Employee Wellness: Should I Take Collagen?
Collagen is known for enhancing skin, nail, and hair quality as well as supporting our digestive systems. However, there is some controversy as to whether supplementation is beneficial for increasing our body stores of collagen and giving us these beautifying and gut-health-boosting benefits. First, let’s start with what collagen is.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is a fibrous protein found naturally in the body and is a component of skin, hair, cartilage, bone, muscle, blood vessels and teeth. Specifically, it is responsible for skin elasticity (or keeping your skin looking youthful with fewer wrinkles), keeping your tendons and joints healthy and building up the cartilage that is the shock absorber between joints. Additionally, it helps seal the gut lining of our digestive tract, which can be important for those with inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis. There are 3 main types of collagen found in the body: Type I, Type II, and Type III. Type I collagen is predominantly found in our connective tissue like tendons, organs and bones. Type II is the main player of cartilage and supports our skeletal system. Type III is found in our bone marrow.
Sources of Collagen
You might be surprised to learn that our bodies naturally make collagen. Given the proper components glycine, proline, copper, zinc, and vitamin C. Glycine and proline are non-essential amino acids, which are the building block of proteins. Non-essential means our body makes these on their own, but we can also eat them through various sources.
Proline is in dietary sources like egg whites, dairy, cabbage, mushrooms, and asparagus.
Glycine comes from pork skin, fish, gelatin, chicken skin, peanuts, canned salmon, seeds, and some granolas. Glycine is particularly important for its ability to help decrease inflammation and build new tissue in the digestive tract. It is thought to regulate inflammation in the body and improve sleep quality and memory. Naturally in the body, glycine competes for absorption. According to Nourish, glycine from a collagen supplement may help your body absorb glycine more efficiently, as it doesn’t have to compete for absorption.
Copper is an essential mineral (meaning we cannot make it, we need to obtain it through dietary sources). Some sources of copper include organ meats (think: liver), cocoa powder, cashews, sesame seeds and lentils.
Zinc is a trace mineral, meaning the body needs only a small amount of it. Some sources of zinc in the diet are beef, lamb, chickpeas, lentils, milk, cheese, nuts and seeds.
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid and is in a variety of foods like citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, and many more.
If we are eating a wide variety of these foods listed, our body likely has the “tools'' to replenish its collagen reserves. However, as we age our bodies begin to break down collagen and we synthesize it less efficiently. This begins as young as 20 years old and by 40 years old we are likely losing 1% of our collagen per year. Our body’s ability to produce adequate collagen is challenged when we are excessively exposed to the sun or environmental pollutants, engage in smoking and drinking alcohol or are chronically stressed. A decrease in collagen leaves us vulnerable to an increased risk for osteoporosis or fractures. Collagen makes up 70-80% of the dry weight of our skin. With adequate amounts of it, the skin is able to form new fibroblasts (or special cell clusters) on the dermis (the middle layer of the skin), which replaces dead skin with supple glowing skin. Without adequate amounts (a decreasing availability of collagen as we age or are exposed to smoking, sun, alcohol, and stress), we are more prone to dry skin and wrinkles. In addition, collagen helps shape arteries and blood vessels, therefore without adequate amounts these will become weaker and increase one's risk for atherosclerosis, which can in turn increase our risk for a heart attack and stroke. This is where a collagen supplement could potentially come in handy.
Collagen supplements are sold as powders, which you can add to your coffee, tea, smoothies or baked goods. They can also be found as chewable gummy supplements or pills.
The sourcing of these supplements should be an important consideration in selecting one. Bovine collagen is sourced from the bones and skin of cows and pigs. Marine collagen is sourced from the scales and bones of fish, but can also refer to any aquatic creature including jellyfish, shark, shellfish, etc.
It is important to choose a supplement that sources its collagen from grass fed, free-range animals that are raised without antibiotics because there could be potential health safety risks. For example, ground-up fish, poultry and cow parts might be a sponge for contaminants like heavy metals such as mercury and lead. Additionally, there is a concern for potential exposure to Mad Cow Disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) from the ground hooves, hides, bones and nerve tissues being the storage for this disease.
After ensuring the quality of your supplement, you’ll want to consider what benefit you’re looking to receive from supplementation Type I collagen is the most abundant source of collagen in the body and might help to improve hair, skin and nail quality, as well as increase bone density, particularly important for those with osteoarthritis. Type II Collagen is mainly found in the cartilage and could be beneficial for the skeletal system, particularly for athletes or active individuals who rely on their joints ability to bounce back. Type III Collagen is generally found in our reticular fibers like our bone marrow. When looking at a supplement, the type of Collagen within it should be labeled on the front. For example, “3 g of Type II collagen” will be labeled.
The world of Collagen is new and exciting, but more research needs to be done to decide whether or not we should be consuming Collagen supplements. Unfortunately, most sources we have conducting the research are short-duration and being conducted from Collagen producers, making it difficult to disentangle any benefits with industry funding. If you’re thinking of taking a collagen supplement, consider one that tests for any heavy metals or contaminants. However, if you want to naturally boost your body's collagen production, it could be beneficial to increase your dietary sources of Vitamin C, Zinc, Copper, Proline and Glycine from high quality sources.
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Written by: Charity Garland, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern