From supplements to beauty and skincare ranges, collagen definitely seems to be a popular ingredient at the moment and for good reason – but what is it? And what does does it do?
What is collagen and what is it used for?
Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the human body, making up about 23% to 35% of our protein. As a protein, it’s collagen is composed of amino acids, with glycine, lysine and proline being the main ones.
It’s the major ingredient of our connective tissues such as tendons, ligaments, muscles and skin as well as supporting bone strength – so you can probably already see now why it’s so important!
What are the benefits of collagen?
1) Skin Health
As mentioned above collagen is a popular ingredient in skin care products, or even beauty boosting supplements, as it plays an important role in our skin structure, improving elasticity and hydration in the skin.
As we age our bodies produce less collagen, which leads to wrinkles, dryness and just generally meh skin. Studies have shown that taking either collagen peptides or supplements contain collagen can help to reduce this and therefore also help to slow the signs of ageing in our skin. Supplementing with collagen may also help to promote the production of other beneficial proteins for our skin such as elastin and fibrillin.
Aside from taking collagen supplements it can also be applied topically too via the use of skin creams and masks (you’ve probably already seen it as a featured ingredient on lots of products). In this case, check that the products contain retinol.
2) Healthy Nails & Hair
An all round beauty boosting protein, collagen can also help keep our nails and hair healthy, as well as our skin!
Collagen can help to increase nail strength and reduce brittleness, as well as stimulating growth, and can also help to stimulate hair growth and keep it healthy too.
3) Gut Health
Another health and wellness trend (also for good reason), most of us have got the message now that maintaining good gut health is super important for our overall well-being.
Collagen can potentially help our lovely guts by helping to reduce the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome, although it apparently needs more research at this stage to determine how effective it actually is.
This is the main reasons why foods such as bone broth, which contain collagen, are said to be good for gut health too.
4) Joint Health
As our bodies produce less collagen as we age, this can lead to exterior signs of ageing (like wrinkles) but also changes we can feel too such as joint aches an pains.
Collagen helps to build and maintain cartilage, the tissue protecting our joints. Therefore the reduction in the amount of collagen we produce can increase our risk of developing degenerative joint disorders like osteoarthritis.
Researchers believe that supplementing with collagen may help it to accumulate in your tissues, stimulating your body to produce more cartilage as well as potentially helping to lower inflammation – both of which lead to better joint support and reduced pain.
5) Prevent Bone Loss
You guessed it – our bones are also made of collagen, and it helps to both give them structure and to keep them strong.
Just as lower levels of collagen can negatively affect our joints leading to osteoarthritis risk, a lack of collagen can also lead to lower bone density and higher risk of fractures, further increasing this risk.
Supplementing with collagen may help to inhibit the bone breakdown as well as improving bone density. Calcium also helps to further boost this process.
6) Heart Health
Collagen helps provide structure for our arteries, blood vessels which transport blood from your heart to the rest of your body.
Without enough collagen our arteries may weaken and become fragile, which can also potentially lead to atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) which can then also potentially lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Supplementing with collagen can help heart health in a couple of ways. It can help to increase levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol), which is an important factor in heart disease risk, as well as reducing artery stiffness.
7) Can help increase muscle mass
Around 1 to 10% of our muscle mass is composed of collagen – which is not a huge amount…but any gym junkie will agree that everything counts when it comes to gains!
The people who see the most benefit in supplementing with collagen for anabolic muscle properties though are those who have age related muscle loss, sarcopenia, obviously taken in conjunction with exercise.
Sources of Collagen
Just as it’s found in our own connective tissues and bones, this is where it’s also found in animals too, and so animal skin and bones are a rich source.
Gelatin is also mainly derived from broken down animal parts, eg the bones in bone broth, and so is also a great source.
You may have also heard of “marine collagen” which is sourced from deep sea fish, and said to be a more pure and potent source.
However, hydrolysed collagen (which has already been broken down) may be more beneficial as it can be more quickly easily absorbed by the body, vs collagen from food sources which first needs to be broken down into individual amino acids and peptides by our digestive enzymes. Which is why supplementing with collagen may be beneficial, especially as we age.
Our bodies also require iron, silica and Vitamin C for collagen synthesis, and so it’s important to ensure your diet has adequate levels of these (which we need anyway). Vit C helps to boost our collagen stores as well as helping collagen molecules to retain their structure. Our levels of Vit C also decline as we age, or via too much sun exposure (tanning is bad!)
As mentioned above calcium also has a synergistic effect when also taken with collagen.
Potential side effects of collagen supplements
Some collagen supplements are derived from fish, shellfish and eggs, so those who have food allergies to those ingredients need to be careful.
Apart from that they are generally safe, apart from some people may experience heartburn, digestive upset or a bad taste in the mouth.
What can impair our collagen production?
As mentioned throughout, age is a huge factor in the decline of our natural collagen production however other lifestyle factors also contribute such as:
- A high sugar diet (yup – too much sugar can cause wrinkles): via a process called glycation where sugar molecules bind to collagen, impairing it’s function
- Smoking: which damages elastin and collagen in the skin…as well as nearly everything else in your body and our environment, don’t do it – it’s beyond gross)
- Spending too much time in the sun: UV rays break down collagen fibres
The above also helps to explain why smokers and tan-oholics also often look super aged with leathery, aged skin (NOT a good look)
Suggested Supplemental Collagen Dosages:
Obviously, as we are all unique and our bodies are so different, supplementation levels will always be individual for us and also depending on our own natural levels.
Generally recommended doses of supplemental collagen however though are:
- 2.5 – 5g for skin health
- 8 – 12g for joint health
- 5g for bone health
- 16g for heart health
Resources and further reading:
- Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.
- Effects of a nutritional supplement containing collagen peptides on skin elasticity, hydration and wrinkles.
- Collagen supplementation as a complementary therapy for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis: a systematic review.
- 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain.
- Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature.
- Effect of the novel low molecular weight hydrolyzed chicken sternal cartilage extract, BioCell Collagen, on improving osteoarthritis-related symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
- Role of collagen hydrolysate in bone and joint disease.
- Specific Collagen Peptides Improve Bone Mineral Density and Bone Markers in Postmenopausal Women—A Randomized Controlled Study.
- Is bone mineral density predictive of fracture risk reduction?
- Effect of Collagen Tripeptide on Atherosclerosis in Healthy Humans
- Collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training improves body composition and increases muscle strength in elderly sarcopenic men: a randomised controlled trial.
- Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation.
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