Lately, collagen-rich products have been all the rage in both the beauty and health food markets. From lipsticks to consumable powders, consumers can’t get enough of this nutrient-rich ingredient. But, what exactly is collagen? Collagen is responsible for our elastic skin, shiny hair, and strong muscles (among a long list of other benefits). Even though collagen is found naturally within our own body, the idea of consuming over the counter collagen has become a popular practice. In the same regard that we follow a fitness routine (try workouts on the Aaptiv fitness app) and eat our fruits and vegetables, should ingesting collagen be added to our lifestyle list? Read on as we talk to medical and health professionals on whether we should pay more attention to ingesting collagen or protecting our existing collagen levels.
Where is collagen found in the body?
Collagen is a protein (made from amino acids) that exists all over our body—from the skin, ligaments, muscle fibers, and even major organs. Our bodies are full of collagen, in fact 30 percent of our body’s protein is made up of it. For being such an abundant source of nutrients for our body, it’s surprising that our collagen production is something to worry about as we age. Unfortunately our body slowly stops producing as much collagen with each passing year. In our collagen-productive years, our body makes this protein primarily from our diet when we consume foods rich in protein, like meat, eggs, and dairy, as well as foods heavy in vitamin C, zinc, and copper.
What collagen is found in beauty supplements?
So, what’s in the bottles of collagen that we find at our local health food stores? Oftentimes many are surprised to learn that consumable collagen peptides are just that, collagen proteins from animals. Comprised of collagen/amino acids extracted from fish scales, skin/hides, and bones, collagen supplements are not for the vegetarian and vegan friendly crowd.
When do we start to lose collagen?
According to Traci D Mitchell, MA, MS, Health and Nutrition Consultant, our body produces large amounts of collagen up until the age of about eighteen. Around the age of 25, there is a decline, which is when people might start noticing fine lines on their face. At around the age of 40, collagen does a swan dive, which is when people really start noticing achy joints, significant wrinkles and gut issues—all of which are collagen-affected areas.
Mitchell also mentions that there are activities, including sports, that can speed up our collagen depletion. “People who play sports, such as elite athletes who begin training at the age of eight or ten, will have a lot more wear and tear on the joints, ligaments, and tendons, causing them to break down.” In addition to athletes, those who’ve spent a lot of time outdoors as children may be predisposed, too.
Luckily, just because our bodies naturally reduce the production of collagen doesn’t mean that we stop production completely. So, it’s important that we learn how to recycle our collagen protein to delay it’s depletion from our bodies.
Does consuming collagen work?
“As a physician of internal medicine and [a] vitamin expert, I would suggest caution with taking collagen supplements,” says Arielle Levitan M.D, co-founder of Vous Vitamin LLC. It is true that collagen makes up our hair, nails, skin, and bones, but there is little to no (direct) evidence that taking collagen supplements or powders has benefits on increasing our own collagen production. “Collagen is a complex protein that, taken as a supplement, your body needs to break down during digestion and then completely rebuild to benefit these parts of your body,” says Levitan. She does warn, as collagen peptides and oral proteins are not required to go through FDA testing and regulations, take caution in which supplements you decide to add to your diet based upon the ingredients and quality of ingredients.
However, while it’s difficult to link collagen powder to directly affecting our (personal) collagen levels, studies have found that these supplements can help (secondary) complications like arthritis.
Are there ways to naturally help our body’s collagen?
Believe it or not, foods we have lying around our kitchens and pantries may be a natural remedy for helping to recycle our natural collagen proteins. With the help of Priscilla Alden B., founder of Ultimate Beauty Health, we’ve comprised the list below of healthy ingredients to add to your diet.
- Cinnamon – has antiseptic and antimicrobial properties that stimulate blood vessels and increase collagen production.
- Turmeric – Many studies have shown that turmeric promotes healthy skin and collagen.
- Green Leafy Vegetables (foods high in vitamin E) – are antioxidants that protect the cell and prevent the destruction of collagen.
- Oranges (foods high in vitamin C/ascorbic acid) – is essential for collagen production.
- Manganese (as gluconate) – a mineral that plays a critical role in activating many important enzymes in the body. One of these enzymes produces the amino acid proline, which is an essential component for collagen.
Along with the list of foods above, getting enough sleep could also help. “In an attempt to naturally delay the onset of depleting collagen production or maintain your current collagen levels, focus on getting enough sleep,” says Jamie Bacharach (Dipl.Ac) health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics.
When your body is sleep deprived, your immune system becomes compromised, which can affect and slow down our collagen production. There’s a reason why our skin looks puffy, patchy, and dull after a poor night’s rest. “Your skin restores itself while you sleep, and this includes promoting collagen production,” says Bacharach.
“It’s more important to eat the nutrients that help to recycle collagen early on, rather than focus on supplementing at younger ages (certainly before the age of 35),” says Mitchell. Even though your body won’t produce more collagen (than years prior), our collagen levels and protein are still being created and can also be recycled or reused in the body again and again.
Make sure to feed your body dense, nutrient-rich food, not stress out your joints while participating in workouts (check out Aaptiv’s fitness app for guided and healthy workout plans), and wear your SPF when out in the sun. Collagen is an essential building block tool in our body, and it’s important to maintain our levels for as long as we can by practicing healthy lifestyle choices.