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Collagen benefits our health in so many ways, and here’s why: It’s the most abundant protein found in the human body, making up one-third of our total protein. Collagen boasts a unique amino acid profile including proline, glycine, glutamine, hydroxyproline, and alanine. It comes from the Greek word “kolla,” meaning glue. It is a major component of connective tissue, and maintains the integrity and elasticity of our skin, muscle, bones, tendons, and digestive tissue. Therefore, collagen is often referred to as “the glue that holds the body together.”
While there are 16 different types of collagen, 80 to 90 percent of them belong to categories known as types 1, 2, and 3. (You’ll also see them written as types I, II, and III.)
- Type 1: Present in scar tissue, tendons, skin, arterial walls, cornea, surrounds muscle fibers, fibrocartilage, intervertebral disks, bones, and teeth.
- Type 2: Found in joint cartilage, intervertebral disks, and the vitreous body of the eye.
- Type 3: Found in the intestinal walls, reticular fibers, uterus, muscles, and blood vessels.
Type 1 collagen fibrils are so strong that gram-for-gram, they’re stronger even than steel, which makes this super nutrient so unbelievably beneficial to our health.
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Top 7 Collagen Benefits
While there are dozens of collagen benefits, these seven rank among the most researched and most valuable.
- Collagen improves hair health. Collagen is a major substance in the composition of the hair. It is well-known for increasing hair growth and shine—hence, the plethora of shampoos available on the market trumpeting an added collagen ingredient. However, to promote growth and achieve glossy hair, oral supplementation with collagen is required; applying collagen topically is of little benefit.
- Collagen strengthens teeth and nails. Receding gums often result in tooth sensitivity and can lead to decay and inflammation. Research demonstrates that type 1 collagen is able to enhance gum healing, which results in thicker margins around the tooth and healing of the roots. So, it protects your teeth by keeping them firmly in your gums. And aside from protecting your pearly whites, type 1 collagen is an excellent supplement for strengthening weak and brittle nails.
- Collagen supports digestive health in IBS and leaky gut syndrome. Glutamine, one of the amino acids in collagen, helps to reduce gut inflammation, aid digestion, and regulate the secretion of stomach acid. Studies have found that glutamine improves the intestinal lining in leaky gut syndrome. And interestingly, patients with inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) are noted to have decreased serum levels of collagen. To get the collagen benefits of improving the integrity of the digestive tract, you’ll need to supplement with type 1 and type 3 collagen.
- Collagen heals bones and joints. Bones, tendons, and ligaments are made up of type 1 collagen. However, studies show that type 3 collagen is of great advantage to healing injured tissue. So, taking type 1 and 3 collagen together helps strengthen weakened bones, tendons, and ligaments.
One particular form of collagen called collagen hydrolysate also has been shown to decrease inflammation and pain in patients with osteoarthritis. Collagen hydrolysate, or “hydrolyzed collagen,” is collagen that has been broken down into a low molecular weight and is easier for the body to absorb than other sources. It can be found in powdered form online and at health food stores.
- Collagen is a metabolism booster. Perhaps one of the most exciting health benefits of collagen is that it is a natural metabolism booster. As we age, our bodies lose muscle mass, which is often replaced by fat. Collagen can help reverse this in two ways. First, an amino acid found in collagen called glycine helps form muscle by converting glucose into energy. Having more lean muscle tissue boosts your metabolism because muscle burns more calories than fat. Second, a study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition found that collagen helped aging individuals maintain lean body muscle and preserve nitrogen balance.
- Collagen improves skin elasticity and reduces cellulite. Have you ever heard of dermatologists and plastic surgeons performing collagen injections to improve the contours of the skin and fill out depressions to remove lines and wrinkles? This works because deep in the dermis (the middle layer of the skin), collagen helps form a fibrous network of cells called fibroblasts, upon which new cells can grow. It can also help heal wounds or burns and improve the look of scars—a reason why many wound dressings contain collagen.
But, that’s not all! By strengthening the dermis of the skin, collagen also can help reduce cellulite. The dimpling look of cellulite occurs when fatty tissues are pushed up through fibers into the upper layer of the skin. By working on the inside of the body, collagen can help hide the cellulite. Studies indeed confirm that collagen supplementation is effective to improve skin elasticity, firmness, and thickness, including that pesky cellulite.
- Collagen improves liver function. The aforementioned glycine found in collagen helps reduce liver damage. Several studies have revealed that glycine expedites the process of recovering from alcohol-induced liver injury.
How to Take Collagen to Achieve Its Health Benefits
Unfortunately, the body’s ability to produce collagen declines as we age. Further depletion of collagen levels can occur from lifestyle factors such as a high-sugar diet, smoking or the use of other nicotine products, excessive sun exposure, and poor intake of collagen-rich foods.
Foods high in collagen include wild salmon, leafy greens, citrus fruits, and berries, but the most popular way to consume collagen is via bone broth. Beef bone broth contains the highest amounts of type 1 collagen; chicken broth is higher in type 2.
A better way to consume collagen is via a powdered supplement. Search for “hydrolyzed collagen” or “collagen peptides” that contain at least type 1 and type 3 collagen. The typical dose is one scoop per day, which would provide 5 to 15 grams daily. You can take up to 30 grams per day to achieve therapeutic effects; however, be sure to check the label for other ingredients or supplements. Purchase a pure collagen product that does not contain additives.
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