Read on to discover the purpose and benefits of collagen.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and an essential building block for tissues. It is also crucial for building connective tissue, a fibrous body tissue with many functions, including supporting and connecting tissue to other tissues.
Its elastic nature adds stretch and flexibility to tissue. It is also responsible for healthy joints. After all, collagen is a significant component in the ligaments, cartilage, and tendons needed for the proper operation of the joints.
Types of Collagen
Research has discovered 28 types of collagen. Here are four of the most common types: (1)
Type Iis themost plentiful type, comprising over 90% of the collagen in the human body. It is found in all connective tissue, teeth, and bones. (2)
Type II is the primary collagen found in cartilage. It's what gives collagen its strength and flexibility.
Type III is found in blood vessels, intestines, and skin. It helps blood to clot and wounds to heal.
Type IV helps formthe primary barrier between tissue compartments. It is found within layers of the skin. It is also a component of the inner ear, eyes, and kidneys. (3)
What Are Collagen Peptides?
Collagen peptides, also called hydrolyzed collagen or collagen hydrolysate, are tiny pieces of collagen that are easily absorbed into the bloodstream. Their easy absorbability makes them the collagen of choice for most consumers and the one you'll see most often for sale online or on store shelves.
Does the Body Make Collagen?
Yes, the body naturally makes collagen, but it must rely on your diet to do so.
What Foods Boost Natural Collagen Production?
Your body needs amino acids, zinc, and vitamin C to make collagen.
Your body breaks down the protein foods you consume into amino acids. Then, it uses three of these amino acids -- glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline -- to make collagen.
So, one of the best ways to boost natural collagen production is to eat foods rich in these amino acids, including:
Fish and shellfish
The mineral zinc is essential for collagen synthesis, and it also helps protect existing collagen from damage. A deficiency of this mineral can reduce the amount of collagen the body can produce, so it's crucial to eat zinc-rich foods, including:
Getting enough vitamin C is crucial to health in general and particularly essential for collagen production. Your body does not produce vitamin C, so you must get this nutrient through your diet. Foods containing vitamin C include:
Citrus fruits, i.e., orange, grapefruit
Factors That Reduce Collagen Production
Here are a few factors that reduce collagen production.
Age. Age is the number one reason for decreased collagen production. Research suggests that we lose around 1% of collagen per year after 25. As collagen declines, fine lines, wrinkles, and saggy skin appear.
Smoking. This habit is dangerous for health, but it also damages collagen.
Poor Quality Diet. Regularly consuming refined carbs, sugars, and processed meats can lead to inflammation that hardens and breaks the collagen.
Sleep deprivation. In a research paper, the authors noted: "A variety of studies in the literature have shown that sleep plays a role in restoring immune system function and that changes in the immune response may affect collagen production. Several studies of prolonged sleep deprivation suggest a break in skin barrier function and mucous membranes." (4)
Sun exposure -- Too much exposure to ultraviolet light can break down collagen and damage the ability of skin cells to rebuild appropriately, eventually leading to wrinkles.
Chronic stress. Research studies suggest that chronic stress decreases collagen production and increases its degradation. Stress can also affect skin quality through the modulation of the immune system. (5)
What Are The Benefits of Collagen Supplements?
There are several potential benefits of collagen supplementation. Here are just a few of them.
Helps Replace Age-Relating Collagen Loss
Let's start with the obvious and arguably the most important benefit: supplemental collagen's ability to replace age-related collagen loss. After all, why take exogenous (supplemental) collagen if it doesn't help replace collagen loss?
Researchers wanted to know the same thing, so they decided to, as they wrote, "review the literature and assess available randomized-controlled trials using collagen supplementation for treatment efficacy regarding skin quality, anti-aging benefits, and potential application in medical dermatology." (6)
Their findings, published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, were that short- and long-term usage of collagen supplementation was effective, at least regarding skin aging and wound healing.
Collagen's positive effect on the skin is one of the reasons it's often added to anti-aging skin creams.
Maintains Skin Health and Elasticity
In the same study above, researchers also found that "Oral collagen supplements also increase skin elasticity, hydration, and dermal collagen density." (7)
Other studies have reached the same conclusion. For example, in one double-blind, placebo-controlled study on 69 women aged 35 to 55, researchers observed a significantly higher skin elasticity in the older women after eight weeks of daily oral collagen supplementation. (8)
Translation? There is strong scientific evidence that collagen supplements may help improve skin elasticity, reducing wrinkling.
May Improve Gut Health
Collagen supplementation is not usually associated with gut health, but scientific studies indicate that it may be effective in this area.
You see, the intestinal barrier is crucial for overall health and, if damaged, can allow dangerous substances to leak into the bloodstream, causing widespread inflammation. Dysfunction of the intestinal wall also plays a role in inflammatory bowel disease and other gastrointestinal issues. Research indicates that collagen may help improve intestinal barrier integrity. (9, 10)
The gut microbiota composition is crucial for gut health and overall health. Numerous research studies suggest a high intake of collagen peptides may alter the gut microbiota. Specifically, it may help increase short-chain fatty acid production, a top class of metabolites created from bacterial fermentation in the lower colon. (11)
So, if you want to obtain or maintain robust gut health, adding collagen peptides to your diet might be the way to go!
May Support Heart Health
Research suggests that taking daily collagen supplements may even support cardiovascular health and defend against heart disease. Why? It seems that collagen adds structure and suppleness to the arteries that carry blood from your heart to the rest of the body.
Arteriosclerosis or "hardening of the arteries" -- a condition in which the arteries narrow and decrease blood flow -- is a significant cause of heart attack. It can gradually occur after decades of unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as poor quality diet and lack of exercise. Reduced collagen production can also negatively affect arterial walls and lead to atherosclerosis. (12)
And studies suggest that collagen supplements may help reverse arteriosclerosis, at least in the early stages. In a 2017 Japanese study, researchers observed a significant reduction in arterial stiffness in adults who took just 16 grams of collagen tripeptide for six months. (13)
May Ease Joint Pain and Improve Mobility
Next to skin health, collagen is most known for its positive effect on joint function. This is not surprising considering the amount of connective tissue involved in joint structure. There are many ways that collagen may ease joint pain and improve mobility.
First, it helps support cartilage, that rubber-like cushioning between joints. (Decreased cartilage is a primary factor in developing degenerative joint diseases like osteoarthritis.)
Numerous research studies suggest that collagen can protect or rebuild collagen, thus preventing pain and discomfort potentially preventing the development of osteoarthritis. In one 24-week study on athletes given collagen hydrolysate, researchers noted statistically significant improvements in joint pain under the following conditions when compared with placebo: (14)
When carrying objects
When lifting objects
The results of this study are encouraging, especially for those at high risk of joint dysfunction and osteoarthritis.
And a 2019 meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials on those with osteoarthritis is similarly encouraging. In short, researchers found that oral collagen supplementation significantly reduced osteoarthritis symptoms in study participants. (15)
Are There Any Vegan Sources of Collagen?
Because collagen is always derived from animal sources, there are no vegan collagen options.
How Much Collagen Should You Take Per Day?
There are no official health guidelines regarding collagen intake. However, collagen is generally non-toxic and safe for human consumption.
What Are The Side Effects of Taking Collagen Supplements?
Collagen appears to be well-tolerated by most people. However, if you have trouble digesting animal proteins, you should probably steer clear of collagen.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body.
There are 28 types of collagen.
Collagen peptides, also called hydrolyzed collagen, are the most absorbable form and most commonly used in supplements.
Collagen supplements are always derived from animal sources. Therefore, there are no vegan forms of collagen.
Collagen is commonly used in anti-aging skin creams as there is strong scientific evidence that it can improve skin elasticity and hydration, reducing fine lines and wrinkles.
Other health benefits of collagen include supporting gut health, reducing the risk of heart disease, easing joint pain, and more.
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