- Collagen is the most abundant type of protein in the body.
- Aging and environmental factors decrease natural collagen production.
- Supplementing may be beneficial for skin, joint health, body composition, gastrointestinal health, and cardiovascular health.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant type of protein in the body, making up about a third of your body’s protein. It’s a unique type of protein because it has several different vital functions. Collagen is used in a variety of tissues all over the body, including:
What are the benefits of collagen?
There are several different types of collagen. Each type has a slight structural difference that allows it to function differently in the body. Although collagen is found in food, it has become a popular nutritional supplement because of its many benefits.
In combination with strength training, collagen supplementation has been shown to increase strength and lean muscle mass more than strength training alone. Furthermore, participants in one study also had higher amounts of fat loss when they took a collagen supplement for the duration of a 12-week resistance training program.
This benefit may be especially useful during the aging process, as collagen has been shown to help prevent age-related muscle loss. One type of collagen, referred to as “type 1,” may even prevent bone loss and osteoporosis.
Collagen provides structure to soft tissues as well, including the lining of your arteries.
Studies have shown that taking a collagen supplement could strengthen arteries that have been weakened by diseases and conditions such as atherosclerosis. This condition narrows and hardens arteries, which significantly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Collagen has a protective effect on the intestinal mucosa that lines the digestive tract. One study found that supplementation protected against the breakdown of the intestinal wall following a burn injury.
For healthy individuals, a lack of collagen due to aging or other factors may impair the structure of the intestinal mucosa. This could eventually lead to digestive issues such as leaky gut syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome.
Joint Health and Mobility
Collagen is known for providing structure and cushion in the joints. As you age, that cushion wears down and joint mobility decreases, increasing your risk of injury. Taking a collagen supplement may improve symptoms of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other similar conditions.
Due to collagen’s important role in skin structure, researchers are studying its potential role in wound healing. Collagen is actually present in scar tissue and plays a major role in restoring skin integrity during the wound healing process. Therefore, including a supplement in a wound care regimen may speed up the healing process.
Supplemental collagen is growing very popular in the beauty industry. Oral and topical supplements that prevent physical signs of aging like wrinkling are in high demand. Collagen provides structure to the dermis layer of skin to make it look full and supple. Reduced collagen content increases wrinkling and the appearance of sunken skin. Furthermore, animal studies have shown that collagen supplementation increases collagen density in the skin and prevents some collagen loss due to UVB exposure.
What can damage your collagen?
There are several reasons that your body’s collagen production may slow or become less efficient. The quality of the collagen made in your body may decrease as well. Although you can avoid some environmental factors to protect collagen production, some damage due to disease and natural processes is inevitable.
Aging is the most common cause of decreased natural collagen. As you age, collagen production and quality decrease, which leads to noticeable consequences such as thinner, more fragile skin and achy joints. Some chronic diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis cause collagen deficiency as well, leading to issues with the joints, blood vessels, organs, and skin.
To avoid unnecessary collagen damage, avoid environmental factors such as:
- Smoking – disrupts collagen production
- UV exposure – may accelerate the normal rate of collagen damage that occurs with aging. Damage from UV exposure may also play a role in some skin cancers.
- Excessive sugar and fat intake – increases inflammation and signs of aging, as well as decreases protein synthesis.
What foods are good for collagen production?
Proper nutrition can facilitate efficient collagen synthesis in the body without supplementation. Focusing on including complete protein sources that can pair with non-essential amino acids made in the body contributes to increased collagen production.
High-quality protein sources are the best foods to support this process. Meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are some of the best choices. Some vegetarian protein sources such as legumes or tofu are good alternatives for those who avoid meat.
Eggs, dairy, and other animal sources are most desirable because they contain proline and glycine, two of the most important amino acids for collagen synthesis. Bone broth is also very rich in amino acids, making it another popular food for increasing collagen.
Other foods rich in proline include asparagus, mushrooms, and wheat germ. Glycine is mainly found in foods that contain gelatin, such as animal skin.
Collagen synthesis also requires vitamin C, copper, and zinc. Vitamin C regulates the synthesis pathway, while zinc may stimulate the body to produce more collagen. Copper activates an enzyme that helps to mature and strengthen collagen.
To support natural collagen synthesis or enhance the results of supplementation, consume sources of zinc such as whole grains, dairy, and red meat. Sources of copper include nuts, seeds, whole grains, and chocolate. Most importantly, get plenty of vitamin C-rich foods such as:
- Citrus fruits
- Bell pepper
- Leafy greens
What are collagen supplements?
If you’re interested in taking a collagen supplement, there are a few things to consider. First, most collagen supplements come in the form of hydrolyzed collagen peptides, which are already broken down into amino acids. This form of collagen most commonly comes from animal bone and tissue but is sometimes also derived from marine sources like fish skin.
The body absorbs collagen peptides easily and then puts them directly to use. For that reason, many people claim to see results from a supplement much quicker than from dietary sources of collagen.
When should I take collagen supplement?
There are conflicting opinions about when to take a collagen supplement. Some feel that taking it first thing on an empty stomach yields the best results. However, others claim to see the most benefit when it’s taken at night when the body’s recovery process is active. However, most research concludes that overall daily consumption is more influential than specific timing for supplementation.
Although collagen production in the body is a natural process, both the amount and quality of this protein tends to decrease with age and exposure to certain environmental factors. It’s possible to facilitate collagen production through your diet with high-quality protein and foods rich in vitamin C, zinc, and copper.
However, supplementing the diet with collagen peptides has become increasingly popular. This form of collagen is easily absorbed and used in the body, with several noticeable benefits for skin and joint health, as well as body composition.
Whichever way you choose to take your collagen, this potent protein has several excellent benefits that can improve your short and long-term health and wellness.
Breanna Woods is a Registered Dietitian with over 5 years of clinical experience. She is passionate about giving her clients the tools they need to build a healthy lifestyle.