Updated: Dec 6, 2022
Collagen supplements have taken the world by storm the last few years...but is the hype worth it?
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is a major component of connective tissues such as skin, organs, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Think of collagen as a type of glue that holds our body together.
Our bodies do produce collagen, but this process becomes less efficient as we age. Collagen helps to provide elasticity to our skin and thus decreases the appearance of fine lines and signs of aging. It’s no surprise that collagen supplements have taken the world by storm over the last few years.
Collagen supplement brands claim that their products will reduce signs of aging, improve overall skin health, speed up hair growth, strengthen nails, improve joint health, and so much more. Before we can dive into these claims, we first have to understand how collagen is made in the body.
How does our body make collagen?
Collagen is made up of 3 different amino acids - hydroxyproline, proline, and glycine. The body also requires sufficient amounts of vitamin c, copper, and zinc to help the body create collagen.
There are several different types of collagen, but the most abundant types found in the human body are type I, II, and III.
Type I - Found in bones, tendons, ligaments, and skin. This form of collagen is by far the most common form throughout the body and contributes to elasticity of skin.
Type II - A major component of cartilage. These fibrous proteins help to cushion joints.
Type III - Primarily supports our muscle tissue, organs, and arteries.
Health benefits of collagen
Collagen has several important functions in the body. Collagen has several perceived health benefits:
Increase muscle mass
Support elasticity of the skin
Improve fine lines and wrinkles
Support bone & joint health
Increase efficacy of wound healing
Aid in weight loss
It is important to note that our bodies cannot absorb collagen in its whole form. If we consume collagen through food or a supplement, our body breaks it down into smaller, individual amino acids. These amino acids are absorbed and then added to our protein stores within the body.
Factors that inhibit collagen production
High exposure to UV rays or sunlight - excessive sun exposure can decrease collagen production and has been shown to degrade collagen more quickly
Smoking - smoking (and vaping) can greatly decrease collagen production, contributing to increased signs of aging, decreased skin elasticity, and inhibition of wound healing.
Eating too much added sugar and refined carbohydrates - a high intake of added sugar and refined carbohydrates contribute to inflammation and can interfere with collagen synthesis.
Is it possible to increase collagen production?
I mentioned earlier that collagen is produced by our body, using individual amino acids from our protein stores. In my opinion, the best way to increase collagen production is simply to ensure you’re consuming enough protein (and micronutrients) each day!
Foods that help to support collagen production include:
Dietary sources of collagen
Meats - chicken, fish, shellfish, beef
Eggs - egg whites
Foods rich in Vitamin C
Dark, leafy greens
Foods rich in copper and zinc
Do collagen supplements really work?
While there have been several small (but promising) studies looking at the efficacy of collagen supplementation, the results always seem to come up inconclusive. This doesn’t necessarily mean that collagen supplements are not beneficial, but it does mean that more research is needed to determine for sure.
Aim to get enough protein each day and ensure you’re having 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables daily! A nutritious diet plays a vital role in overall skin and joint health.