There is a lot of hype around collagen these days. The benefits of collagen for hair, skin, nails, joints, and even heart health are countless. So let’s see what’s this game-changer of an ingredient is all about.
What is Collagen?
First of all, what is this thing everyone is talking about? Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body. It is composed of a variety of individual amino acids and found exclusively in animal tissue, especially bones and connective tissue (sorry vegans!). An interesting fact: the name “collagen” comes from the Greek word kólla, which means glue!
Collagen has been termed a fountain of youth, and rightfully so. A number of scientific studies have documented that collagen may significantly improve the condition and appearance of our skin, nails, and hair. The protein has tremendous benefits for health and well-being also in other ways, aside from beautification.
The good news is, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on collagen boosting injectables to improve the look of your skin. There are other, more lasting, and much more affordable ways to regain that youthful glow and get healthier bones, muscles, and better sleep along the way. Let’s dig into the topic of why and how of collagen supplementation.
Where can we find collagen in our bodies?
Collagen is the protein responsible for giving skin its elasticity, hair its vibrancy and strength, and connective tissues their ability to hold everything in its proper place (here comes the glue again). The collagen makes up 30% of the total protein in the entire body, and 70% of the protein in the skin alone!
However, by their early 20s, most people naturally start to produce less and less collagen. When this happens, the outer layers of skin begin thinning and losing elasticity, and the skin starts showing more signs of aging such as sagginess and wrinkles.
In order to experience improvements in the look and feel of the skin, it makes sense to increase consumption of collagen-rich foods and/or to consider collagen supplementation.
Collagen is present not only in the skin, nails, and hair, but also all over our bodies: in bones and cartilage, in blood vessels, and in the lining of the gut.
Types of Collagen
Collagen comes in many forms, or types. Almost 90% of the collagen present in, and needed for our bodies to function properly belong to one of these three categories:
- Type I — The most abundant type, found in skin, tendon, connective tissue and bones.
- Type II — A primary component of cartilage.
- Type III — A fibrous protein found in bone, tendon, cartilage and connective tissues.
The signs of decreasing collagen are also noticeable on the inside – weaker joints, more brittle bones, and arthritic pain. Collagen is why your bones can resist pressure and also heal when they have broken. With decreasing collagen in our bones and connective tissue as we age, we are more prone to broken bones and slower healing from injuries of all kinds.
What are the benefits of collagen for hair and skin?
The benefits of collagen are scientifically proven. A 2015 study in the Journal of Medical Nutrition & Nutraceuticals analyzed the effects of collagen supplementation on postmenopausal women and here is what it found:
“This study shows that the oral nutritional supplement consisting of hydrolyzed collagen, hyaluronic acid and essential vitamins and minerals, leads to a significant improvement in wrinkle depth. It is also able to induce noticeable improvement in elasticity and hydration of the skin.”
Other Benefits of Collagen Supplementation
Collagen has so many benefits for so many parts of our bodies:
Bone and Joint Health
Collagen may be beneficial to bones and joints in a similar way it benefits the skin and hair. It provides the key nutrients and minerals crucial for the proper functioning of our skeletal system such as hyaluronic acid, glucosamine, chondroitin, calcium, and magnesium among others. Collagen can help reduce joint stiffness and to improve bone density, preventing thus osteoporosis.
Gelatin and collagen may help coat the digestive tract and improve digestion. Although there is no scientific evidence to support this claim yet, many practitioners tout collagen supplements as a good way to treat intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut. Also, collagen draws water and acidic molecules closer, which allows food to move through the gastrointestinal tract easily, promoting thus a faster and better digestion.
Researchers suggest that optimal levels of collagen in our bodies might also help to prevent strokes and arrhythmia by improving blood pressure and reducing cardiovascular damage.
Improving Glucose Tolerance
Because collagen contains large doses of glycine – which is clinically proven to have a positive impact on insulin secretion and the maintenance of blood sugar levels – it helps to prevent energy slumps.
Here again, it all comes down to glycine, which regulates healthy inflammation response and also promotes deeper sleep.
How to supplement with collagen?
It is important to remember that collagen molecules are too big to be absorbed through the skin. Think about it when you see that pricy face cream or body lotion that claims to replenish collagen in your skin. The company is pretty much trying to sell you some old-fashioned snake oil. The only way to replenish the collagen in your body (including your skin) is through the consumption of collagen through your digestive system.
One of the better-known ways to supplement collagen is through drinking bone broth (grass-fed beef or organic chicken). There is a long history of bone broth (or Grandma’s chicken soup) used as a digestive tonic. Today, many nutritionists and medical professionals recommend it as a proven food able to support digestive health and overall wellness.
Make your own bone broth
Making and consuming homemade bone broth, made from organic, pasture-raised poultry or grass fed and finished bovine bones and cartilage can do wonders for your skin and body. Buy a whole organic chicken, have your butcher cut it up, make sure to include chicken feet (particularly rich in collagen), and simmer it for at least six hours with some carrots, onions and celery. Add parsley in the last few minutes of cooking for an extra dose of vitamins and minerals (vitamin C is crucial for proper absorption of collagen).
If the six+ hours commitment is too much, buy high quality organic bone broth and consume it regularly.
Start taking Aloe Vera juice or powder
In one study, it nearly doubled collagen production and increased hyaluronic acid levels by 1.5 times significantly reducing wrinkles in women aged 40 and over.
Increase your intake of Vitamin C
As mentioned above, vitamin C plays a vital role in collagen synthesis (without vitamin C, your body’s natural collagen production will be impacted). It is best to get Vitamin C from food sources (citrus fruits, kiwis, peppers, tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables)
Supplement with high-quality collagen peptides or gelatin made of prime animal sources
The most important factor is to ensure that the collagen or gelatin comes from grass-fed and humanely pastured sources (bovine collagen and gelatin) and cage-free, free-range, and antibiotic-free sources (chicken broth and collagen supplements). Look for reputable companies with a third-party label like NSF or USP. It might make sense to call the company or check their website to make sure that they keep heavy metals (like cadmium) and other contaminants out of their products.
My own collagen story
I discovered collagen only recently, but I really wish I had known about it sooner. It might have helped me all these years dealing with digestive issues and joint stiffness. It might have helped with hair thinning and loss sooner than it did.
Since I underwent chemo treatments in 2015 and 2016, my hair became very brittle, thin, and weak. I tried everything I could find to stop the shedding. Tried every hair treatment out there from masks and serums to vitamins and biotin supplements and Ayurvedic oil massages. You can read about my struggles with hair health here. This outside-in approach helped somehow but not enough.
For a few months now, I started taking grass-fed collagen for hair growth. I add a scoop of collagen peptide powder to my coffee once daily. I also try to drink more bone broth than before. And I make gelatin-based desserts when the sweet tooth strikes.
It’s still early to tell with confidence, but I’m definitely seeing stronger nails, plumper skin, and less shedding of hair in the shower. The inside-out approach takes a long time but I’m hoping that with prolonged use, the results will become even more pronounced.
Pure collagen powder for my coffee
I alternate between different collagen peptide powders. As long as they are derived from grass-fed bovine sources and are delicious, that is tasteless, I’m game:)
I simply add a scoop into my morning coffee or matcha latte. The powders are unflavored so you can barely taste any change of flavor of your drink. In the summer, I will be adding my collagen powder to smoothies and I might try some flavored collagen powders.
I occasionally make a home-made chicken broth from a whole, organic chicken, but it is a substantial time investment. To get the benefits of bone broth, I buy Kettle and Fire and sip it throughout the day.
I also use Great Lakes Gelatin made of grass-fed bovine collagen to make gelatin snacks. They are so simple to make. Take 100% fruit juice of choice, add sweetener of choice (for me it is stevia), and bovine gelatin. Follow the instructions on the packet and you’ve got your own gummy bears or fruity gelatin snacks of any shape!
So here you have it. Try to increase collagen consumption and see how it makes you feel and look. Give it a few months though, it is not an overnight miracle cure! Most importantly, if you decide to supplement either with food sources or collagen peptides powder, make sure that they come from reputable sources. The worst thing you could do is get a cheap, heavy metal-laden supplement. It would do more harm than good.