By: Cat Ebeling, RN, MSN-PHN, co-author of the best-sellers: The Fat Burning Kitchen, The Top 101 Foods that Fight Aging & The Diabetes Fix
Back in the days of primal man, they would catch a wild animal to eat and they weren’t just eating boneless, skinless grilled muscle meat. Nope. Primal man basically ate the average land animal from nose to tail. Did you know that close to half the weight of a cow is the ‘non-meat’ stuff? Bones, tendons, skin, cartilage and other connective tissue. There are good reasons for eating all those parts. They are full of collagen. Our bodies actually function best eating not only the muscle meat of an animal but the collagen as well.
While the protein in meat is no doubt healthy, we need the amino acids in the collagenous materials as well. We actually require plentiful amounts of collagen to live longer, healthier, and look and move better.
As we age, we continually lose collagen, so it’s super important to replace the lost collagen. A big part of the aging process has to do with the breakdown of collagen. Sagging and thinning skin, stiff joints, shortened stature, stooped posture, easy bruising are all the visible signs of aging from collagen breakdown.
Collagen actually has far-reaching health benefits that include longevity and protecting your body from some of the more serious diseases of aging.
Collagen contains the amino acid, glycine, our bodies need adequate amounts of glycine and we cannot create enough on our own. An average person needs approximately 10 grams of glycine to cover all of our physical needs. Unfortunately, our bodies only make about 3 grams per day, most of us only get about 1.5-3 grams from diet—if that. That means we cannot make enough on our own and need supplemental glycine to function optimally.
Collagen is about 1/3 glycine, so a 12 gram serving of collagen—about a heaping scoop of collagen peptides—will give you plenty of glycine to cover the deficit.
Here’s another thing: meat contains a substance called methionine. Studies show that that the more methionine eaten, the shorter the lifespan—unless it’s balanced with glycine. Glycine has been shown in studies with mice to extend lifespan.
There are also some human studies that would suggest this, too:
• People with low glycine levels and high meat intakes have been shown as more likely to have diabetes. However, people with higher glycine levels and high meat intakes had no health issues.
• Meanwhile, high levels of glycine predict better blood sugar control.
• Patients with chronic kidney disease often have low glycine levels.
So, it appears that higher levels of glycine are linked to better health and lower levels of glycine linked to poorer health across a broad range of conditions.
Meat is a very healthy part of a diet, and has been a vital part of the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years, but most of us more modern folks tend to eat just muscle meat—boneless, skinless chicken breasts, lean steak and pork chops—instead of fat, bones, skin, and tendons, etc., and that is just plain not healthy. Increasing your collagen, then, could balance out the meat intake by providing ample glycine.
Sleep—One of the best, non-drug sleep remedies is a warm drink with collagen before bed. You can also use bone broth which has collagen in it. Why does this work so well?
This goes back to the glycine in the collagen. Glycine enhances our body’s production of serotonin, a brain chemical. Research shows collagen with glycine elevates serotonin, reduces symptoms of insomnia, and improves sleep quality. Other studies suggest it may help you bounce back to a healthier sleep cycle after a period of disrupted sleep or changing time zones.
This is because at night, serotonin is turned into melatonin, our sleep hormone. Glycine also helps to lower the body’s core temperature, which helps someone get to sleep quicker and actually sleep more soundly, with more quality REM sleep. It also helps people perform better the next day as well.
3. Younger, Stronger Skin
Skin contains a lot of collagen. Collagen actually forms the structure of our skin and holds it up and makes it look smooth. Think of the poles that hold up a tent. That’s what collagen does for your skin. It’s when that structure begins to break down that we get wrinkles and deep creases in our skin. The good news is that collagen provides the fundamental substances that help our bodies make more collagen. And the benefits of collagen are well-documented in these two studies:
• This 2014 study, for example, showed that 2.5 grams of collagen a day resulted in a 20% reduction in facial wrinkles from just 8 weeks of collagen supplementation, with the smoothing effects extending even a month or so after supplementation was discontinued.
• Another study found that 1 gram of chicken cartilage daily collagen over 12 weeks led to a 76% reduction in skin dryness and a 13% reduction in wrinkles. Researchers were actually able to see a substantial increase in collagen within the skin dermis that came from the supplementation.
• More good news, 6 months of collagen supplementation even reduces the appearance of cellulite.
However, in order for our bodies to effectively make and use collagen, it’s important to get enough vitamin C in your diet. Vitamin C is considered a cofactor for collagen synthesis and to regenerate collagen in the skin. Collagen also needs the help of vitamins A and E and zinc.
Sure, having smooth skin is great for getting compliments from your friends but it’s not just a superficial benefit. The age of your face is actually considered to be one of the better predictors of your overall health, so the quality of your skin reflects the health of your insides as well.
4. Immune Function
Lately, everyone wants to know how to boost their immune function, and that’s a good thing. Collagen not only helps to reduce inflammation—especially in the gut—which is intricately connected to the immune system, but it also contains amino acids very important to optimal immune function. Glycine, glutamic acid or glutamine, and arginine have been shown to help regulate the inflammatory process and support the immune function.
Glycine as we know is a big part of collagen and has long been considered an amino acid that has strong anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, it also helps to modulate the immune system, meaning that it helps the immune function work effectively without overreacting.
Glycine also helps boost the functionality of macrophages (our cells’ scavengers) , which in turn, go after damaging free radicals and inflammatory cytokines.
In addition, some research suggests that collagen protein may play a role in fighting infection. In a recent study, it was found that collagen has a positive effect on the immune system by activating Natural Killer cells and macrophages in the lymphatic system.
Another amino acid in collagen is L-glutamine. L-glutamine is one of the most abundant free amino acids in humans and has been shown to help regulate the immune system function. Immune cells largely depend on glutamine’s availability to defend our body against pathogens. L-glutamine also supports the immune system by activating lymphocytes and macrophages, and regulating the availability of glutathione—one of our key protective antioxidants.
Glutamine has been shown to help reduce the risk of respiratory tract infections in athletes, (and other folks as well) according to this article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
And then there’s arginine. Arginine is also a necessary amino acid. It serves as a precursor to nitric oxide (NO), a compound that plays an important role in many functions in the body, including immune system activation.
Arginine supports both the innate and adaptive immune systems, and the improves the T-cells’ ability to resist infection. Like glutamine, arginine supplementation may be necessary to maintain adequate levels in the body to support optimal immune function.
5. Gut Health
Our gut health has much to do with almost every other aspect of our health, including brain function, immune function and of course, helping digest and assimilate our food. When the gut is inflamed, due to a poor diet of processed foods, gluten, grains and other inflammatory foods, small holes in the very thin lining of the small intestine can leak undigested food proteins into the bloodstream. This can exacerbate inflammation as well as cause food allergies/sensitivities. This happens frequently in people with celiac disease, IBS and Crohn’s.
These disorders can often become debilitating. These painful conditions cause irritation and inflammation in the gut, leading to painful symptoms and nutrient malabsorption, along with severe nutrient deficiencies. Collagen helps restore and heal the gastrointestinal lining, while glutamine, an amino acid in collagen, reduces inflammation.
6. Brain Health
Collagen has actually been found to have protective benefits for the neurons in the brain. A specific type of collagen, type VI, forms a barrier to help protect the brain against amyloid-beta proteins that are believed to be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
Recent studies have also identified collagen’s amazing ability to help repair and regenerate the Central Nervous System (CNS), making it the perfect material for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injuries, and dementia.
7. Athletic Performance
Collagen plays a fundamental role in the musculoskeletal system including cartilage, joints, tendons, ligaments and bones. To ensure maximum mobility, it is vital that high collagen levels are maintained throughout the musculoskeletal system.
A recent clinical study performed in the UK demonstrated that the subjects who were supplemented with collagen experienced 20% less muscle soreness after intense exercise, compared with those who received a placebo dose. The subjects also reported an increase in sports performance, along with accelerated recovery from training. Because collagen is a protein containing high levels of certain amino acids it offers performance and recovery benefits that go far beyond plain protein supplementation. Collagen not only supplements muscle regeneration, it helps to build and maintain strong tendons, ligaments and other connective tissue.
Studies backing the multiple benefits of collagen peptides in supporting connective tissues include:
• Regenerating cartilage and reducing joint inflammation
• Reducing joint discomfort
• Supporting connective tissues
• Preventing injuries, especially repetitive use injuries
There is good evidence that collagen supplementation speeds up healing time for all types of injuries, whether to the brain, the body tissues, the skin or muscle and connective tissue. It is a safe bet that taking extra collagen can also speed up the healing time from any wound or trauma that requires the laying down of new collagen.
What type of collagen should I take?
Collagen is contained in the skin, tendons and cartilage of meat and poultry–or if you are ambitious you can make your own collagen broth from boiling chicken feet or cooking bone marrow.
If you’re like me, it’s easier to just add collagen powder to your morning coffee, smoothies or nighttime tea. Collagen comes flavored or plain, and generally has no taste.
There are 3 different forms of collagen: hydrolyzed collagen, collagen peptides, and collagen hydrolysate. These types make it easier for the body to break down and utilize. Is there a difference? Not really. All are broken down to make it easier to absorb and put it use.
There are actually 16 different types of collagen, but that being said, types I, II, and II make up about 90% of the collagen in the body. Collagen is made of amino acids. When you ingest any type of collagen, it’s broken down in your body to amino acids so your body can use it. Do you need specific kinds of collagen to work properly for the appropriate body functions? No, not really. The body breaks down the collagen into amino acids and the collagen is used wherever it is needed.
Want to start looking AND feeling younger? Start adding some quality collagen into your daily regimen.
Thanks good stuff from a health care professional
Any particular brand of collagen you recommend?
Wish I had known more about Collagen before, had to have two knees repaired and replaced.
So, what type and where should I buy collagen? Terry Freund