The ultimate guide to collagen
Aside from water, collagen is the most plentiful substance in our bodies. It is known as a ‘structural protein’ that can be found in our skin, bones, tendons, ligaments, the intestinal wall, and more. In fact, 28 different types of collagen have been found throughout the body.
As we age, collagen production in our body steadily decreases, and that decline starts to happen in our early 20s. Exposure to the sun, a high-sugar diet and smoking can also affect the body’s ability to produce collagen. So, once we get into our 40s, that’s when we notice a difference in skin, hair and nails, and start to feel niggles in our joints and gut problems too.
How can supplementing with collagen help?
Collagen is made up of amino acids, including hydroxyproline, proline, glycine, and arginine. When you digest collagen, these amino acids become available for the body to produce more of its own collagen, and this can activate a variety of health and beauty benefits.
Our skin is nearly 80% collagen, and together with another protein, elastin, it provides the skin’s firmness and elasticity. Clinical trials have shown that patients who take collagen experience a decrease in wrinkles and an improvement in skin hydration.
This trial showed a 20% reduction in wrinkles around the eye area from only 8 weeks of collagen supplementation. The anti-wrinkle effects actually lasted for at least a month after the subjects stopped taking collagen.
Another trial in 2014 found that taking collagen daily over the course of 12 weeks led to a reduction in skin dryness and wrinkles. The researchers also observed a sizeable increase in collagen within the skin dermis.
Bone and joints
It’s well known that calcium is important for bone strength, but collagen is too. This 12-month clinical study done in 2017 found that taking collagen can significantly increase bone mineral density. Plus it adds the flexibility to our bones that enables them to absorb normal wear and tear without breaking.
Collagen also aids joint movement. It has a jelly-like texture and covers the bones, helping them to move easily. And the ligaments, which stabilise our joints, contain collagen. Taking a collagen supplement can help to maintain their strength.
It’s estimated that 80 to 90% of women have cellulite, irrespective of how fit they are or clean their diet is. Cellulite occurs when fat deposits under the skin push against weakened collagen fibres, creating a wavy or dimpled appearance. Taking collagen has been shown to improve cellulite.
In 2015 a 6-month clinical study of 105 women aged between 24 and 50 found an improvement in the amount of cellulite, along with improved dermal density.
Collagen has been found to improve muscle recovery and repair, which can be very beneficial alongside a regular workout routine. This means your muscles recover faster which is important in keeping muscles healthy as we age.
The British Journal of Nutrition published this study which showed collagen to be helpful for maintaining muscle mass in elderly men.
The amino acid glycine helps with better sleep. Glycine is one of the main inhibitory neurotransmitters (the other is gamma-aminobutyric acid), which means it calms the nervous system, helping us unwind and relax. A study in 2007 found that people who slept badly fell asleep faster, had less drowsiness during the day and improved memory when given glycine before bed.
And in this study, people said that they felt more energetic in the morning after taking glycine.
Collagen may also be good for your digestive system: this study found diminished collagen levels in people with inflammatory bowel disease. It might also repair and strengthen your intestines and stomach lining, making it easier for your body to absorb nutrients.
What to look for in a collagen supplement
Of the 28 different types of collagen there are two that stand out: Type 1 and Type 3. Together they make up over 90% of the collagen in the human body and are considered the most beneficial to take as a supplement. Usually, they are taken from bovine and marine sources, which contain both Type 1 and Type 3 collagen, however bovine collagen is more highly regarded for its muscle growth capabilities, while marine collagen is known for its beauty benefits.
For a collagen supplement to be readily absorbed by the body, it’s important that it uses hydrolysed collagen, (a form of collagen with a smaller molecular weight than regular collagen) and includes vitamin C.