More than just a hip, new trend popularized by different lifestyle personalities and brands, collagen is a protein that your body has been making your entire life.
So, do you need more of it?
Signs that your collagen levels are falling are written all over your body. When you feel the thinning, weakening and stiffening of once healthy hair, skin and muscles, it may be time to use collagen-rich foods and collagen supplements as tools to keep your body healthy. Read on to find out why protecting your collagen levels can help restore your body from the effects of aging.
What Is Collagen and Why Should You Care?
To understand why collagen is so essential to your health, here are three things you should know:
1. It’s a protein – the most plentiful one in your body. It also serves one important function – to help tissues withstand stretching. Without collagen acting as the glue for your connective tissue, blood vessels, tendons, and skin become weak [*].
2. It signals injury and inflammation to your cells in order to activate the healing process. It also produces new, stronger fibers to replace damaged tissue and repairs damaged cells [*].
3. Your collagen fibers thicken and loosen with age, which eventually causes wrinkling and sagging [*]. Besides protecting skin from sun damage and using diet to protect your collagen, you may need to take supplements as you get older.
5 Benefits of Collagen-Rich Food and Supplements
Collagen is best known for its reputation to make dewy, wrinkle-free skin. Cosmetics that claim to “reduce the appearance of stretch marks” or “erase” fine lines often use collagen as their most popular ingredient.
But topical collagen products simply don’t work. Like any good quick fix, it’s just too good to be true: collagen protein molecules are too large to penetrate the top layer of skin. You must ingest the protein in order to affect your brain, heart, skin, muscles and digestive system.
That means that supplements and collagen-rich foods provide the best ways to see anti-aging benefits. Here’s what science has to say about the effect of collagen throughout your body.
1. Improves Skin Health
Even if you’re just coming to terms with the myth of topical collagen creams, there is hope for the anti-aging effects of collagen supplements. In a recent study, scientists wanted to investigate the effects of a drinkable collagen supplement on skin aging and skin health. The study was performed on 72 women aged 35 years or older for twelve weeks. Women who took the collagen supplement showed significantly improved skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density [*].
Other studies have noted that hydrolyzed collagen, or collagen that’s been broken down, was the main catalyst for skin improvements. Researchers attributed this to the gut immediately being able to absorb this form of collagen into the bloodstream to send directly to the skin [*].
2. Supports Gut Health
Leaky gut syndrome is a painful digestive condition that affects the lining of the intestines with inflammation. Gaps in the intestinal walls allow bacteria and other toxins to pass or “leak” into the bloodstream. This also prevents vitamins and minerals from being absorbed.
The disruption of the gut barriers is also known to play a role in diseases such as inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease and many food allergies. But one of the amino acids in collagen has been identified as the key to preventing inflammation of the gut wall and even healing leaky gut syndrome by inhibiting the opening of those intestinal gaps [*].
One way to ingest collagen into the gastrointestinal tract is through the following collagen-rich foods:
- – Beef
- – Chicken
- – Wild salmon
- – Shellfish
- – Bone Broth
- – Egg whites
- – Spirulina
It’s important to note that your body does not absorb collagen directly from foods. Rather, collagen-rich foods supply the amino acids essential to build more proteins of different shapes and varieties. Similarly, plant-based foods rich in vitamin C also provide the nutrient your body requires to naturally produce collagen.
3. Relieves Joint and Knee Pain
While no studies have found that collagen supplements can grow or repair cartilage, many have found that supplements may help improve and reduce osteoarthritis symptoms and overall joint pain [*]. Researchers theorize that supplemental collagen may accumulate in cartilage and stimulate your tissues to make collagen.
In order to lower joint inflammation and reduce pain, particularly in people with joint disorders like osteoarthritis, studies suggest starting with a daily dosage of 10 grams [*].
4. Prevents Hair Thinning
Collagen makes up 70% of your dermis, the middle layer of your skin that contains the root of each hair. Specifically, collagen maintains the elasticity and strength of your dermis, but aging makes the body less efficient at producing the protein. This may be one reason why hair gets thinner as you age.
Because collagen supplements have been found to significantly improve dermis elasticity and reduce the signs of skin aging, some researchers believe that collagen may have the potential to decrease thinning since hair grows out of this layer [*].
Collagen-rich foods and supplements also provide some of the building blocks of hair, particularly for a protein called keratin. When you consume collagen and other proteins, your body breaks them down in order to build new proteins, which could lead to more productive hair growth [*].
5. Prevents Brittle Nails
Collagen may help strengthen your nails, so they don’t become brittle. In a recent study, 25 women with brittle nail syndrome who exhibited nails with surface roughness, raggedness and peeling, took 2.5 grams of a daily collagen peptide supplement for 24 weeks. Four weeks after the therapy, these were the results [*]:
- – 12% increase in nail growth
- – 42% decrease in broken nails
- – 64% improvement in brittle nails
The majority of the study participants agreed that the use of collagen peptide supplements improved their nails’ appearance in as little as four weeks.
How It Works for Me
Natural solutions are only beneficial when they become long-term solutions. I drink a daily collagen protein shake mid-morning because it provides a boost of energy and a sense of fullness until lunch. After months of consistent intake, my hair and nails grow in stronger and faster, my skin feels smoother and my joints crack less. I even drink a second collagen protein shake after strength training and exercise, which has resulted in more definition, muscle tone, and less soreness.
Because my daughter has suffered from respiratory issues that have required frequent antibiotics, we drink bone broth together once a week. I add a pinch of collagen into her water cup to help repair her gut health in the long term (both recommended and approved by her pediatrician).
While your form and reasons for consuming collagen may differ, it’s undeniably important for a strong body.