If you’re looking for the secret to youthful-looking skin and a healthy body, you’re not alone. Since there’s no fountain of youth, what changes can you make inside and out to look and feel younger? The typical answers like reduce stress, get enough sleep, eat a clean diet, and prioritize a daily skin-care routine are all correct. You can also increase your collagen intake through diet or supplements.
Collagen is naturally made in your body, but the amount of collagen your body produces lessens over time. Enter collagen supplements, which come in many forms–mainly powders, oral capsules, liquids, or external skin-care products. Each have their own strengths. Collagen can be a great aid in your search for looking and feeling healthy and youthful, inside and out.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the most plentiful protein produced in your body. Its fibrous structure is used to make connective tissue. Its fibrous structure helps keep your connective tissue strong and flexible. Collagen is found in your:
- Blood vessels
- Intestinal lining
- Other connective tissues
Your body combines amino acids–nutrients from protein-rich foods–to make collagen. There are many ways you can get more collagen through your diet. Collagen is found in animal and fish meat. Bone broth has been around for centuries, but this nutrient-dense liquid has only recently been in the spotlight. As far as its collagen connection, gelatin–a form of collagen that’s made by boiling animal bones, cartilage, and skin for several hours and then allowing the liquid to cool and set–like that in bone broth is believed to detoxify the liver, improve digestion, reverse wrinkles, build bones, and relieve joint discomfort.
You also need sufficient vitamin C, zinc, and copper for your body to complete the collagen production process. They can be found in many types of animal and plant foods. This list is not comprehensive, but these foods are high in each of the nutrients mentioned:
- Amino acids: High-protein foods like meat, eggs, dairy, legumes, and soy
- Zinc and copper: Shellfish, legumes, meats, nuts, seeds, and whole grains
- Vitamin C: Leafy greens, berries, citrus fruits, bell peppers, tomatoes
What Are the Benefits of Collagen?
Collagen has many diverse benefits. It is one of the main building blocks for your bones, skin, hair, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Signs of aging may be reduced with adequate collagen consumption.
- Skin: The #1 reason people look into collagen supplements. Collagen keeps your skin looking plump and healthy. According to a Healthline article about collagen that references PubMed, “A review of 19 studies that included 1,125 participants (95% women) between the ages of 20 and 70 found that taking hydrolyzed collagen improved skin hydration, elasticity, and wrinkles compared with placebo treatments.”
- Hair and Nails: Your hair and nails benefit from collagen by retaining their strength and hydration. Hair damage may lessen, and nails may become less brittle with an increased collagen intake.
- Joints: Trials have shown that collagen can improve joint mobility and maintain healthy cartilage levels to support joint comfort.
- Muscles: Physically active adults may have better training capacity and muscle recovery with increased protein intake.
What Causes You to Lose Collagen? Can You Have a Collagen Deficiency?
Your body produces more collagen than any other protein when you are young. Aging and a poor diet lacking proper nutrients are the biggest reasons your collagen level decreases. “As you age, however, your body may no longer absorb nutrients as well or synthesize them as efficiently. To make sure your body has enough ingredients to make collagen, you may need to change what you eat or take dietary supplements,” says Dr. Elizabeth Bradley, Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine.
Signs that your collagen level is decreasing include:
- Fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin
- Stiff joints and joint discomfort
- Muscle loss
- Gastrointestinal issues (due to thinning of your digestive tract lining)
Although you can’t technically be collagen-deficient, you can be deficient in protein and the nutrients that help keep your collagen levels up. Vitamins B, C, and D, and iron deficiency have been linked to hair damage and weaker hair overall.
Do You Need a Supplement If You Eat Collagen-Rich Foods?
Healthy, protein-rich foods and the vitamins and minerals needed to form collagen provide your body with some of the best building blocks for collagen production. Most of us need more protein than the average American diet provides. And busy schedules and increasing food costs can make it hard to ensure your collagen needs are met through diet alone.
You can opt for injections and applying collagen topically to your skin. However, Cleveland Clinic suggests that supplementing is the second best way to ensure your body keeps making enough collagen throughout your life.
Supplementing with a quality product is a good addition to a clean diet. There are many collagen options on the market. Stick with a supplement made to high quality and purity standards that includes the right kinds of collagen and amino acids and isn’t full of fillers. Look for a supplement that’s backed by science, shown to improve collagen density, and provides real benefits you can see—and feel.
Are Collagen and Collagen Peptides the Same Thing? What Else Do I Need to Know About Collagen Peptides?
Collagen peptides are shorter chains of the collagen protein. Quality supplements contain collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen, which are the same thing and refer to a broken-down form of collagen. This form is more bioavailable, meaning it is more easily digested by the body and absorbed by the skin to effectively provide collagen benefits.
Are There Any Side Effects from Using Collagen?
Trials have concluded that collagen supplements improve skin elasticity and joint mobility. Research has not shown any negative side effects from taking collagen supplements.
Questions about the link between collagen and skin health, constipation, and weight gain/loss have been asked online. Here’s a breakdown to answer them one at a time:
- Skin health: Since collagen is a protein that supports hair, skin, and nails, it has been found to help with your overall skin health. Also, many of the collagen-filled foods and foods that provide building blocks for collagen contain high amounts of vitamin A. Vitamin A has been found to be beneficial to skin health as well.
- Constipation: Because collagen is a protein, if you increase your collagen intake you should also increase your fiber intake, so you can avoid constipation.
- Weight gain/loss: Collagen assists with muscle building, but it will not lead you to such explosive growth that you gain weight. In fact, since muscle growth can help you lose fat, you may notice that you burn more calories or simply maintain your weight while intentionally adding collagen into your routine.
There are many benefits to increasing your collagen intake. We recommend you talk to your doctor before adding a new supplement or dramatically changing your diet.