When you hear the word collagen, what comes to mind?
Many people only associate collagen with lip fillers and injectables to plump up your pout, or with the latest anti-aging serums that promise to boost skin elasticity.
But collagen is so much more than these superficial perks—and it’s time we start giving it a little more credit.
Collagen’s benefits not only reduce wrinkles on your face and slow down the signs of aging (woo!), it also has a role to play in your weight loss, endurance, and even the way you sleep.
I know, I was just as surprised to learn about this secret nutritional dynamo myself, and that’s why I can’t wait to share the skinny on collagen with you today.
Here’s Why Collagen Should Be on Your Radar
According to Medical News Today, “Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and is the substance that holds the body together.”
So on top of being the “glue” that literally keeps our organs, tissues, muscles, etc. in the right place, it’s also found in our bones, ligaments, tendons, and joints. It supports all of these moving parts inside of us so things don’t fall apart.
And when collagen is mixed with elastin, another protein found in connective tissue, it acts as a strengthener to give tissues firmness.
That’s why collagen does so much to give our skin its youthful-looking elasticity and strength, and why it’s been a staple in beauty regimes for so long.
Unfortunately, here’s the problem: we don’t have an endless supply of this collagen support army; as we get older, our collagen levels decline for a few reasons:
1. We stop producing both collagen and elastin
Sure, this is just a natural step in the aging process of life, however, factors such as our lifestyle habits, diet, and exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays can affect how much we lose as we get older.
Highly processed foods, refined carbs, and sugar all contribute to depleting collagen levels.
So when you practice healthy eating, get enough sleep and exercise, and avoid too much sun exposure during peak hours, you’re actually helping your health, waistline, and collagen levels.
2. We damage collagen
Between the pollution floating around in our environment and logging too many hours of fun in the sun, we also damage the amount of collagen we currently have.
Unhealthy activities such as smoking and exposure to toxic chemicals have the power to destroy our collagen levels even further.
When you combine these harmful acts with decreasing levels that happen naturally, it’s a recipe for an unhealthy body both inside and out.
To combat this, we must limit our exposure to these harmful actions and include more antioxidant rich foods in our diet.
3. Autoimmune disorders can also wreak havoc
Certain illnesses such as autoimmune disorders can also damage collagen. Essentially, these conditions trigger antibodies that actually go after collagen.
So if you or someone you know is suffering from an autoimmune disorder, it may be a good idea to start supplementing with collagen. Of course, only you and your doctor will know if this makes sense for your treatment plan.
As you can see, some of the factors that contribute to collagen decline are well within your control. While we can’t completely restore our collagen levels, we can ensure that we’re not rapidly losing more than we should be.
To take your prevention a step further, you should also consider supplementing your diet with collagen.
7 Benefits of Adding Collagen to Your Healthy Diet
Now that you understand collagen’s importance, let’s learn about the seven health benefits you’re likely to see when you start adding more of it to your already healthy diet.
In a small, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, a group of women between the ages of 35–55 were randomly given an oral supplementation of 2.5 g, 5.0 g of collagen, or a placebo.
Over the course of 8 weeks, researchers measured changes in the women’s skin moisture, skin elasticity, and skin roughness.
By the time the study finished, researchers discovered:
- “A statistically significant improvement” in skin elasticity for the two groups of women who received the collagen supplementation as compared to the placebo group
- “A statistically significantly higher skin elasticity level was determined in elderly women”
- “A positive influence of [collagen] treatment could be observed” with reference to the skin moisture test
Another study had female participants between the ages of 33–45 treat wrinkles twice a day with an antioxidant and collagen building peptide serum in an effort to boost their collagen levels.
In this study, the results showed “statistically significant improvements over Baseline within minutes of initial application; these positive findings continued to improve through Months 1 and 3.”
From my own experience, many of my clients have seen a small difference in both wrinkles and the amount of cellulite and stretch marks they have from using collagen products.
No, it’s not the end-all cellulite/stretch mark cure, but it’s certainly a great place to start.
Collagen’s certainly no weight loss miracle pill, but it does have a small effect on your efforts to shed a few pounds.
Researchers discovered that when one tablespoon of a collagen hydrosolate product was taken daily, users reported “an average weight loss of 10 pounds within three months.”
This may be due to the fact that collagen actually boosts your metabolism.
A component in collagen called Glycine helps move sugar into your tissues, giving them and you an energy boost. Who wouldn’t like that?
While more research is needed on this one, some advocates believe that collagen can ease digestive upsets, especially for those with leaky gut syndrome.
When you have leaky gut syndrome, your intestines have small holes that allow toxins to get into your bloodstream. Collagen works to fill those holes as if they were wrinkles on your face to protect your digestive tract.
- Coats and soothes your irritated digestive tract
- Breaks down proteins into more usable forms
- Repairs damaged and builds new cell walls in your gut
- Keeps things moving in your digestive tract
Since collagen is naturally found in our bones and joints, it should come as no surprise that by adding more of it into your diet, you’ll see perks for your skeleton too.
In a 24-week randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study, 147 athletes were given either a liquid form of collagen hydrolysate or a placebo.
For those given the collagen, “statistically significant changes” were found in the athlete’s joints at rest, when walking, standing, and when carrying objects or lifting.
The researchers took the study a step further using a subgroup with achy knees, or knee arthralgia. They found that “the difference between the effect of collagen hydrolysate vs. placebo was more pronounced.”
This study highlights collagen as an effective treatment to not only support joint health, but also reduce the risk of deteriorating joints, according to the report.
The research presented on their site claims that, “Supplementation with 30–70 grams of collagen peptides per day showed a reduction of risk for injuries, tendons, and ligaments in athletes.”
So by supplementing with collagen, you’ll not only reduce your risk for injuries, but you’ll also support the health of your joints as we saw in my last point. Seems like a win-win for athletes everywhere to me.
Since proteins can help restore the balance of our hormones, adding collagen to your diet may garner the same results.
However, this is another area that requires more research. So far the connection seems promising.
The same ingredient (glycine) that gives us energy can also help us sleep better at night. Weird, right?
In this randomized single-blinded crossover trial, participants were given a flavored glycine or a placebo 30 minutes before bedtime.
Normally these individuals would log 7.3 hours of sleep. However, the study cut their average time in bed to just 5.5 hours for three consecutive evenings. This was to induce daytime fatigue and sleepiness.
While the results aren’t strong enough to draw a firm conclusion, the researchers found that taking glycine “at bedtime occasionally improves the impairments in subjective alertness and neurobehavioral functions induced by acute and modest sleep restriction.”
Adding collagen to your diet may give you an improvement in sleep quality and your daytime drowsiness levels, and for some, this helps to improve memory during the day too.
I wouldn’t rely on collagen and glycine as your go-to sleep aide, but you may find some relief by supplementing with it.
So now that we know why adding collagen to our diets is so awesome, how do we do it?
Where is Collagen Hiding?
You can find collagen in some of the foods you may already be eating.
For example, chicken and pork skin, as well as a cup or bowl of bone broth, will naturally give you a collagen boost.
Because most of us don’t consume these items regularly, I suggest taking the supplement route for now. This ensures that you have a consistent amount of collagen coming in each day.
Personally, I prefer collagen in the form of a collagen peptide since it dissolves easily in both hot and cold beverages. You can find this in powder form online or at any supplement store or natural food market.
You’ll also see hydrolyzed collagen and gelatin on the market, which are two additional forms that are also easily absorbed and readily available for your body.
I hope this article shed light on just how important collagen is for optimal health. When I first learned that you could add collagen to your diet—instead of just topically on your face—I was floored by the benefits.
Now you should see that its health benefits extend much further than giving you a more youthful appearance—although that’s still an added bonus I’m not complaining about!
Will you try adding collagen to your diet? I’d love to hear how it goes!