Collagen…and why it rocks

matcha latte with collagen and superfood in heart shape

A few months ago my husband hurt his back doing some silly every day task like picking up a kid or something. Ignoring my suggestions of yoga and stretching, he went to work and chatted with all of his buddies, one of whom told him to start drinking collagen every day – in smoothies, in coffee, matcha lattes, etc.

So immediately he went and bought a huge case of cans of collagen powder and said we need to add it to all of our smoothies from now on. No yoga yet.

I was skeptical, as I usually am, of such a supplement. Sure, I had heard of collagen but is it really effective to drink or eat it? So I decided to read up on it a bit. I’ve known it is good for hair and nail growth, but what else? And along with the good, were there any side effects? Was I going to grow long, thick silky hair…all over my body? Aside from that horrifying picture, should I be more focused on what collagen can do for me?

I knew collagen was supposed to be good for hair and nail growth, but what else? Was I going to grow long, thick silky hair…all over my body?

First of all, there is a lot of…contradictory information out there, just like anything else, so I tried to cut through everything and decide what sources to trust (for me). There are a few sites I like, including this one from Dr. Axe. No, it has nothing to do with the fact that he looks like a young, yummy Aaron Eckhart in the Dark Knight (As Harvey Dent of course, not Two-Face). LOL.  Anyway, he (along with many other medical and research professionals) see benefits of collagen, and it’s a relatively low-risk proposition so I am all for incorporating it into my diet.

Collagen is derived from the Greek word “kolla” which means glue. Cool, right? It is the MOST abundant protein in our bodies and serves as the main connective tissue that cements things together. It is found in connective tissues, like skin, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bones, teeth, heart valves, and the cornea.

After water, it is the most abundant substance in our bodies.

Key benefits include:

1) Improves skin & hair
2) Repairs joints
3) Helps leaky gut
4) Boosts metabolism
5) Strengthens teeth & nails
6) Helps detox
7) Reduces cellulite and stretch marks (ok, I am sold)
8) Alleviates back pain (I added this, because it did work for us)

There are about sixteen (!!!) different types but 90% within our bodies consists of 3 main types so I’ll focus on those:

Type I – Comprises about 80% of all collagen and is present in skin, hair, nails, organs, bone and ligaments and supports skin strength. So you can see why this collagen is a big deal.
Type II – Forms the fluids and functions in the cartilage and joints.
Type III – Represents approximately 15% and directs wound repair and healing.

Our skin is comprised of 75% collagen, 1-2% elastin, keratin and glycosaminoglycan. Collagen requires vitamin C and iron to form healthy, strong protein fibers. Without vitamin C, it can form abnormal fibers, resulting in skin lesions and fragile skin.

Collagen is produced and recycled throughout life by your own body. However, around age 25, our ability to produce it starts to decrease and by age 40, it has fallen by 25%! And it just gets worse after menopause because of….yup, hormones. Estrogen plays a role in good quality collagen production. By age 60, it has fallen by 50% or more.

Signs of collagen loss include:

  • sagging skin
  • fine lines and wrinkles
  • brittle nails
  • receding gums
  • dry or dull skin
  • thinning hair
  • joint pain, stiffness

Wrinkles form as collagen is damaged or destroyed. Further, wrinkles and sagging worsen due to our decreasing ability to replace it as quickly. What else breaks down this wonderful symbol of youth? UV rays, tobacco, environmental toxins all cause free radicals that attack collagen directly. Stress also causes production of free radicals. Now you have even more justification to stay stress free. Easier said than done, I know.

There are lots of different options with collagen out there – powders, capsules, drinks, topical formulas…how do you choose the most effective? Collagen is a large protein, which means it cannot penetrate the skin. So you can’t just buy some fancy skincare that has liquid collagen and put it on your wrinkles and hope it fills them in (or boosts them up from below).  Damn, I know!  But at least I saved you some money on that $300 collagen cream… That said, I do have a few skincare products with collagen that I enjoy, but their effects on my fine lines are more temporary, and now I understand why.  To be effective, collagen must be ingested and some ingredients, specifically vitamin C, can accelerate collagen synthesis. Some skin products may have collagen in the form of hydrolyzed collagen, which is used to boost skin hydration. It is NOT used to replace collagen under skin. Sadly, not possible. 🙁 You need to up your collagen levels from the inside out However, hydrolyzed collagen is better for absorption – over 90% absorption vs 27% or less in food, according to Aaron Eckhart, I mean, Dr. Axe.

Collagen must be ingested to be effective and some ingredients, specifically vitamin C, can accelerate collagen synthesis.

When it comes to ingesting collagen, bioavailability is a critical factor. It determines the percentage of the substance that is actually absorbed into the body when ingested and as a result, determines the effectiveness of any nutrient you ingest. You can find collagen in three primary forms: piscine (fish), bovine (cow), porcine (pig). Fish/marine collagen is absorbed 1.5x more efficiently by the body (so has higher bioavailability) and enters our bloodstream more quickly because of its small particle size compared to other collagen sources. Marine collagen is found in skin and scales of fish, which most of us (definitely me) discard. So to get fish collagen, you need to supplement (or start eating the fish skin).

Nutrients in liquid form tend to provide the highest absorption rate because they are pre-digested in liquid form. Pills and powders can’t come close. Pills tend to be small, so you may need many to achieve similar results.

However, liquids tend to be much more expensive and they are also really wasteful (so many plastic bottles) so for me, I can’t justify the liquid route for collagen.

Currently, in our household we have this collagen, which is sourced from bovine. However, it does meet other standards for us, so it is fine for now (it is hydrolyzed, made in the US, powder, tasteless). We are on our 3rd container of it. But I am on the hunt for a good marine collagen!

So back to my husband…. it’s been about five months and no more back pain.  As a result, collagen has a place in our regular diets now!  I put it in our morning smoothies and lattes and it’s also pretty good just mixed with almond or cashew milk.  You can really put it in anything, even mixing it with soup and other foods. Check it out if you have not already.  Let me know your thoughts!

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For more wellness topics, here are some other posts I think you would enjoy!

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