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Peruse the aisles of any health food or supplement store and you’ll likely see collagen powder (or products containing collagen). Collagen has become a popular addition to any nutrition stack, something often lauded by health experts and gurus. It can be found in a number of different consumer products including creams, cosmetics, and most recently, in protein powders.

Although the fever around the products appears to be new, collagen isn’t new at all.

In fact, collagen has been viewed as a fountain of youth across the world for centuries. Several decades ago, it became popular in America as an injectable filler used to make lips appear fuller while smoothing out wrinkles (collagen is used far less for this purpose now).

Recently, use of collagen has expanded from cosmetic use into other cases due to an ever-growing amount of evidence that it can provide several different health benefits. In 2018 it was estimated that consumers spent over $122 million on collagen products, a 30% uptick in sales from the previous year.Nutrition2018

Collagen has caught on like wildfire in America, but few people understand what it truly is and how it can help things like skin and joints. Let’s take a look at what collagen is and what makes it unique from other forms of protein.

Why is Collagen Important?

Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the human body.Lodish2000 This is because collagen is a connective tissue, meaning it is a key element in the structural components of many parts of your body including you skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

It’s made up of essential amino acids including glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine. As a naturally-occurring protein it can be found in just about every part of the body including: muscles, skin, blood, bones, cartilage and ligaments. It can even be found in places you might not expect such as blood vessels, corneas, and teeth. This is in stark contrast to protein consumed from outside sources such as whey protein supplements.

Although there are numerous types of collagen in the body, the main types are type I, II, III, and IV.RicardBlum2011

Let’s take a closer look at the different types of collagen and how they function within the body:

  • Type I: Nearly 90% of the body’s collagen falls within the type I category.Henriksen2016 As the most abundant form of collagen in the human body, it comprises fibers that form the structural and mechanical makeup of bones, skin, tendons, cornea, blood vessel walls, and other important tissues.Henriksen2016 It is considered a key structural part of several human tissues and is the predominant component of the interstitial membrane.
  • Type II: This type of collagen makes up the majority of proteins found in cartilage, the connective tissue that forms joints.Bakilan2016 As you may be aware, the main role of cartilage is to cushion joints. You might benefit from collagen if you’ve got some creaky knees.
  • Type III: This form of collagen is involved with various immune-related pathologies and helps support the interstitial matrix, which is a gel rich in salts, fluids, tissues and other chemicals found in the extracellular matrix (the tissues surrounding your cells).Nielsen2016 It is also found in the connective tissues of the lungs, liver, kidneys, skin and vascular system.
  • Type IV: This type of collagen is found primarily in the skin and microvessels and is a major component of the basement membrane (a highly specialized extracellular matrix) which regulates cellular behavior.Abreu2012 It is often co-assembled with type II collagen and both are related to joint health.
Types of collagen.

Collagen supplements typically contain Type I and III, just as long as you purchase from a reputable company that can provide you with a high-quality product from grass-fed and pasture raised animals.

As we get older, the body stops making collagen naturally. Although this process isn’t well understood within the scientific community, it appears that the process is multifactorial and is influenced by age-related changes in fibroblast function and mechanical stimulation.Varani2006

The decrease in the production of type I and III collagen fibers (the fibers associated with structure) begins in our 20s and continues to decrease with age.Marcos2014 As we age, the thickness of skin-related collagen also declines as a result of an increased production of degrading molecules in the extracellular matrix, which affect the assembly of collagen monomers.Marcos2014

Collagen type II fibers appear to lose their elasticity and strength with age due to increased production of proteolytic enzymes which degrade these collagen fibers.Garnero2007 Although the mechanisms are not understood, it appears that collagen type IV fiber production increases with age, which might sound good, but it appears this may not be the case; we’ll discuss this later.

Collagen fibers I and III play a crucial role in supporting our skin, giving it both the firmness and elasticity needed to move and function.

As collagen fiber production declines within the body, the structures of the skin begin to weaken, which in turn can thin out skin and trigger excessive sagging and wrinkles. Sagging skin is a sign of the reduction in the quantity and quality of collagen fibers. Collagen fibers type II, and type IV to a lesser degree, are involved with mobility and the degradation of these fibers, and as we age, can contribute to the joint pain we often associate with aging (think knee pain) and osteoarthritis.Garnero2007

Collagen is a crucial element of maintaining youthful looking skin along with the ability of moving around pain-free.

As mentioned, it appears collagen fiber type IV increases with age. This isn’t a health benefit because these fibers are associated with microvessels—vessels that carry blood and oxygen around your body). Increased production of these fibers cause a thickening of microvessels.Kalaria1995

High levels of type IV collagen fibers have been found in individuals suffering from hypertension, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.But don’t worry, this type of collagen isn’t found in collagen supplements.

Although father time is the main culprit of decreased collagen, there are other factors that can also diminish production, including:Varani2006

  • Poor dietary choices: diets high in sugar and refined carbs can deplete natural collagen levelsDanby2010
  • Excessive sun exposure: ultraviolet radiation can inhibit the body’s natural ability to produce collagenBosch2015
  • Smoking: smoking decreases the synthesis rates of type I and III collagensKnuutinen2002

Why is it important to ensure our collagen levels stay within healthy ranges? Let’s dive into some of the benefits of collagen production.

Benefits of Collagen

As one of the major building blocks of bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, collagen can provide a number of different health benefits.

You already know collagen is a vital protein for your body. You already know collagen production decreases with age. And you know we must ensure collagen levels remain normal with age. But do you know why all that is important?

Here’s some of the most notable benefits of collagen.

Easing Joint Pain

Type II collagen makes up a substantial portion of our cartilage. As cartilage decreases with age, it’s common to experience stiff, achy joints. One way of combating this problem is by taking collagen supplements to help improve joint health.

In a 2009 study, a group of 52 participants underwent a type II collagen supplementation regimen over the course of 90 days with clinical assessments occurring every 30 days. The results showed a 40% decrease in arthritis symptoms. The patients also reported the severity of their symptoms decreased by 33% as well.Crowley2009

A secondary study conducted in 1993 used type II collagen supplementation, resulting in similar findings. 60 patients who were suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis underwent a randomized, double-blind trial. They were given type II collagen produced from chickens (bovine is usually the main source of collagen today). Out of the group, four of the 60 patients reported a complete remission from the disease.Trentham1993 There was also a notable decrease in the number of swollen joints and tender joints in those receiving collagen supplementation.Trentham1993

There are other studies that have used collagen and/or gelatin supplements and have found that this leads to an increase in osteoarthritis, joint mechanics, and joint pain.Bello2006,Shaw2017 Although the type of collagen fibers in the supplements wasn’t specified, since most supplements contain type I and type III fibers, it’s likely that these supplements contained fiber types I and III suggesting that these fiber types may also help with joint health.

The results of the studies show statistical evidence of collagen protein to be a successful form of treatment from severe joint pain.

Better Skin

Perhaps one of the most notable benefits of collagen is its ability to promote better skin health. If collagen levels are maintained to adequate standards, you may expect glowing, youthful appearing skin as a byproduct.

Since collagen is closely related to skin elasticity, it can help skin appear to look more youthful and vibrant.

As we age, our skin can lose elasticity—this is what causes wrinkles. That’s why it's important to up your collagen intake with collagen supplements.

A double blind study was conducted on 69 women between the ages of 35 - 55 years of age. The study aimed to discover if a collagen hydrolysate, made of collagen peptides, could help decrease aging. Participants received either 2.5g or 5.0g of collagen hydrolysate or a placebo over the course of eight weeks. Skin elasticity, skin moisture, transepidermal water loss, and skin roughness were all objectively measured prior to beginning the study, after four weeks, and after eight weeks. The results of the study showed skin elasticity in the collagen groups were statistically improved compared to the placebo group.

A secondary study looked at 114 women between the ages of 45 - 65 years old who received a bioactive collagen peptide or placebo for eight weeks.Proksch2014 There was a statistically significant reduction of eye wrinkle volume in the collagen group.

We can conclude from both studies that taking collagen can be an effective form of skin care, helping skin look youthful and wrinkle -free.

Helps Build Muscle

Many people are aware of the skin benefits associated with collagen powder, but few are aware that collagen is a major component of muscle tissue.

Collagen contains an amino acid known as glycine, which is involved in the production of creatine. Creatine can help power you through workouts and aid in muscle recovery and strength building.

Collagen protein powder has been increasingly found on store shelves for good reason.

A 2015 study looked at 53 male subjects who completed a double blind placebo controlled study.Zdzieblik2015 They each underwent a 12-week resistance training program and either supplemented with collagen peptides or were given a placebo.

Following the training program, participants who were given the collagen increased fat-free mass and bone mass while simultaneously decreasing fat mass more than the placebo group. The scientists also reported no significant difference in protein intake between groups, suggesting that a difference in dietary consumption wasn’t the cause of the difference in body composition between groups. The data demonstrates that collagen supplementation, when implemented with a well-structured workout program, can result in improved overall body composition.Zdzieblik2015 It also suggests that collagen supplementation alone may aid in weight loss but future studies are needed to confirm this.

Better Digestive Health

Another function of collagen you may be unaware of—its role in digestive health.

Collagen can be found in the gut’s connective tissue and can strengthen your digestive tract. If the digestive tract becomes weakened, leaky gut syndrome can occur causing particles such as food particles, bacteria, and toxins to leak into the bloodstream, leading to gut irritation, discomfort, and inflammation.Arrieta2006

In a study performed on 170 patients dealing with inflammatory bowel disease, researchers found that these individuals had lower levels of serum collagen.Koutroubakis2003 In other words, those with lower levels of collagen were more likely to experience inflammatory bowel disease and inflammation. Increasing collagen intake may help strengthen the gastrointestinal tract as a byproduct and prevent inflammation from occurring, however, future studies are needed to confirm this.

Reduction of Cellulite

Cellulite is fat located under the skin that pushes against it, forming a lumpy appearance—this is another problem we face with age.

Approximately 80% -90% of women suffer from cellulite due to aging.Friedmann2017 It can cause people to become self-conscious and uncomfortable about their appearance. The good news is, collagen appears to be a viable and relatively cheaper (when compared to surgical options) treatment option.

A study was conducted on 105 normal weight and overweight women aged 24 - 50 who underwent a collagen regimen for six months.Schunck2015 They consumed 2.5g of collagen peptides or a placebo over the course of the study. Cellulite was measured prior to beginning treatment, after three months, and after six months. Other measurements such as skin waviness, dermal density, and subcutaneous fat were taken.

The results of the study showed a clear improvement in skin appearance in women suffering from moderate cellulite.Schunck2015 Interestingly, there was a greater improvement in the normal weight woman compared to the overweight women. The data suggests collagen can be an appropriate form of long-term therapy leading to an improvement of cellulite and better overall skin health.

As you can see there are a number of benefits that can be experienced with regular collagen supplementation. The key is just making it a part of your diet.

Benefits of collagen

Other Uses of Collagen

Most people are familiar with collagen for its cosmetic capabilities. But collagen can also be used in a number of other ways as well. In a limited number of situations, collagen has also been shown to do the following:

  • Skin fillers: Collagen can be used to help improve contours of the skin in the form of fillers. Fillers containing collagen are cosmetically used to remove lines and wrinkles from the face.Shumaker2006
  • Wound dressing: People can use collagen to heal wounds by attracting new skin cells. It can help grow new tissue by healing chronic wounds that do not respond to alternative treatments, rotting wounds, second-degree burns, and even used for skin grafting.Holmes2013
  • Periodontics: In one study investigating oral surgery, collagen can help tooth cells regenerate by preventing damaged cells from migrating to wounds.Selvig1988 However, this study was done in dogs and needs to also be done in humans to make more definitive conclusions but it does show promise.
  • Arterial reconstruction: In some instances, collagen tissue has been used from donors in peripheral nerve regeneration and arterial reconstruction. The research is limited on this form of collagen use, but does show promise.Torikai2008

As you can see, collagen can be used in a number of different ways outside of just cosmetic skin care. With its ability to repair bodily tissues, we are only scratching the surface of its potential capabilities.

How to Add Collagen to your Diet

Collagen can be incorporated into your life in a number of different ways. Here’s a few ways you can increase your collagen intake:

Eat Foods With Collagen

Collagen is found within the connective tissue of animals. Therefore, virtually all protein-rich meat sources contain viable levels of collagen, including beef, fish, pork, and poultry.

Collagen production also requires vitamin C, zinc, and copper so you can get these other valuable nutrients by consuming various fruits and vegetables (more on this later).

Bone Broth

Bone broth can be a mystery to those unfamiliar with it. As you might imagine, bone broth is created through an extraction process which absorbs vital nutrients from bones. It also happens to be one of the best sources of collagen.

You can use it as a cooking base in a number of different foods including: soups, stews, and whole grains such as rice and quinoa.

The beauty is you can get creative with how you choose to include it in your diet. You can even enjoy a cup of bone broth on a cold night.

Whether you choose to make it yourself or purchase it from the store, bone broth can be used in numerous recipes.

Collagen Supplements

If you struggle to get enough collagen through other dietary measures, consider a supplement like a collagen protein powder.

Look for products made with grass-fed bovine collagen protein, and something that's keto-friendly, with zero net-carbs. Many collagen powders can contain sneaky ingredients, so be sure to check the label.

The best part is, you can add a scoop of collagen protein powder to just about anything to get a boost of essential protein, healthy fats, and more. Most brands offer chocolate, vanilla, or unflavored options to suit your taste.

Help your body build healthy hair, skin, joints, and nails with all the essential amino acids required to build collagen. Be sure to protect your body’s natural collagen levels that deplete with age and try adding a collagen protein powder supplement to your routine.

Powdered Gelatin

If you aren’t familiar with it, gelatin is the cooked form of collagen.

Powdered gelatin can easily be added to recipes such as soups, broths, and stews as a way of quickly increasing collagen consumption (or as a thickening agent). You can even put it in your morning coffee or make homemade Jello with it.

Ways to add collagen to your diet.

What to Look for in Collagen Supplements

The collagen market has become saturated with an abundance of new products. When this happens, it's important to choose products from reputable manufacturers.

Pick a brand you trust and look for supplements containing hydrolyzed collagen with a low molecular size, such as 10-15g of collagen per serving (considered the optimal daily serving size according to studies).Borumand2015,Shaw2017

This will allow you to experience benefits without overwhelming absorption capacities or unnecessarily increasing overall protein intake. Try to shop from companies that use bone and tissues from cage-free and antibiotic-free sources. And finally, choose high quality products that have been tested and purified.

How Much Collagen Should You Take Daily?

Clinical studies have suggested 10-15g of hydrolysate collagen should be taken each time you supplement with collagen.

This serving size is sufficient to reduce pain in patients suffering from osteoarthritis, improve your overall complexion, strengthen your joints and bones, and reduce cellulite.Moskowitz2000

Calling All Collagen Lovers

Although collagen is naturally produced by the body, levels inevitably will decrease as we age. Research has shown that maintaining adequate collagen levels is vital for people suffering from skin issues, arthritis, and cellulite (as mentioned above).

Collagen can be consumed through dietary means in animal products such as beef, chicken, fish, and eggs. The bad news is, simple diet might not be enough. That’s where collagen supplements come in handy.

Collagen has been clinically proven to provide a number of health benefits with no known side effects. Reduction of wrinkles, increased skin moisturization, and relief from joint pain are just a few of the benefits you may experience. If you want to look and feel younger, collagen supplementation is the best way to go.

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