This versatile protein is touted for keeping skin supple, but its strength is more than skin deep.
What is it?
Many cosmetic and beauty products market collagen as the fountain of youth, but that’s just touching the surface. Collagen is the most abundant fibrous protein in the body and is composed of three amino acids – glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. It is present in our muscles, tendons, digestive system, bones, skin and blood vessels. It’s the protein responsible for maintaining the elasticity and strength of our skin, as well as replacing dead skin cells, and acts as the “glue” that holds joints and tendons together. There are 16 different types of collagen in the body, with the majority divided between types I, II, III or IV. Each type has its own unique function.
Benefits of use
According to the National Institutes of Health, collagen forms structures that help the body rebuild tissue. That’s why it is widely used for wound healing. “Collagen is great for advanced wound care, tissue regrowth, muscle regeneration and surgical wounds,” says Clinical Nutrition Manager Jeff Hale, RD, LD. “It contains amino acids, which are among the building blocks of collagen itself, each having their own benefits.”
While there is a wide variety of collagen supplements on the market, like creams, tablets, powders and liquids, Hale cautions that many are not often regulated, and too much collagen may be harmful, especially for those with kidney issues. A better way to replenish collagen is naturally through food, such as bone broth. “Bones are a great source of collagen, so when they simmer for a day or two, the collagen slowly breaks down into gelatin. Bone broth has been around for centuries, and was the main ingredient in grandma’s homemade chicken soup. There’s a reason why you feel better after a bowl of soup. The natural amino acids and collagen help our bodies fight colds,” says Hale. “Bone broth is also receiving a lot of press lately due to the nutrients it provides for those who follow a ketogenic diet.”
As early as age 25, collagen production naturally starts to decrease, which is why the skin starts to wrinkle and sag, and joint pain can become an eventual issue. Certain nutrients can help support the production of collagen, such as vitamins A and C, copper and anthocyanidins, which is the phytonutrient in berries. A diet rich in amino acids can also help. “Getting back to whole foods and complete proteins is your best bet, like the bone broth. It’s simple to make and is very beneficial,” he says. “To maximize the collagen your body currently produces, you should also watch your intake of sugar and processed carbs. Too much can interfere with collagen production, as can too much sun exposure and smoking.”