What is Collagen? – Benefits, Types, Supplements

Lately, the health and cosmetic industry have been dispersing loads of information about collagen and how beneficial it is for your body. It seems like a wave of products suddenly appeared on the market with the substance in it. But you may be wondering: what is collagen and what exactly does it do for my body?

This guide will give you all the information needed for you to know what collagen is, as well as its benefits, its different types and even how to incorporate more collagen into your diet. Following the side effects, you’ll be fully informed about what all the hype is about.

And maybe when you’re done reviewing this article about collagen, you might think that collagen would be beneficial for you to incorporate into your daily routine.



What is Collagen?

To start, collagen is the substance responsible for holding many of the structures in the body together.

It’s technically a family of many different proteins that provide structure to different parts of your body. More specifically, collagen structures your body’s connective tissues, and it’s ultimately the largest group classification of proteins in your body.

Collagen is capable of structuring your body’s systems because it acts as building blocks, that are found throughout all parts of your body. There are many different types of collagen, but all collagen starts as pro-collagen. Pro-collagen is naturally produced by your body when two specific amino acids are combined: glycine and proline.

Collagen in general is present naturally in your body when you eat protein since your body breaks down this dietary protein into amino acids. Once the protein is broken down, the newly-formed amino acids turn into various types of protein. And collagen is one of the proteins that are produced from this process.


What are the Benefits?

Decreases the Risk of Bone Loss

Since the bones in our body are constructed out of collagen, consuming collagen either through the foods we eat or through the form of supplements can help to provide your bones with the structure they need to remain strong over time. As our bodies age, our bones become weaker, but consuming supplements and ensuring our bodies have the right amounts of collagen can help to decrease the risk of natural bone loss when we grow older.

Collagen can help to prevent and inhibit the breakdown of bones over time by providing them with the structure and strength to withstand the wear and tear that we place on our bones daily.

Improves the Health of Your Skin

Similarly to our bones, the skin on our bodies is also made up of collagen. Essentially about 90% of our skin consists of collagen and similar protein building blocks. That being said, consuming collagen and ensuring that our bodies consume enough helps to: hydrate, strengthen, and increase our skin’s elasticity.

As we grow older, our skin becomes weak and fragile. Collagen supplements may help to slow the natural aging process of our bodies and skin.

Improve Heart Health

Studies have shown those who consume protein-rich foods that are high in collagen, as well as collagen supplements, have a reduced risk of heart-related issues later in life. This seems to be because collagen is capable of providing structure to your heart and your arteries. As your arteries have more structure, they’re less likely to become weak as we age or even narrow in shape.

In addition to preventing our arteries from weakening and becoming stiff, collagen can increase the levels of HDL cholesterol in our bodies.

Relives Arthritis and Joint Pain

Many individuals diagnosed with arthritis report severe pain in their joints and limbs. This seems to be because the tissues at our joints become weaker as we get older, making them less able to support the constant wear and tear that we place our bodies under.

Amy Myers MD claims that collagen helps to relieve this type of pain associated with arthritis because it helps to maintain the integrity of the cartilage that’s located in our joints. This cartilage and connective tissue are responsible for protecting your limbs, so having a high level of collagen in this cartilage can prevent you from developing arthritis in the future while also relieving the pain that’s commonly associated with arthritis.

Even more, collagen can improve the symptoms associated with osteoporosis because it can help to stimulate the connective tissues throughout your body to produce more collagen. This, in turn, initiates your body to decrease the level of inflammation it experiences as well as decreasing the pain and discomfort those with osteoporosis feel.

Increase Muscle Mass

Having a diet that’s rich in proteins to increase the amount of collagen in your body is known to improve the overall amount of muscle that your body develops. Collagen can constitute up to 10% of the muscle in your body. The family of proteins helps to keep your muscles strong and healthy, even as the body ages.

Having high amounts of collagen in your body can stimulate your muscles to grow after you’ve exercised, so it’s best if you have a consistent workout plan along with your protein-rich diet to receive the benefits of an increase in muscle mass.

Repairs a Leaky Gut

Leaky gut is a phenomenon that occurs when various different toxins, infections, and food particles leak through your intestinal wall and enter into your bloodstream. This causes pain and inflammation, and it can even have detrimental health effects over time if it’s not catered to.

Amy Myers MD says that collagen is capable of repairing a leaky gut because it aids in strengthening your body’s intestinal wall. Your intestinal wall is essentially folds of layered collagen. So by providing your body with collagen and other nutrients, you can help to re-structure the intestinal wall and prevent any toxins or other substances from exiting into your bloodstream.

Promotes Weight Management

Collagen is produced by your body’s combination of amino acids, and one of the amino acids used in this production of collagen is responsible for forming muscle. More specifically, glycine is an amino acid included within the body’s synthesis of collagen, and it’s responsible for converting glucose into energy. Consuming high-protein foods encourage your body to burn fat and form more lean muscle.


Types of Collagen

There are at least 16 different types of collagen that your body can form, but there are five main types.

  • Type 1: The first form of collagen is the highest content throughout your body. It makes up 90% of your body’s tissues, and it’s essentially fibers that are densely packed together. This first form of collagen is most commonly found in the skin, tendons, internal organs, the organic parts of bones, teeth, and fibrous cartilage.
  • Type 2: The second form of collagen is classified mainly as elastic cartilage, and it resembles fibers that are more loosely packed together. This elastic cartilage is responsible for cushioning joints, so it’s mainly found around the connective tissues of our limbs.
  • Type 3: The third form of collagen is what constitutes our bone marrow, muscles, organs, arteries and lymphoid tissues.
  • Type 4: The fourth form of collagen is classified as the fibrous tissues located in the basement membrane. It’s responsible for assisting in our body’s filtration processes, and it resembles thin sheets of collagen. The fourth type is most commonly found surrounding the other tissues throughout our bodies.
  • Type 5: Lastly, the fifth form of collagen is found in the hair that grows in all parts of our bodies as well as the outermost layer of cells.

Implementing More in Your Diet

There are various means through which you can incorporate more collagen into your diet. But the main methods are through consuming a well-balanced and protein-rich diet, as well as supplements.

What Diet Optimizes Collagen Production?

Essentially any foods that have a high protein content can help to increase your body’s production of collagen. More specifically, you should consume a diet that consists of large amounts of meat, poultry, beef, seafood, eggs, dairy, legumes, whole grains, tofu, nuts, and fresh produce. You’ll want to create a variety of meals that incorporate the different protein-rich foods since your body reacts differently to all of these foods.

Bone Broth for High Collagen Synthesis

Dr. Axe claims that bone broth is one of the best foods rich in collagen because it’s essentially boiled-down animal bones. The connective tissues of animal foods have extremely high collagen content, making them a great source of protein for those of you interested in increasing your body’s collagen production.

Foods to Avoid

If you’re trying to increase your body’s collagen production then you’ll want to avoid consuming any foods that contain high amounts of sugar or refined carbs. Sugar is responsible for limiting the collagen’s ability to repair itself, and refined carbs destroy and prohibit collagen from producing in your body altogether.

Nutrients for Collagen Production

Your body produces pro-collagen by combining two amino acids, and this process uses vitamin C. Consuming a diet that’s high in vitamin C can help to increase your body’s production of collagen. Here are some of the best ways to increase collagen synthesis in your body through the incorporation of certain nutrients: vitamin C, proline, glycine, and copper.

Vitamin C

Aside from maintaining the health of your skin, vitamin C aids in bettering the health of other parts of your body, including your blood vessels, bones, and even your cartilage. Vitamin C also protects your body against certain diseases because of its ability to strengthen your immune system.

Foods high in vitamin C include bell peppers, guavas, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, oranges, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and snow peas.

Proline

Proline is essentially a plant-based protein that can directly aid in your body’s production of collagen because your body uses it to produce collagen. By consuming foods like egg whites, wheat germ, asparagus, mushrooms, and cabbage, you can provide your body with the right amino acids to encourage collagen production.

Glycine

Similarly to proline, your body uses glycine during the process of collagen synthesis. So when you consume foods with high glycine content, you’re providing your body with the right amino acids to encourage the synthesis of collagen. Usually, any protein-containing foods have high glycine contents, but you can more specifically consume pork skin, chicken skin, gelatin, legumes, or dairy products to stock up on glycine.

Copper

Specifically catering to your body’s production of connective tissue, copper can be found in various types of different foods. In addition to aiding in collagen production processes, the National Center for Biotechnology Information argues that copper also helps to strengthen your immune system and increase your blood cell formation. Foods with a high copper content range anywhere from seafood, mushrooms, and tofu to organ meats, sesame seeds, cocoa powder, and cashews.


Collagen Supplements

Many individuals have tried to consume collagen in the form of supplements to increase their effectiveness as well as provide for a more convenient way to consume large quantities of collagen. Supplements seem to help improve your body’s collagen production because they contain smaller peptides of protein that has already been broken down. That being said, your body should be able to absorb the collagen more easily and quicker.

Collagen supplements also seem to stimulate your body to produce more collagen in addition to providing your body with higher collagen content. There are typically two main types of collagen supplements: gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen.

Hydrolyzed collagen comes in a powder form and can be added to practically any type of food without changing the texture of it. Most users of collagen supplements add their hydrolyzed collagen supplement to smoothies, baked goods or even soups.

On the other hand, gelatin collagen supplements can be added to foods while changing their texture as they’re mixed. Collagen as a gelatin form is essentially collagen that’s already been cooked with a high amount of amino acids. Given that the gelatin collagen becomes a gel substance, you’ll have to think about which foods you’ll want to add the supplement to.

Overall, science research hasn’t fully backed up any information regarding the true effectiveness of utilizing collagen supplements to increase your body’s collagen production. Studies and personal users’ experiences made public has caused some individuals to believe the benefits of the supplements.

Benefits of Collagen Supplements:

  • Promotes weight loss
  • Improves skin elasticity and health
  • Relieves symptoms of arthritis and joint pain
  • Decreases risk of bone loss
  • Encourages the strength of hair and nails
  • Improves gut health
  • Aids in brain health
  • Promotes heart health

Protein Powder

Protein powder is also another way you can consume high concentrations of collagen. Consuming collagen through the form of protein powder is beneficial because it’s a quick and easy way to give your body the nutrients it needs. Protein powder in general is popular for its ability to be mixed with various other foods and drinks, so you can integrate it easily into your meal plan or diet.

According to Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN from Healthline, consuming collagen protein powder daily is beneficial because it’s an easy and convenient way to improve your skin’s elasticity, protect your organs, bones, and joints in your body and it even encourages your body to burn fat and grow more muscle mass.

Topical Creams

It’s also worth noting that the National Center for Biotechnology Information claims some individuals use collagen supplements in the form of topical creams. Given the protein’s vast array of benefits to the skin’s health, many people utilize creams or lotions that contain collagen to place topically on their skin. This hasn’t been supported by the science of the effectiveness of this method, but some previous users claim that it does treat wounds.


Side Effects

Depending on the certain type of collagen supplement that you take as well as its form and overall collagen content, the side effects that you may experience vary widely. According to ConsumerLab, it seems that consuming collagen supplements alone is generally safe and shouldn’t cause any detrimental health problems. But you should remain aware of possible minor side effects that may occur, and you should speak with your doctor before you openly choose to consume any collagen supplements.

  • Diarrhea
  • Heaviness in the gut or stomach
  • Lingering unpleasant taste in the mouth area
  • Rashes

Take-Away

Overall, the body’s ability to produce enough collagen to support its connective tissues and systems decreases with age. This is essentially why the body’s skin physically appears to be less firm and supple the more that we age.

Some other practices that seem to limit the body’s collagen production are excessive exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays, an unhealthy diet as well as smoking habits.

Given the benefits that collagen provides your body as well as the negative effects that can come from a decrease in the body’s collagen synthesis, it’s important that you make sure your body is receiving a well-balanced diet that’s rich in proteins.

After reading this guide, we hope that you better understand collagen, its effects and can maybe incorporate it into your diet to reap its many benefits.

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