Why Collagen is More than a Super Skin Saver

You're about to get collagen educated!
spoon with powdered collagen spilling over edge
© Can Stock Photo / PixelsAway

Available in tablets and powders, laced into everything from coffee creamers to granola bars, emulsified in skin creams and infused into lip balms, collagen is definitely having a moment. With its promise of unlocking that fountain of youth, glowing skin, lustrous hair, and strong nails, it seems almost too good to be true. And while collagen is certainly one amazing protein, what do you really know about this trending miracle worker? We'll tell you!

A collagen tutorial

Wound together forming strong strands, the word collagen lives up to its etymological root (from the Greek meaning “glue”), as it is quite literally the glue that helps hold our joints and tendons together and gives our skin strength and elasticity. Found in our cartilage, skin, muscles, bones, digestive system, tendons, and blood vessels, collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and is made up of the amino acids arginine, glycine, hydroxyproline, and proline which we acquire from protein-rich foods like meat, eggs, and beans.

But getting enough protein isn’t the only thing we need for healthy collagen production. Our bodies also require a wide variety of minerals and vitamins, including plenty of vitamin C. Not getting enough vitamin C in our diet can spell disaster as it leads to a halt in collagen production and can result in scurvy, a devastating illness often associated with ancient seafarers who didn’t get enough fresh fruits and veggies while they were making their long voyages. When collagen production stops, the collagen-heavy parts of the body break down, which can mean oral issues, musculoskeletal problems, and anemia. Although we’re in much better shape than those poor seafarers of old, vitamin C deficiency is still very real, especially in those who smoke (including passive smokers) or those who suffer from poor diets, intestinal malabsorption, anorexia, alcoholism, or even severe mental health issues.

Getting a collagen upgrade

You can encourage and maintain good collagen production by embracing a healthy lifestyle and including foods that provide key vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Bone broth has become a favourite way of getting more collagen, and for good reason: it’s full of it! When bones are simmered slowly (usually over 24-48 hours) the collagen within the bones breaks down and becomes gelatin—the wiggly stuff that makes bone broth so rich and tasty! Incorporating more bone broth into your diet is also a fantastic way to help heal the mucosal lining in your gut and repair parts of the GI tract.

Nutrients that up your collagen ante

  • Anthocyanins: Dark berries and grapes, red cabbage and onions, and eggplants.

  • Copper: Shellfish, nuts, and red meat.

  • Vitamin A: Pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, and spirulina.

  • Vitamin C: Darky leafy greens, peppers, broccoli, and, of course, citrus fruits.

  • Proline: Grass-fed, pasture-raised meats, wild-caught fish, cheeses, soy, and cabbage

Putting the a-g-e in collagen

While maintaining a healthy and varied diet is key to optimal collagen production, aging is one cause of decreased collagen that can’t be avoided, leaving us at greater risk for weakened joint cartilage, joint pain, and the development of degenerative disorders such as osteoarthritis. Further, the natural decline of collagen may mean looser skin with more wrinkles, thinning hair, and brittle nails. The good news is that studies have shown that supplementation with specific collagen peptides both helped with functional knee problems, leading to significant improvement in activity-related joint pain,1 and resulted in increased skin hydration.2 With collagen-rich diets and supplementation, anecdotal reports from doctors have patients reporting  thicker and stronger hair and nails, more youthful skin, better healing and recovery time, and decreased joint pain after exercise.

A collagen boost

If you feel that a little extra tweak is in order, collagen supplementation can sometimes be indicated. When considering the right supplement for you, look for hydrolyzed collagen, also known as collagen peptides, which is collagen that has gone through hydrolysis to make it easier to absorb. And while there are differing opinions on whether marine or bovine-based supplements are best, both are great options! Whichever you choose, ensure that the collagen is derived from grass-fed and pasture-raised sources (for bovine) and wild-caught and non-GMO sources (for marine). Currently there is no vegan collagen supplement, but you can help stimulate production by drinking green tea, eating foods that are high in the amino acids glycine, proline, and lysine, and vitamin C, or by taking a vegan collagen booster! Make collagen a simple part of your plan to look and feel fabulous!