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Collagen: health benefits and how you can get it

The VITL Nutrition Team / Jul 18, 2017

Collagen has received growing amounts of interest recently. More than just injections you could get from a visit to your skin specialist, you can now find collagen appearing in pill, powdered and liquid forms in your local health food store. What is so special about collagen?

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What is collagen?

Collagen is a family of proteins that make up 1/3 of the protein content in the human body. There are at least 16 different types of collagen that help to make up the structure of skin, tissue, muscle, and even bone. Collagen helps to keep your skin supple and elastic (and therefore smooth), your joints working smoothly, and provides structure to the tissues that our connect organs.

Sadly, the body’s ability to produce its own collagen gradually declines with age (particularly past the age of 30) at a rate of about 1.5% every year, and women produce less collagen than men (sorry, gals). The net result of collagen loss is that the skin loses its firmness and starts to develop wrinkles, begins to sag, and joints can get a bit creaky. This has led to the recent popularity of collagen supplements on the market, acting as an age elixir and to help repair damaged tissues.

Is collagen good for me? 

Collagen production decreases with age, which means we can need more input from diet to help us cope with this internal shortfall.

When our tissues are damaged by illness or an external cause, intake of collagen can help us to repair these delicate cells to ensure that they can keep us in peak condition. Collagen supplementation has been found to prevent the breakdown of cartilage in the joint (i.e. knee or hip)1, improve joint function and help those struggling with pain from rheumatoid arthritis3.

To help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, collagen supplements have been found to improve skin elasticity4. Improved elasticity of the skin means that your skin is more supple and is less likely to develop wrinkles or fine less or they are less pronounced. Research has also found that collagen supplementation helps to protect skin against skin dehydration, cellular growth and ageing as a result of UV-B radiation (i.e. from the sun)5.

Collagen is high in the amino acid glycine which has found to protect the intestine from toxic injury, and collagen has been promoted to help with intestinal health and with issues such as leaky gut6. Research has shown that collagen can reduce intestinal permeability7, a key issue in leaky gut.

Could collagen be bad for me?

Too much of anything isn’t advised when it comes to your health. Collagen supplements are generally well tolerated but it’s important to look at the ingredients and test for hypersensitivity, particularly if you have a shellfish or egg allergy.

Other side effects to be aware of include abnormally high calcium levels (particularly if you’re using collagen from marine sources which have high levels of calcium), a feeling of heaviness in your stomach if you're drinking liquid or powdered collagen, and the taste of collagen supplements can linger, so you might want to mix them with a bit of juice or have some afterwards to get rid of the taste.

Where can I get collagen from? Is there a vegan source?

Collagen from animal sources is widely available. You can get collagen in either pill, liquid or powdered form. Typical sources include either from livestock (i.e. beef) or marine (i.e. shellfish) or sometimes eggs. Marine collagen has shown promise as more effectively absorbed than other sources of collagen and it is generally recommended to go for collagen hydrolysate. This collagen is broken down into smaller molecular units that are considered easier for the body to absorb and utilise. 

There aren’t currently any vegan sources of collagen. To boost your collagen levels, you can take the building blocks of collagen instead: amino acids proline, lysine and glycine and vitamin C which helps to produce collagen. It’s also key to make sure you’re getting in your other antioxidants (like vitamin E) which help protect collagen from being damaged by free radicals, known to contribute to ageing and tissue damage. It’s also worthwhile to consider supplementing with hyaluronic acid, which binds collagen and another structural protein, elastin together to form collagen bundles. Hyaluronic acid also helps to repair damaged collagen fibres.  

How much collagen should I have?

How much you need to take is tricky to estimate as research doesn’t define a particular dose that has shown to be effective. Studies suggest somewhere between 1-5g per day if you’re looking in to supplement with collagen for joint and intestinal health. VITL recommends consulting a nutritional expert who will have experience of using collagen to help with specific health issues if that is something you need, otherwise, it is not essential to supplement with collagen for general health and wellbeing. 


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