What Is Collagen? Everything You Need to Know
From glowing skin to long nails to an indestructible immune system, it seems everyone is singing the praises of collagen. People are adding spoonfuls of collagen peptides to their post-workout smoothie, perusing beauty aisles for collagen skin cream, and trading in their Starbucks order for a mug of black coffee with collagen.
The explosion of collagen products on the market doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Research suggests the collagen market will continue to rise by a compound growth rate of 8 percent through 2021 (1). While it might seem like a fad on the surface, the health benefits of collagen are strongly backed by science. Below, you’ll learn exactly what collagen is, how it benefits the body, and how to get more collagen in your diet.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, making up about 25 percent of your total protein mass (2). Known as the “glue that holds the body together,” collagen is found in cartilage, tendons, ligaments, skin, and other connective tissue. Collagen makes up over three-quarters the weight of dry skin, 80 percent of your tendons, 60 percent of your cartilage, and 30 percent of your bones (3)(4)(5)(6).
There are 28 known varieties of collagen, each with distinct benefits. The most common forms of collagen are types I, II, and III, collectively accounting for 90 percent of the total collagen in the human body (7).
Type I Collagen
Type I collagen is found in tendons, where muscle connects to bone. Type I collagen has incredible tensile strength, allowing it to stretch without breaking, withstanding the force of exercise and daily activity. Gram for gram, type I collagen is stronger than steel (8).
Type II Collagen
Type II collagen is the major collagen found in cartilage, allowing joints to absorb shocks from running, jumping, or climbing (8). Type II collagen may also help prevent inflammation of the joints, decreasing the severity of arthritis (9).
Type III Collagen
Type III collagen is known for helping with wound healing, repairing skin and other tissues (10). It’s also essential for the development of the skin and cardiovascular system for the normal functions of these organs (11).
5 Health Benefits of Collagen
Research shows collagen supplements may have long-term health benefits, including improved skin elasticity, bone health, skin health, and a boosted immune system. It could also help with various health conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Below, you’ll see the top five health benefits associated with collagen.
1. Collagen Helps Improve Joint Health
As you age, you might feel your legs stiffen and your joints creak as you walk. While many people credit achy joints to old age, osteoarthritis may be the real culprit. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints, leading to the breakdown of cartilage and bone.
For the past couple decades, growing evidence shows collagen hydrolysate supplements can help improve arthritis symptoms (12). In a 2016 study, 39 patients diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis were given type II collagen for three months. Through supplementation, patients showed significant improvements in joint pain, joint function, and overall quality of life (13).
2. Collagen May Lead to Healthy, Glowing Skin
Collagen is becoming more and more prevalent in the beauty industry, thanks to its ability to strengthen hair, skin, and nails. As you age, your body’s collagen production declines naturally, leading to brittle nails and dry skin. In fact, the overall collagen content in your skin declines by approximately 1 percent per year (14).
Studies show collagen supplementation can improve skin elasticity, moisture retention, and collagen synthesis, which is commonly lost through the aging process. In a 2014 study, 69 women from ages 35 to 55 were given hydrolyzed collagen peptide supplements or a placebo each day for eight weeks. At the end of the study, collagen consumption improved participants’ skin health dramatically. Even one month after the study concluded, skin elasticity remained higher than before the study began. Skin moisture also improved, but not significantly (15).
3. Collagen Could Reduce Cellulite
Cellulite is a layer of fat that collects in pockets, positioned just below the skin’s surface. Many individuals wrinkle their nose at cellulite, as it creates a dimpled look around the hips, thighs, and glutes. Unfortunately, these stubborn deposits are extremely hard to get rid of. Since it rests just below skin, even thin people have some degree of cellulite, and weight-loss methods like liposuction can actually make cellulite look worse (16).
Supplementing with collagen might reduce the appearance of cellulite. In a 2015 placebo-controlled study, 105 women aged 24 to 50 were given an oral dose of collagen peptides for six months. Results showed a significant decrease in cellulite in women’s thighs, for both average weight and overweight females (17).
4. Collagen May Improve Gut Health
Many health issues stem from an impaired digestive system. Everyday conditions like diarrhea, bloating, nutritional deficiencies, allergic reactions, brain fog, and joint pain can be caused by one ailment: leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome can be the result of food sensitivities, poor diet choices, or the environment, causing small cracks within your stomach lining.
One common symptom of a damaged stomach lining is inflammatory bowel disease, or IBS. In 2017, there was a study done to see if fish collagen could help relieve symptoms. The study showed significant improvement in participants’ digestive tracts compared to the control group (18).
5. Collagen Might Help Build Muscle Mass
You’re probably aware that resistance training and protein supplementation can help aid in weight loss and build lean muscle tissue. But did you know collagen is the most abundant protein found in human and animals (19)? Collagen is filled with amino acids, the building blocks of protein, which could thereby help your performance in the weight room.
New research shows supplementing with collagen protein could help build lean muscle mass — more so than weightlifting or protein supplements alone. In a 2015 study, 53 male subjects participated in a double-blind placebo-controlled study. They weight-lifted three times per week, and supplemented with collagen powder or a placebo. After 12 weeks, participants who supplemented with collagen showed higher lean muscle mass and bone health, with decreased fat mass (20).
How to Get More Collagen In Your Diet
There are two main ways to get more collagen in your diet: through dietary supplements or by drinking bone broth.
Bone broth is a rich source of collagen, made by simmering bones in water, acid, and herbs to extract the beneficial nutrients. While it’s a time-consuming process (it takes up to 24 hours to simmer on the stovetop), it’s well worth it. You can also purchase pre-made bone broth, as long as it’s from a trusted source.
You might also consider adding a spoonful of collagen peptides to your morning coffee or post-workout smoothie. Collagen supplements are nearly tasteless, and absorb easily into both cool and hot liquids.
Collagen — Is It Worth the Hype?
Collagen might seem like a buzzword, as it’s a hot topic in a wide number of industries, from health and wellness to beauty and fashion. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and makes up a significant portion of your skin, tendons, and other connective tissue.
Unfortunately, as you age your body’s natural collagen production will decline. To maintain the vast number of health benefits associated with collagen (including healthy skin, bones, muscles, and digestive tract) you can consume collagen by drinking bone broth or taking supplements.
Drinking bone broth is an easy, delicious way to get more collagen in your diet. Check out the recipe section on this website for plenty of collagen-rich recipes.
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