Colla, the Greek word for collagen, literally means “glue”, and collagen is living up to its name—as the glue that holds your body together.
What Is Collagen?
Recognized as the most abundant protein in mammals (about 30% of total protein mass), collagen supports many biological functions.
Coming from a family of 28 other collagen members, it’s one of the major building blocks of bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments and is found in body parts like blood vessels, corneas, and teeth (1).
If you’re unfamiliar with collagen, you’ve probably seen it out and about without even realizing it. You can find it at the grocery store as gelatin or the casing for sausages. Or at the hospital used as a filler in plastic surgery and dressing for severe burns.
Benefits of Collagen
We’ve seen collagen in protein powder, skincare products, hair masks, and more, but what is it that makes this protein so beneficial to our bodies?
Collagen peptides—a small hidden residue in the collagen molecules—comes into play after the decomposing and bioabsorption of the parent molecule (2).
Collagen intake is important because collagen production (and quality) decreases as you age, so it’s up to you to keep your levels up.
When you’re sufficient in collagen, you reap the benefits of the following:
- Muscle mass: Fat-free mass, body mass, and muscle strength were measured among 25 young men over the course of 12 weeks. One group was given 15 grams of collagen peptides while the other group was given a non-caloric placebo with one hour of resistance exercise training (RET). The results conclude that the use of collagen peptides within 60 minutes of RET showed an increase in body mass, fat-free mass, and muscle strength (3).
- Osteoarthritis (OA): OA is one of the most prevalent diseases in the world—with 250 million people being affected globally, and 35 million being affected in the US alone. OA is a degenerative joint disease with no therapies for improvement. However, once collagen comes into the picture, the pain reduces in OA and there seems to be a positive influence on chondrocyte (the cells found in healthy cartilage) functioning (4) (5).
- Leaky gut treatment: The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the largest organ in your immune system. In one study, gelatin (cooked collagen) tannate was used to reduce inflammation in the gut. Thus, calming your GI tract (6).
In addition to these benefits, there are two others that give collagen its popularity…
Collagen for Hair
Micro-needling is a method to increase collagen production, which may stimulate hair growth. Although there’s not sufficient evidence, micro-needling showed promising results when used on men and women who have androgenetic alopecia (AGA)—a hereditary trait resulting in hair miniaturization (7).
Collagen for Skin
With your skin being the largest organ of your body, it’s critical to tend to its every need.
The rate at which your skin ages can stem from a variety of factors: intrinsic aging, exposure to radiation, consumption of a non-balanced diet, and stress-related deficiencies in micronutrients.
Luckily, when collagen comes into play, it maintains the skin structure and enables its numerous functions to take place.
In a randomized, placebo-controlled, blind study, 72 healthy women ages 35 to 73 were given 2.5 grams of collagen peptides, acerola fruit extract, vitamin C, zinc, biotin, and a native vitamin E complex (i.e. a nutraceutical drink called ELASTEN). The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of ELASTEN on skin aging and skin health.
These women either received a food supplement or a placebo for 12 weeks. The results? Skin hydration, elasticity, and density increased, while skin roughness decreased (8).
Collagen-rich Food Sources
When it comes to collagen, there’s liquid collagen, collagen pills, and collagen powder. But, you can also find collagen in natural sources like food (9).
- Egg whites
- Connective tissues of animal foods
- Bone broth
- Marine Gelatin (10)
- Grass-fed Meat Gelatin (11)
Yes, vegan collagen is a thing, and there’s lots of it…
- Citrus fruits
- Red and yellow vegetables
- White tea
- Leafy greens
- Bell peppers
- Herbs high in collagen: Chinese knotweed, horsetail, gynostemma
- Herbs that help produce collagen: Gotu kola, Bala, ashwagandha
Note: There are debates on whether the collagen you consume is actually converted into a protein. This is because when you eat protein, it’s broken down into amino acids and then reassembled. So the collagen you eat may not directly translate into higher levels in your body.
How to Increase Your Collagen Production
In addition to collagen-rich foods, there are specific nutrients that help promote collagen production.
Here’s how it works: All collagen starts off as procollagen, which is created by combining two amino acids—glycine and proline. This procollagen production uses vitamin C.
So when you’re sufficient in nutrients like vitamin C, glycine, proline, and copper your body may be able to better synthesize collagen.
Here’s a list of foods rich in each nutrient:
- Vitamin C: citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers (12)
- Glycine: gelatins, beef, chicken breast (13)
- Proline: gelatins, cottage cheese, soy protein (14)
- Copper: beef, clams, coffee (15)
Final Thoughts on Collagen as a Building Block
The benefits of collagen are so abundant that you could say collagen fights against time (16). With it being the building block of protein, there’s collagen for skin, collagen for hair, and collagen for joint health and overall wellness.
- The Collagen Family
- Cryptic Peptides from Collagen: A Critical Review
- Effects of 12 Weeks of Hypertrophy Resistance Exercise Training Combined with Collagen Peptide Supplementation on the Skeletal Muscle Proteome in Recreationally Active Men
- Chondrocyte | anatomy
- Daily oral consumption of hydrolyzed type 1 collagen is chondroprotective and anti-inflammatory in murine posttraumatic osteoarthritis
- Gelatin tannate reduces the proinflammatory effects of lipopolysaccharide in human intestinal epithelial cells
- Micro needling: A novel therapeutic approach for androgenetic alopecia, A Review of Literature
- A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study
- Collagen Diet: Collagen-Rich Foods for Healthy Joints, Skin & Hair
- Fish gelatin
- Extraction of collagen and gelatine from meat industry by-products for food and non food uses
- Foods highest in Vitamin C in Fruits and Fruit Juices
- Foods highest in Glycine
- Foods highest in Proline
- Foods highest in Copper
- Collagen: A review on its sources and potential cosmetic applications