Collagen Protein: Hype or Helpful
Collagen is comprised of vital proteins, found in animal products we consume. It has long been regarded as a source of rejuvenating nutrients. Some even call it the “fountain of youth,” crediting it with reversal of their aging effects, helping to restore and heal injured bodies, and improve the health of their skin.
With the rise in popularity of this perceived miracle substance comes a growing variety of collagen products. Consumers are projected to spend upwards of $300 million on collagen supplements in the next year alone!
Collagen products are being added to food, health supplements, and gracing new diet trends at an astonishing rate.
Hype or Helpful?
As collagen supplements grow more popular, the most important question becomes: is it really helpful, or is it just another bottle of snake oil? Collagen wouldn’t be the first health supplement touted as the fountain of youth only to be revealed as not living up to the hype.
The good news is that collagen shows a lot of promise in treating the maladies we suffer as we age. Some medical professionals are recommending collagen supplements as a way to improve skincare routines, and even fight arthritis, help heal injuries, and more.
How Collagen Works
Collagen plays a vital role in skin health as well as the health of joints and bones. It forms a basic building block of these systems, making up as much as 75% of the dry weight of human skin, and it’s also responsible for helping repair damaged skin, tendons, and bone tissue. It’s an excellent source of protein, as well, and a healthy one, lacking the sodium and sugar that many other protein sources include.
Collagen has shown remarkable versatility in building and rebuilding the body. Studies have shown that its ability to reinvigorate muscle in people undergoing strength training. It also works to help rebuild muscles and has shown promise in speeding the healing of wounds. This is because collagen forms a sort of “building block” for the body, helping to literally hold your body together and keep its connective tissues healthy.
Full of amino acids, collagen makes up a third or more of your body’s total protein. While the body naturally produces collagen, its own natural production begins to slow down in our 20s and beyond.
This is why many have turned to collagen supplements to help gain those vital proteins that will help your body feel stronger and younger again.
Collagen and Your Skin
The strengthening effects of collagen on skincare bear special mention. It improves elasticity and helps hydrate skin, which reduces the effects of lines, blemishes, and also helps prevent breakouts. Part of the reason that we get wrinkles as we age is because of less collagen being produced in the skin, drying it out and causing wrinkles to form. Some research has shown that collagen can help slow the effects of aging on your skin, giving your skincare a youthful boost.
Collagen can also help “jumpstart” the production of other vital proteins responsible for the toning and healing of the skin. While studies are ongoing as to the long-term benefits of collagen, there’s a lot of promise in this source of vital proteins.
Other Health Benefits of Collagen
While collagen is especially noticeable in skin health, it also has a wide variety of other effects. Some studies have shown that it can aid in digestive health by helping smooth the lining of your gut. This, in turn, makes digestion easier, reducing the feelings of indigestion or upset stomach some of us can feel after a particularly vigorous meal.
Collagen has also been shown to aid in strength training and exercise. One study showed that participants who ingested collagen supplements during a 12-week exercise routine gained more strength and muscle mass than the ones who didn’t take any supplements. Because the vital proteins that collagen provides also work for muscles, it stimulates the production of muscle proteins and helps foster joint health, which in turn aids in all forms of exercise.
Like other muscles, collagen has been shown to be good for the heart, as well. Similar studies showed a reduction in the LDL (the bad cholesterol) levels of participants who took collagen. While research into just exactly how much collagen aids in hearth health is still ongoing, keep in mind that there are plenty of peripheral benefits.
For instance, exercising regularly and building up strong muscles has been proven many times to aid in heart health (as well as overall health). Collagen has benefits in helping to restore and stimulate the body during these exercise routines, making collagen supplements a great overall choice in simply living longer and healthier.
Collagen Forms: How it’s Ingested
Collagen supplements come in many forms. Basic collagen comes from—as disgusting as it might sound—ground-up fish and animal parts. Specifically, non-muscle meats contain the most: tripe, tendon, and so on, but not everyone finds these varieties of meat quite so appetizing. Eggs are another good source, and so are things like skin-on salmon, poultry, and pork, but again, not everyone enjoys these to the same degree.
Eggs are another good source of collagen and a staple in many diets. The yolks are what contain the majority of the collagen in eggs, so if your diet doesn’t allow you to eat egg yolks often, you may need to look elsewhere. Fortunately, studies have shown that the link between high cholesterol and egg consumption is tenuous, at best; eating eggs in moderation can give you the vital proteins you need in the form of collagen while providing other health benefits and not raising your risk of heart disease.
Vitamin C also has a large role in fostering collagen production. Eating foods rich in vitamin C is a good way to help kickstart your body’s natural collagen production. Vegetables, especially dark green kinds, and many kinds of fruit are also rich in vitamin C.
Supplement your diet with more fruits and vegetables, in addition to considering collagen peptides (discussed below) to make sure you’re getting the right amount of vital proteins.
Collagen also comes in a variety of supplemental forms that you can take directly. Many of these are broken down already to make them easier for your body to absorb. This includes collagen peptides, vital proteins in the form of powder. In fact, they’re hydrolyzed powdered collagen, which is to say that they’re broken down into smaller molecules to make it easier to absorb into the body.
Collagen peptides are probably the most efficient way to get more collagen into your diet, regardless of your dietary needs. The nice part is that they can come in many flavors to help turn them from just a supplement into a flavor all on their own. You can add them to water, or soups, smoothies, even make them part of a nutrient-packed homemade protein shake.
As with many nutrient sources these days, you want to choose carefully. You can get collagen peptides in organic form, for instance. For this, you’ll want to favor powders made from cows not treated with hormones and raised only on organic grass diets.
This guarantees you get all the health benefits without any of the unpleasant effects associated with the artificial ingredients often added to cheap food.
To V or Not to V
Unfortunately, collagen doesn’t come in a vegan variety currently. There are some 28 different types of collagens, but most scientists agree that collagen is collagen. It’s all the same protein doing the same thing, whatever its source. Some are labeled “marine” collagens, and come mostly from fish products, while others are derived from land animals.
The origin doesn’t really matter compared to the health benefits, most experts say. The vital proteins have the same effect.
What really matters is the quality of the product and how it is broken down into consumable form. Some places of manufacture, like China, have much lower quality requirements than other sources. These collagen supplements may be less effective or have other sorts of byproducts due to less quality control. Your safest bet is to look for top-quality supplements sourced from manufacturers with more stringent requirements.
Research is ongoing into possibly vegan sources of collagen, as well. Scientists are looking at plants with similar benefits to see if they can discover a new source of stimulating vital protein production.
While there have been some promising leads, so far collagen remains largely an animal product consumed in our diets.