Did you know that collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body? It makes up about 25-30% of all protein in our bodies. Collagen is high in glycine, proline, and arginine which your body, incidentally, needs to produce more collagen. These important amino acids are not found in large supply in dietary protein such as chicken or beef. So, even if you eat an adequate amount of protein on a regular basis, you could still be lacking in the collagen department.
Why does collagen matter? Collagen is really important in maintaining the structural integrity of connective tissue, skin, tendons, joints, bones, organs, and the GI tract. If you think about that for a moment, collagen affects your entire body — from head to toe. THAT’S why it matters. And natural collagen production can begin to decline as early as the mid 20’s. But, don’t worry! You can do a lot to combat this with a few simple dietary and supplement choices.
Hair, Skin, and Nail Health
When we think of collagen, the first things to come to mind are likely hair, skin, and nails. Advertisers of all sorts of beauty care items have trained us well. But let’s take a look at why they are right. Collagen is part of the matrix that makes up elastin in the skin. (To be more specific, about 70% of the middle layer of skin, the dermis, is made of collagen.) Elastin helps the skin to retain elasticity. Both supplements and dietary collagen help keep elastin intact and strong. This, of course, helps keeps skin from sagging and wrinkling to keep you looking youthful. Studies show that collagen supplements may also help slow the aging process of skin by reducing dryness and wrinkles. Collagen consumption also increases the skin’s hyaluronic acid which holds in moisture and keeps the skin from drying out. Though there are many topical skin care products on the market that contain collagen, collagen particles are not small enough to penetrate the skin and make a visual impact on the skin. You can only reap the benefits of collagen by ingesting it as part of a healthy diet or in supplement form. |1, 2|
Since hair grows out of the skin, some studies have begun to link collagen with hair growth. Because collagen improves skin, it makes sense that the strengthened soft tissues surrounding hair follicles creates an optimal environment for hair to grow. Conversely, collagen deficiency may impede new hair growth by interrupting the hair cycle, making it take longer for new hair to appear as existing hair is lost.
As for collagen’s effects on nails, a study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology yielded some interesting results. It showed that collagen peptide powder, taken once daily for twenty four weeks and then discontinued for four weeks, demonstrated that the discontinuation of the collagen produced more chipped and crack nails and slowed growth than when the collagen was being ingested. The conclusion is that the collagen strengthened the nails and its absence became quite evident in a few short weeks. |6|
Because all of our connective tissue is made of collagen, it makes sense that enough of it circulating in our systems will provide our bodies with what they need for our joints to remain strong and healthy and to function well. A lack of collagen in the body can lead to a diminished supply to all the tissue that needs it resulting in the breakdown of muscles, skin, hair, and, of course, joints! Joint breakdown leads to pain and mobility issues. But, when you introduce collagen back into the diet (or additional if the body is in a deficit), your joints will have the building blocks they need to begin to repair. This can not only alleviate joint pain, but can also restore lost mobility.
We’ve already briefly discussed how collagen affects the joints, but how about your bones? Well, collagen forms a web-like structure that is a sort of scaffolding for your bones. Over time, this scaffolding mineralizes and hardens and becomes what we know as bone. Without adequate amounts of collagen, this structure is still in place but the integrity is not there. This is often the case in health conditions that result in easily broken or fractured bones. Getting enough collagen and a balanced diet, including plenty of vitamins and minerals, along with regular weight-bearing exercise, is your best insurance policy for strong bones through all stages of life. |3|
You’ve undoubtedly heard about how collagen benefits hair, skin, and nails. And maybe you’ve already connected it with bone health, but have you also heard about how collagen supports heart health? Of course it does. Here’s how. Once we hit our 20’s, we start to produce less collagen each year—to the tune of about 1% less, annually. Since collagen is a major component of connective tissue, this reduced production of collagen can and does have a negative effect on artery walls. They are no longer as strong as is needed to function optimally. This leads to stiffening and thickening of the arterial walls or, as we know it better, “hardening of the arteries”. Compromised arterial walls put a strain on the heart which can weaken the heart muscle and cause serious health concerns. Researchers in Japan found that hardening of the arteries was significantly improved with 16 grams of collagen tripeptide daily for six months. |5|
Collagen for Gut Health
Collagen supports gut health by keeping the junctions in the intestinal wall tight rather than allowing them to become slack and “leaky”. By keeping the contents in the gut to be processed correctly, nothing is allowed to seep out where it can cause irritation and inflammation. This also is important for nutrient absorption. If food molecules are allowed to pass through where they don’t belong, the nutrients cannot be extracted properly and the body is deprived of them. Maintaining the integrity of this delicate system also safeguards the immune system. Keeping all of this functioning properly preserves a healthy gut microbiome and that microbiome is what makes up a large part of the immune system. A healthy gut is also necessary for proper liver detoxification, proper nervous system functioning (you have likely heard of the brain/gut connection), and for maintaining a healthy body composition (water/muscle/fat ratio). |4|
Did you know that collagen has antiviral properties? Well, it does! It helps boost your immunity because it can help your immune system eradicate viruses. And, since we know that much of the immune system resides in the gut, collagen’s ability to help heal the gut is also a contributing factor in its ability to help improve immunity. (Think bone broth when you’re sick!) As part of boosting immunity, you could also make a case for collagen helping to heal allergies over time. A faulty immune system identifies “safe” molecules as dangerous intruders and sets off an allergic reaction in their presence. If you strengthen your immune system, you are also likely to improve or resolve allergic tendencies, too.
Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of collagen and why it’s important to consume it regularly. We have a nice selection of collagen supplements, including ready-to-drink varieties. Stop in and we can help you find the one that works for you.
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- Collagen supplementation for skin health: A mechanistic systematic review – PubMed (nih.gov)
- A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study – PMC (nih.gov)
- The role of collagen in bone strength – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Collagen peptides ameliorate intestinal epithelial barrier dysfunction in immunostimulatory Caco-2 cell monolayers via enhancing tight junctions – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Effect of Collagen Tripeptide on Atherosclerosis in Healthy Humans – PMC (nih.gov)
- Oral supplementation with specific bioactive collagen peptides improves nail growth and reduces symptoms of brittle nails – PubMed (nih.gov)
The information provided here is for educational purposes only. None of the research or evidence presented here is intended as a substitute for consulting an appropriate healthcare professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products offered here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you believe that you may have a disease condition, please consult your healthcare practitioner before using this or any other dietary supplement.