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Collagen: Health Benefits, Types, and Which is Best

Collagen has been touted as a “miracle worker”. Stronger bones with fewer wrinkles shiny skin, collagen seems to be the answer to aging. But despite all the hype, can increasing your collagen really accomplish these things?

It turns out the answer is yes. Several studies have shown that adding foods rich in collagen or supplements to your diet has a number of benefits and actually helps to improve the health of your skin, joints, hair and bones.

However, there are a few things you need to know about collagen before incorporating it into your daily wellness routine.

Below, you’ll find a detailed explanation of collagen, including what it is, where to find it, and how you might benefit from it, as well as the downsides you should be aware of. Also, be sure to check out the the best food sources for every vitamin and mineral you need And 10 tips for preparing economical and healthy meals.

What is collagen?

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Before discussing its benefits, what is collagen? In short, collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and makes up one third of all protein. It serves as the connective building block that holds your muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and skin together.

There are nearly 30 known types of collagen, but Type I is the most common (it exists in all connective tissues and accounts for 90% of all collagen in the body). Types II, III, and IV are also common and are found in various parts of the body, including the joints, kidneys, ears, and blood vessels.

All of which brings us to another pertinent question: what is collagen for? Your body naturally makes collagen by combining several amino acids (like proline and glycine) with zinc, vitamin C and copper. However, as you age, the production slows down and the existing collagen in your body begins to break down at a faster rate.

When this happens, you may notice your skin becoming more wrinkled, your tendons and ligaments becoming less flexible, and your muscles shrinking. To prevent or delay these effects, some people consume collagen (via food or supplements) to make up for what their body has lost.

Add collagen to your diet

Salmon on white background

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If you’re looking to increase your collagen production, you need to make sure your diet includes foods that contain these essential ingredients:

  • bone broth
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Chicken
  • Pigskin
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Citrus
  • peppers
  • Nuts

Eating a well-balanced combination of these foods is the best way to boost your collagen levels. However, you can also consider taking supplements (usually in powder or capsule form) if you’re not getting enough collagen from your diet alone.

For best results, experts advise taking a collagen supplement an hour before working out, but always check the label and speak with your doctor before starting any new wellness routine.

benefits of collagen

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s explore some of the benefits of collagen.

Build stronger bones

Bones are full of collagen, but as you age, the protein begins to break down. In turn, this can lead to a decrease in bone strength and density. However, by incorporating collagen supplements into your diet, you may be able to prevent some bone loss and reduce your risk of bone problems, including osteoporosis and fractures.

Reduces joint pain

Collagen also works with cartilage to keep your joints functioning properly. Over the years, as it wears down, it can lead to stiff, painful joints and put you at higher risk for osteoarthritis. The good news is that taking collagen reduces joint pain in physically active people. It can also serve as a pain reliever for people with existing joint problems.

Improves the skin

Your skin also contains collagen, which gives it elasticity and hydration when you’re young. But as you age, your skin becomes more saggy and wrinkled due to the depletion of collagen levels. Interestingly, studies have shown that adding more collagen to your diet can boost skin firmness and hydration, visibly reducing the effects of aging.

Promotes healthy hair

Collagen is created with some of the same amino acids that are used to build keratin, the protein that makes up your hair. Because of this link, there is evidence that consuming more collagen may help your hair health by promoting growth, reducing thinning and slowing graying.

Adds muscle mass

Muscle tissue contains up to 10% collagen. When your body’s collagen begins to break down, you can lose muscle mass and eventually develop a condition called sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss). Fortunately, studies have shown that collagen supplements, along with increased protein intake and routine resistance exercise, can help people with sarcopenia rebuild muscle strength.

Disadvantages of Collagen Supplements

Despite these benefits, collagen supplements also have a few drawbacks that you should keep in mind before incorporating them into your routine.

They contain animal products (and sometimes allergens)

Traditional collagen supplements, and all dietary supplements in general, are made from animal products, so they are not suitable if you follow a plant-based diet. Although there are some vegan collagen options on the market, it’s unclear how they compare to those made from animal products. Likewise, if you have food allergies, be sure to read the label of your collagen supplements carefully. In some cases, they may contain common allergens like fish or eggs.

Regulation is a gray area

Collagen supplements are regulated as foods (not drugs) by the United States Food and Drug Administration, which means their ingredients and production are not controlled by any official governing body. These products are not subject to the same rigorous regulations and approval processes as pharmaceutical products, so it can be difficult to find out about the quality, purity and safety of the ingredients.

Efficacy studies are limited

Although there have been studies on the effectiveness of collagen (many of which have been cited above), more research needs to be done. Additionally, some of the existing studies were funded by companies that produce collagen supplements, which may raise ethical questions about bias.

Collagen-Like Supplements

Capsules close-up on a mirror in hard light

Olga Shumitskaya/Getty Images

It is difficult to find other supplements that replicate the effects of collagen because its amino acid composition is different from other proteins. However, you can try increasing your intake of glycine and proline, the main amino acids involved in the creation of collagen. They are most commonly found in protein-rich foods like meat and poultry, but are also available in supplement form.

If you’re more interested in how collagen can help improve your hair, nails, and skin, you might want to consider keratin or biotin, which usually come in the form of shampoos and salon treatments, but are also sold as dietary supplements. Biotin is also found in certain foods, including legumes, egg yolks, nuts, and avocados.

For more advice on supplements, here are five proven fitness supplements. More, discover these three alternatives to melatonin for better sleep without drowsiness the next day.


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