If you’ve recently pick up a health magazine, browsed a fitness blog or popped into a GNC you might have noticed this collagen trend that’s gaining momentum. Every year we see new nutrients stealing the spotlight with all their magical health benefits and recommendations to start incorporating them into our diets. But is there any truth behind the latest trend, collagen?
Let’s first talk about what collagen is. Collagen is the most abundant protein found in muscles, bones, skin, blood vessels, digestive system and tendons. It’s responsible for keeping the elasticity in our skin and strength in our nails. It also makes up our tendons and joints to keep our bodies moving. Over time it’s natural to see collagen production decrease. This is where we can see aging symptoms begin like wrinkles, sagging skin and even joint pain. Age isn’t the only thing that can slow collagen production. Exposed time in the sun, high sugar diets and of course smoking can also speed up the natural depletion of collagen and aging.
So what’s the deal? Can supplementing with collagen be a natural anti-aging practice and overall health booster? Lucky for us there is a great deal of research going on to explore just that!
1. Skin elasticity. Several studies do show improvement in skin health after supplementation typically among age groups 35-55. Studies explored outcomes with supplementation of 2.5-5g for 8 weeks. There was significant improvement in skin elasticity, skin moisture and skin evaporation. Although these studies seem promising there was little detail about the participants prior to supplementation. To truly evaluate who could benefit from the supplementation the studies should have also looked at the collagen levels prior to study, overall diet and lifestyle like smoking, drinking, sugar in take and other factors that could affect results. That said, evidence seems promising in general.
2. Joint pain. This one is a bit outside my wheel house as a dietitian but thought it was important to touch on. I reviewed several studies evaluating the effect of collagen supplementation and this one seems promising too for those individuals that already experience some pain and discomfort. Collagen’s role in our joints is to make our movements glide and feel smooth and pain free. As collagen decreases it makes moving feel stiff and often painful. Several studies show positive results in reducing pain, improving movement and decreasing swelling. In fact several medical facilities will use collagen to treat osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other joint disorders. After several weeks of supplementation patients reported more activity and general improvement in quality of life.
3. IBS and leaky gut. Gut health and microbiome is a growing area of research in our industry in which we learn more about every year. Several of these studies have started looking at collagen supplementation to improve the integrity of the gut, permeability and how it has an impact on disorders like leaky gut. Leaky gut is a disorder in which toxins can easily pass through the lining of the intestines and into the blood system starting a cascade of inflammation and discomfort. Other disorders that have been evaluated are Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, IBS and even acid reflux. Often we find with these conditions serum collagen levels are low. Supplementation of collagen has been found to build up the lining of the gut, improving absorption of water and keeping things moving more freely out of the body.
4. Building muscle mass and increasing metabolism. Some studies claim that collagen supplementation can help build muscle over time. The more muscle mass we have in general can boost metabolism and have us burning more calories. Of all the claims about collagen this one seems like the biggest stretch. Collagen supplementation by itself will not get you a six pack by summer time. Collagen in addition to regular strength training exercises, protein intake and other factors can lead to building muscle mass and burning more calories. The direct impact collagen has is still being debated but there are some promising studies out there.
Collagen is certainly making a splash in the supplement industry, and for good reason. However, if you are generally healthy and not experiencing any of the conditions above, my recommendation would be to save your money and keep it on the back burner for the future. For those of us that live with some of the pre-existing conditions listed above or those of us beyond the age of 35 experience aging symptoms, collagen can be an positive addition to our diets. Before you go out and buy a supplement though, check out some of the food sources below. It’s always ideal to receive nutrition through food if we can.
Gelatin- Quality matters when it comes to gelatin. Gelatin is literally collagen, but don’t go picking up containers of jello. The collagen you want should be high quality, which many health food stores will carry these days. Look for pasture-raised, grass fed gelatin.
Bone broth- After gelatin, this is the next best thing. It’s also cheap and easy to make yourself by literally boiling bones. Sipping on a cup of bone broth a day can provide a decent dose of collagen.
Eggs- Specifically the whites of the eggs are high in the amino acids that make up collagen.
Cod– and other white fish can be high in proline and glycine. It’s also has a great source of omega 3 fatty acids which is a great anti-inflammatory. A popular alternative to eating cod is a fermented cod liver oil- also a great source of vitamin D for those of us living in the northeast where vitamin D deficiency are high.