In recent years we’ve seen collagen become a bit of a buzzword in the health and beauty industry. Touted by health gurus, magazines, beauty and supplement companies alike, the benefits of collagen are said to be plentiful and there’s a lot of research to back it up. Though not all research is conclusive, science has been consistently producing evidence that collagen is highly beneficial to our gut, skin, joints and overall health.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant compound of protein found in our bodies and acts as a sort of ‘scaffold’ for our cells. The English word collagen is derived from the Greek word of kólla, which means glue. This is because it acts as the glue that holds everything together. It’s found in our joints, ligaments and muscles and makes up the bulk of structure in our skin and internal tissues.
Adequate consumption and production of collagen are recognised by scientists and nutritionists as key ingredients in healthy skin, joints and gut. It’s responsible for many bodily functions such as skin elasticity, enabling your blood to clot and maintaining bone strength.
Asian cultures have been recorded to consume collagen in their diet for at least 300 years – and perhaps longer! It has often been cited as the secret to youthful skin and a long life. Today, in countries such as Japan, snacks and drinks boasting high quantities of collagen are widely available.
Countless studies have been conducted by health, science, cosmetic and sporting agencies to formalise the benefits of collagen. Over the years, many reports have been released detailing the perceived benefits that consuming collagen supplements can provide. Some of the consistently cited side effects include:
Improved recovery of joints
Collagen is the primary compound found in the cartilage that comprises your joints. Healthy production of it helps to maintain joint integrity during exercise and can, therefore, help recovery time. Collagen supplements have also been known to reduce joint aches and pains (1).
Boost in muscle mass
Muscle mass is made up of between 1-10% collagen (2). Considering collagen production decreases with time, consuming more of it can aid the age-related loss of muscle mass. Evidence suggests that supplemented collagen can also stimulate the production of muscle-growing proteins like creatine (3).
Improved appearance of skin
Dr Patel of the Australasian College of Dermatologists explains that collagen fibres are packed tightly into the skin, causing light to bounce off quickly creating a youthful ‘glow’ (4). Furthermore, collagen is responsible for the production of elastin in your skin, which is the compound that keeps it firm and hydrated.
Strengthened hair and nails
Like calcium and protein, collagen is a key ingredient in enabling your body to grow healthy and strong. This includes the fibres in and on your body that are comprised of proteins, such as your hair and nails. Collagen prevents brittle nails and can increase the lustre and shine of your hair (5) by strengthening the bonds in those compounds.
Prevents bone loss
Collagen makes up the bulk of the organic matter inside your bones, meaning that, as it deteriorates, so do your bones. Loss of bone mass and density can lead to the risk of fracture and disease such as osteoporosis. Health professionals often recommend combined calcium and collagen supplements to slow the process of bone breakdown.
Consuming collagen in your diet
Our body’s production of collagen slows down as we grow. By age 25, levels of collagen have peaked and begin to slow due to ‘oxidation’, which occurs due to factors like excessive sun exposure, consuming refined sugar and carbs, smoking and drinking alcohol.
It’s important to get plenty of naturally occurring amino acids into your diet to aid your body’s synthesis of collagen. These nutrients do not necessarily add to collagen stores in the body, but rather stimulate its ability to produce it.
Collagen is synthesised by a collection of nutrients including vitamin C, glycine and proline. It is important to consume these vitamins in your diet to maintain continuous production of collagen, as well as the many other health benefits that a balanced diet brings!
- Fruits and vegetables - Look for fruits and veggies rich in vitamin C, which allows for the synthesis of hyaluronic acid and collagen. Strawberries, kiwi and citrus fruits provide delicious ways to include more vitamin C in your diet. ‘Super’ veggies to put on your dinner plate include cabbage, mushroom and asparagus.
- Dairy & eggs - Not only are eggs high in protein, but they also contain proline: a critical nutrient in the maintenance of collagen production. Dairy products such as milk and yoghurt are also great for bones, which in turn boost your collagen levels.
- Animal skin & gelatin - Chicken skin, pork skin, gelatin and bone broth contain high concentrates of collagen as, like us, it is found in the connective tissues of animals.
- Protein Snacks - You can easily add snacks that have been fortified with collagen to get an added boost in your diet. Try True Hot Chocolate or Protein Mousse for a delicious treat that tastes good and is good for you.
There is scepticism over whether eating foods rich in collagen is the most effective way to boost collagen, as your body must break down and rearrange the compounds. Taking a hydrolysed (broken down) supplement makes the compound more easily absorbed by your body and is thus a more effective way to take collagen. True Protein has launched its own pure, all-natural Hydrolysed Collagen to do just that, perfect to take alongside your daily post-workout whey protein.
Supplements are a great way to add more of a certain compound into your diet. They are particularly useful when you’re travelling, on a restrictive diet or are too busy and/or stressed to eat well all of the time. If you struggle to consume enough nutrients and protein from your food alone, supplements can be an easy solution to round out your diet.
Taking branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) can aid in the synthesis of collagen in the body to assist in muscle recovery. True Protein’s BCAA 4:1:1 formula uses Japanese-sourced, non-animal derived BCAAs to deliver a pure, natural and effective way to ensure you are getting enough amino acids.
Consuming enough high-quality protein is crucial to ensure your body is getting enough substance to create the new compounds collagen is made up of. Adding a protein powder such as True’s WPI90 and a scoop of True Collagen to your smoothies or in your baking is an easy way to boost and maintain the healthy production of collagen.
As always, it is important to eat a balanced diet to ensure you are absorbing the wide range of vitamins and nutrients required to keep healthy and fit. This should first be done through whole foods and then supplemented where a boost is needed.
Pairing a healthy diet with regular exercise and the avoidance of excess sun exposure, smoking and binge drinking will give your body the best chance to maintain and support a healthy supply of collagen.
There is still research being conducted on the power of collagen as a miracle health and beauty elixir, but in the meantime, there is plenty of intriguing evidence to support its status as a compound that is crucial to our overall health. Its merits are more than just beauty related – a healthy outside can often reflect a healthy inside.
Fujita, T., Ohue, M., Fujii, Y. et al. 2002, The effect of active absorbable algal calcium (AAA Ca) with collagen and other matrix components on back and joint pain, J Bone Miner Metab vol. 20, p. 298