen?
Every few months there seems to be some new supplement, which promises numerous benefits. In the case of collagen supplements, it is often touted as the “anti-aging” miracle supplement.
But does it live up to expectations? Of course, the answer is that it depends.
Collagen is a protein, which is responsible for maintaining healthy joints, as well as skin elasticity. Collagen is found in bones, muscles, hair, nails, and it comprised three quarters of your skin. As we age, we make less and less of it and the collagen that we have begins to break down. For women who have gone through menopause, this is further compounded by the fact that it becomes increasingly more difficult for them to properly absorb collagen from foods.
This can result in wrinkles, skin that is not quite at taut at it once and the loss of that youthful appearance many of us did not appreciate when we were in our 20s. Further, a decrease in collagen can also result in brittle nails, weaker bones, and sometimes noticeable changes in our hair.
This has given rise to numerous skin care products claiming to boost collagen as well as supplements. As with most things, I always recommended sourcing your nutrients from foods as much as possible.
Natural Sources of Collagen:
· Bone broth, preferably well sourced, organic, grass-fed/free-range
· Fish with the skin
In order for the body to naturally produce its own collagen, several other key nutrients are required. Therefore, eating foods sources naturally rich in these nutrients, also help the body to naturally boost collagen levels. These include:
· Proline is a type of amino acid found primarily in egg whites, dairy, cabbage, mushrooms, and asparagus.
· Glycine is another type of amino acid rich in meat like chicken and pork (mostly in the skins).
· Gelatin is a type of protein found in protein rich foods like meat and poultry; bone broth is also rich in gelatin.
· Vitamin C which is found in citrus fruits and peppers.
· Zinc is an important mineral required for collagen production. Found in beef, pork, shellfish, chickpeas, lentils, beans, dairy, as well as many nuts and seeds.
· Copper is another important mineral found in organ meat, cocoa powder, cashews, sesame seeds and lentils.
Key Benefits of Collagen:
· Skin Health: As we age, the collagen in our skin begins to break down and our ability to make collagen is reduced. Several studies of women over the age of 35, have seen improvements in skin elasticity through the use of collagen supplementation.
· Bone Health: Particularly for post-menopausal women, we see issues with decreased bone density, which can result in osteoporosis and fractures. Research has shown that the addition of collagen can help increase bone mineral density in older women.
· Muscle Strength: Collagen is a key component of muscles and as we age, we do see a normal deterioration of muscle tissue. One study showed that men over the age of 72 who added collagen supplementation, in addition to their daily exercise regimen, showed greater improvements in muscle strength.
· Improved Joint Health: Collagen is important in the maintenance of healthy joints, as it helps the joints move easily and reduces the pain and deterioration often seen in aging. A recent study found collagen to be an effective treatment for osteoarthritis, as well as other joint disorders.
· Weight Loss and Metabolism Support: Collagen contains a substantial amount of glycine, which is a type of amino acid. It supports the formation of muscle tissue by converting glucose into energy, which feeds the muscles. Maintaining muscle mass is not only crucial as we age, but it also helps us to burn more calories. Further, collagen also contains another amino acid called arginine. It boosts the body’s ability to make protein, which is important for muscle repair, boosting of the metabolism, as well as promoting growth and development.
· Hair and Nail Growth: Many women experience thinning hair as they age. One study showed that women with thinning hair, experienced a significant increase in their hair’s quality and thickness while taking supplemental collagen. Further, another study demonstrated stronger nails and less breakage in women taking collagen supplements for 4 weeks.
· Gut Health and GI Integrity: Many of us experience gastrointestinal (GI) issues, a number of which (i.e., IBS, Crohn’s disease, IBD, etc.) are highly inflammatory, which can result in damage to the lining of the GI tract. Collagen is also a key component of the GI tract, therefore supplementation of collagen or eating foods rich in collagen and other necessary components can aid in healing the GI tract. This is crucial for proper nutrient absorption, as well as the regulation of our metabolism.
To Supplement or Not?
As stated above, getting collagen naturally from food sources is always the best option. Organic bone broth is my top favorite among theses, as it is highly absorbable, even for people who have a compromised GI tract.
However, as we age, supplementation is for sure a good option to help keep our collagen levels up and to support our bones, muscles, skin, hair, and nails. The key is to ensure that you are taking a good quality, well sourced product and that you are taking enough of it.
Despite there being some great brands out there, the biggest issue for me is that many of these supplements contain very little collagen. Some brands only offer 1g per serving, especially capsules. Most studies I have read recommend a minimum of 10g daily. Therefore, supplementing with capsules, gummies, and other chews, commonly sold, will be very expensive and also you would be required to take many, many servings.
I recommend using powder collagen supplements, as some offer 10g to even 20g per serving. They can be added to warm and cold beverages, as many are tasteless, or added to smoothies. My favorites ones are Ancient Nutrition and Vital Proteins.