You may have heard about taking collagen for shinier hair or stronger nails. But what you might not know about collagen is that it has powerful health benefits far beyond its beauty-boosting abilities. Because of this, it has made its way onto the shelves of health food stores and into food products such as protein bars, tea, and even coffee.
What is collagen, exactly? Think of collagen as the glue that holds your body together. In fact, the name collagen comes from the Greek word ‘kolla’, meaning ‘glue’. It’s the fibrous protein found throughout the body- in organs, muscles, skin, hair, nails, teeth, bones, blood vessels, tendons, joints, cartilage, and the digestive system.
Unfortunately, collagen production begins to slow around age 35, and by age 60, over half of the body’s collagen has been depleted. Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as a high-sugar diet, excessive sun exposure, and smoking further contribute to diminishing collagen levels. By taking a collagen supplement, we may be able to slow this natural decline and prevent damage to our health and appearance.
Let’s take a look at the health benefits of collagen and why you should consider taking it daily.
Hair, skin, and nails
Given that your body produces less collagen as you age, skin elasticity and hydration are affected, potentially leading to increased wrinkles. Some people take collagen supplements to counteract this process, with scientific research backing these claims. For example, one study found that taking oral collagen supplements enhanced skin, hydration, and collagen density. A study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology showed that women who took a collagen supplement showed significant improvements in skin elasticity, even after just four weeks of supplementation.
Bone growth and repair
Our bones are also made up of collagen protein fibers. As collagen production declines with age, bone mass slowly decreases, potentially leading to bone diseases like osteoporosis. Some research has shown that collagen supplements may help prevent bone breakdown and associated diseases.
Repairs leaky gut
Collagen peptides help maintain the gut mucosa. Also referred to as the ‘gut lining’, this thin layer of membranes is designed to prevent pathogens from entering the body through the digestive system. Collagen contains two key amino acids that can help repair a damaged gut lining: glycine and proline. Glycine primarily has been widely studied for its ability to repair a variety of stomach disorders.
Collagen supplementation could help you work toward a leaner, fitter body. A recent study of older men experiencing loss of muscle mass found that those who took 15 grams of collagen daily, in addition to lifting weights three times a week, gained significantly more muscle and lost more fat than those who only lifted weights.
Maintains heart health
Researchers have theorized that taking collagen supplements may help reduce the risk of heart-related conditions by supporting healthy blood vessels. In one study, healthy adults took 16 grams of collagen daily for six months. By the end of the study period, they had experienced a significant reduction in measures of artery stiffness and increased their levels of “good” HDL cholesterol by an average of six percent.
Supports the liver and detoxification
The glycine found in collagen can help with detoxification and reduce toxin-related damage to the liver. Research has highlighted how glycine can minimize liver damage from alcohol. It also helps the digestive system expel waste and improves the body’s use of antioxidants, which aid the body’s detoxification system.
Repairs painful joints
A recent review cited more than 60 scientific studies designed to measure the impact of collagen on joint pain and overall joint health. Their findings showed that collagen supplementation improves joint comfort, prevents joint erosion, and helps maintain the integrity of the bone and soft tissue that make up joints.
How to find a good collagen supplement
While collagen and its building blocks are found in many foods, a more measurable way of increasing your intake is to take it in supplement form.
Collagen supplements come from a variety of origins, though the most common are pork, cattle, and fish. These are all predominantly type 1 collagen, which is the most common type in the body. Always find out where your collagen comes from. If you have a fish, egg, or shellfish allergy, be sure your collagen comes from another source. Vegan collagen supplements are also available, but unfortunately, these are made with genetically modified yeast and bacteria, which some may wish to avoid.
The majority of collagen supplements come in powder or liquid form, as well as either flavored or unflavored. Many people prefer the unflavored variety, as it can be added to foods and beverages without affecting the taste.
Make sure your chosen collagen supplement comes hydrolyzed into peptides, meaning the proteins are already broken down. This makes it easier for your body to digest them and incorporate them into connective tissue.
Topical collagen lotions and creams are also popular, though research suggests these are not as effective as oral supplements. The collagen molecule itself is too large to penetrate the surface of the skin when applied in a cream or lotion. Soluble or hydrolyzed collagen, which is broken down into smaller fragments, does penetrate the skin, but these fragments are likely too small to do any good.
The right way to use your collagen supplement
The best way to use your collagen supplement is to mix a serving into some room-temperature water. Although mixing collagen into coffee has become a trend of late, some experts maintain that this damages the collagen. At these higher temperatures, collagen’s molecular structure melts, diminishing, or even negating the desired health benefits. Others say it is fine to mix it into hot beverages since most supplements are already hydrolyzed, meaning they can not be broken down further. One study points out that the degradation temperature for collagen is 572 degrees, while coffee is only brewed at about 185 degrees.
Some sources also suggest that collagen should be taken one to two hours before or after other meals, as the presence of other proteins could reduce the absorption of collagen.
Ultimately, what matters is that you are consistent with taking the supplement, so consume it in a way that you are most likely to maintain daily.
Keep in mind that collagen should not be used in place of dietary protein. That’s because collagen is not a complete protein. It only contains eight of the nine essential amino acids your body needs. Therefore, collagen should be used as a health supplement, rather than as a “protein shake” or dietary meal replacement.
Try incorporating a collagen supplement into your daily routine and enjoy a healthier body and enduring natural beauty.
-The UpWellness Team