Optimizing your health usually starts with optimizing your diet by meeting all your nutritional needs. An important nutrient that is often overlooked is collagen, as it can be difficult to consume an adequate amount through food alone.
In this article, we will take a look at what collagen really is, why it is so important, and how you can get more of it, in order to experience the multitude of benefits it can provide.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the human body, and it makes up the primary building blocks of the skin, hair, nails, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. It serves an important role in maintaining both the strength and flexibility that our bodies are capable of.
The human body produces its own collagen, but as we age, the production rate drops, and collagen stores within the body may be depleted, leading to deficiencies. To offset this, many choose to take a daily collagen supplement for all of the reported benefits which they claim to provide.
Let’s take a look at the touted benefits and the research behind them.
Benefits of collagen
Most of the research so far regarding the benefits of collagen supplementation has been related to improvements in skin and joint health.
Collagen has found its place in the cosmetics industry primarily thanks to its beneficial effects on skin health. Studies have shown that collagen may significantly reduce the appearance of wrinkles, by contributing to greater skin hydration and elasticity.
Additionally, collagen may be of use not only for athletes who need their joints in tip-top shape but for the elderly as well. Collagen supplementing may have an important role in reducing joint pain, for example in patients with osteoarthritis.
Oral supplementation of collagen has also been found to improve nail growth, on top of contributing to the strength of the nails, and reducing symptoms of brittle nails.
Last but not least, collagen may have a crucial role in promoting healthy digestion thanks to its unique combination of amino acids which contribute to maintaining the integrity and function of the gut. For this reason, it is often recommended in managing common digestive disorders such as IBS, or constipation.
Natural sources of collagen
Besides the collagen which our bodies produce on their own, collagen may be supplemented naturally through various animal-based food sources.
A few collagen-rich foods include:
- Chicken with the skin
- Fish with the skin
- Bone broth, made from the bones and connective tissues which release collagen
However, there are other ways to support collagen absorption and production. One such way is eating a healthy diet that includes foods that are rich in vitamins, like vitamin C. Studies have found that low levels of vitamin C may impair the ability of the body to produce collagen.
With that in mind, here are some essential foods that are rich in vitamin C:
- Citrus fruit such as grapefruit, oranges, lemons
- Tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple, and kiwi
- Berries such as blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries
Foods like berries and leafy greens, in particular, are also high in healthy antioxidants, which among other benefits, may help to protect the skin from damage.
It is certainly not easy to maintain a diet that covers all of the essential micro and macronutrients perfectly, which is why many opt for some external help in the form of supplements. Collagen supplements in particular come in a variety of forms, each with its own set of benefits.
The three main forms in which collagen supplements may be found are collagen pills, liquid collagen, and collagen powder. Let’s take a brief look at all of them.
Collagen pills come in the form of capsules, multiple of which may need to be taken during the day in order to reach a good dose of collagen. Collagen capsules may be convenient for those who do not wish to do too much work in preparing their supplement.
Liquid collagen often comes in the form of pre-made drinks and is equally convenient to take, but it may contain sweeteners and other additives which are not the healthiest, which is why it is always wise to check the full list of ingredients.
Collagen powder is a powdered substance that may be more precisely measured to supplement the exact amount of collagen that you need. It also rarely contains any taste or smell on its own so it may easily be combined with drinks or food.
The main take-aways
Collagen is an important protein for the health and beauty of skin, hair, and nails, but also for strong and flexible muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Some of the best ways to get collagen from natural food sources include consuming a wide range of meats with the skin, as well as bones in the form of bone broth. It is also important to make sure your body is producing enough collagen on its own, by consuming enough protein but also vitamin C, from fruits and vegetables.
Supplements can also be used to great effect, and they come in a variety of different forms, some of which may suit your needs better than others.