The Truth about Collagen

If you find yourself confused by all the information available today and are not sure who or what to believe, you are not alone.  Food and Supplement marketing is BIG business and is always presented in a way to entice you to buy, whether you need it or not.  THINK BILLIONS in annual revenues… As an Integrated Nutrition Health Coach who specializes in Healthy Longevity, I do the research for you and make it easy to understand so you can make choices relevant to your bio-individual needs. 

Today, let us talk about Collagen.  If you are asking questions like:  Is collagen good for me, should I believe the content of an article if the description starts with “AD” for advertisement, is there any scientific evidence to back these claims, is this just another FAD, what type of collagen really is the best, how much should I take, in what form, when, and does age matter, then you are in the right place to get honest answers. 

First, for those of you who just must have everything up-front, here are the short answers:  Yes collagen is good for you, don’t believe everything you read, (especially when it starts with “AD”), yes over the past two decades there have been many experimental and randomized controlled trials with mechanistic systematic reviews confirming the benefits of collagen supplementation, this is not a FAD, the best type depends on your needs and goals (sorry you are going to have to read a little further), 10g to 15g per day is a good start, quality is more important than type and tablets and capsules could be more convenient than powder, take in the morning unless you are fasting because collagen will break your fast is you are using more than 10g, take  in the evening if restful sleep is part of the goal, age always matters and the older you are the more you may need to consume. 

Now that we got the answers out of the way let us look at the details.

What is collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body making up approximately 30% of overall proteins. It is the building block of bones, skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments.  It is also found in many other body parts like blood vessels, your corneas and your teeth!  Think of it as the glue that holds everything together.  Scientist have found, to date, 28 types of collagen in our bodies.  Collagen consists of multiple types of amino acids (Glycine, Proline, Hydroxyproline and Arginine), which are in turn built of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen.  Collagen can also be found in nature in animals, especially in the flesh and connective tissue as well as plants.  Humans have mostly types I and III.  When you eat collagen, it is broken down into amino acids and reassembled because collagen itself cannot be absorbed.  When my sister read this, she asked if she could just take amino acids (she likes to short cut), the answer is your body is an incredible machine designed for self-renewal and healing, it knows exactly which amino acids it needs, how much and where.  I recommend your collagen supplement contain diverse amounts of amino acids.  Trust your body, it knows best!

What are the benefits of taking collagen?

Collagen improves multiple conditions associated with the skin such as: skin tone, hydration, elasticity, smoothness and density. It reduces hair loss and thinning.  It improves sleep which is critical to our overall healthy longevity. For your body benefits, it builds stronger muscles, boost muscle mass, promotes bone health preventing bone loss and strengthens bones, ligaments and joints. Studies have verified that collagen supplementation causes a reduction in pain, joint stiffness and decreases the symptoms of arthritis.  If that is not enough to convince you it is worth adding to your daily routine, it also supports heart and gut health!  Most people will see results in 8 to 12 weeks and there are no side effects if you are using a quality product without heavy metals or contaminated bones and tissues. Studies also have shown that after 6 months of supplementing with collagen both average and overweight women reduced the signs of cellulite! 

What types of collagen are there and what do they do?

Type I – 80% of the collagen that makes up our skin is Type I.  It exists mainly in skin, tendon, vasculature, organs and bone affect things like skin elasticity, hydration, dermal collagen density and smoothness (think wrinkles and cellulite).

Type II – within our cartilage

Type III – is reticular fibers, which you can think of as branching fibers in your connective tissue to affect things like healthy bones, joints and even gut health.

What are some symptoms of Low Collagen Levels?

The obvious symptoms for the skin are signs typically associated with aging such as thinner skin, wrinkles, sagging, crepey skin, uneven skin tone, cellulite, and xerosis. For the hair it becomes thinner or lifeless and nails become brittle.

In your body you may experience joint pain which can be caused by inflammation (arthritis, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis) or injuries affecting your ligaments, bursae or tendons surrounding your joints. You will feel this in your shoulders, ankles and knees as tendons and ligaments become less elastic, joints get stiff, etc.

Are Collagen supplements more effective than natural sources?

No they are not more effective than natural sources and you do not have to pay for supplements to get the benefits.  Add collagen rich foods such as Fish, Chicken, Bone Broth, Egg whites, Citrus fruits and berries (in season), Red and yellow vegetables, Garlic, White tea, Leafy greens (Brussel sprouts, Broccoli and Kale are my personal favorites and they are high in folic acid – aka Vitamin C, which is also great for anti-aging benefits), Avocados and Cashews.  Others include Tomatoes, Bell peppers, Beans and Soy which I recommend avoiding if you have any Gut issues or Lectin/Gluten intolerance.  Having said that, as you age you produce less collagen and if you are experiencing any signs associated with depleting collagen levels, I would absolutely recommend adding a collagen supplement.  I personally eat an extremely healthy diet and include collagen in my coffee as part of my morning routine.  Taking a supplement also ensures you know how much collagen you are adding where you do not know how much you are getting each day from your diet.  Adequate protein intake from plant and animal sources provide amino acids to synthesize protein so my advice is look for the signs and supplement as you feel necessary.

 

How to prevent further breakdown of collagen?

You have the power to control some of the breakdown of collagen in your body.  For example, consuming excess sugar and refined carbs inhibit collagens ability to repair itself.  Too much UV radiation and over exposure to the sun can reduce production of collagen as well as smoking tobacco. Stopping these practices have a lot of other anti-aging and health benefits as well.

What does age have to do with it?

Our bodies produce less collagen as we age.  This is what causes a reduction in things like skin elasticity and epidermal thickness which leads to those darn wrinkles and sagging skin.  It also may lead to stiffer and less flexible tendons and ligaments, shrinking and weakening muscles, joint pain, osteoarthritis and gastrointestinal problems. Top that off with possible reduction in hair growth and hair thinning and BOOM old people!

How do I pick a supplement and How much should I take?

As with anything you put into your body it is important that you supplement with a high-quality product.  There are a few simple rules that must be followed.  READ the labels and know what you are getting and where the product comes from.  Make sure that the product has a third-party verification.  Also check to see what they are doing to keep heavy metals and other contaminates out of the product.  Your powder supplement must be hydrolyzed collagen which means it was treated with a non-GMO food grade enzyme to make it easy to digest, it breaks down the large collagen molecules to peptides which are further broken down through digestion and is absorbed into your body. This triggers your body to produce more of its own collagen! I would look for a product that has both type I & III  and  your supplement must have a diverse amount of amino acids, the more the better.  I personally do not eat anything with artificial flavors or sweeteners, and I think that is a good practice with everything so buy unflavored, unsweetened, unsalted collagen. If you want to add sugars or flavors add them yourself.

If you are choosing hydrolyzed Bovine collagen you must verify the source. Animal byproducts such as bones, hooves and tendons may contain some viruses. Look for companies that get their bones and tissues from cage-free, free-range and antibiotic free sources which are treated humanely, just like you would choose if you were going to eat the meat.  Marine collagen is as close to our skin as possible and has the highest amounts of Type 1 collagen, however you must verify the sources to ensure it does not have a high concentration of toxic metal and is wild caught. It should come from the skin of wild caught fish such as cod, and pollock that are found in deep sea cold water.  Currently there is not a vegan supplement available that offers the collagen peptides. Remember you are not what you eat, you are what you eat EATS! My sister said that does not make any sense, so let me explain.  If you choose to eat a cow, for example, your body would get very different benefits or damage if you were eating a cow that has been pasture raised, eating grass and treated humanely, (think happy cow), than you if you eat a cow that has been feed GMO corns and grains, (which are not natural to them) sprayed with pesticides or the cow has been injected with hormones to fatten it up for quicker slaughter.  What they eat stays in their bodies and goes into yours when you eat it!

 

Do collagen products for the skin actually work?

Only if you are buying hydrolyzed collagen which is a process that breaks collagen down to smaller peptides which can be absorbed.  Collagen molecules themselves are too large and cannot be absorbed into the body because they cannot penetrate the skin.  There are some good products out there and research has shown that the topical application of collagen to treat lines and wrinkles can be successful in both short- and long-term improvement of lines and wrinkles. As with everything, read the labels! Personally, I am a big believer in practicing health and beauty from the inside out so I make sure that what I nourish my body by eating foods that support by ultimate goals in my reflection.  

The science

There have been thousands of studies to determine the effects of collagen.  These studies have been peer reviewed and have shown that collagen is safe to take with no risk or adverse effect.  A systematic review is where there is a search of databases, in one study for example (https://doi-org.ezproxy.auckland.ac.nz/10.1111/jocd.13435,) they found 9057 items, they removed the duplicates and further screened by title and/or abstracts resulting in full texts of 31 remaining items which were assessed for eligibility in publications.  All of the included studies reported beneficial effects of collagen supplementation on skin health parameters without adverse effect, especially in healthy subjects. 

In conclusion I would recommend adding a collagen supplement to your daily routine as part of your “healthy longevity” goals. 

About Me

I am a certified Integrated Nutrition Health Coach who specializes in Healthy Longevity.  I am the author of “The Quick Start Guide to Healthy Longevity”, available in 2021, where I show you zero cost options to begin to end aging.  You can find more information at www.NourishingLongevity.com .

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