The Essential Guide to Collagen

The best way to feed your body collagen is via a high-quality collagen supplement. Supplement form is more effective than a topical cream or serum. Why? Because by taking a collagen supplement, you’re actually helping your body naturally make more collagen.  

You’ll also improve your youthful appearance and decrease the ill-effects of oxidative damage and aging by taking collagen supplements because they do so much for the appearance of our skin. They’re also potent antioxidants.

What is collagen?

You can think of collagen as the many proteins that make up our skin, nails, bones, muscles, and cartilage. Collagen’s primary purpose is to support the suppleness and elasticity of the skin. But, this essential protein has many more purposes than meets the eye, which we’ll explore further on. 

What damages collagen?

Collagen naturally decreases in quantity as you age, which is why high-quality collagen supplements are so popular these days. Too much sun exposure, resulting in sun damage, also decreases collagen levels in the body. Eating far too much sugar, as so many of us do, is yet another key factor in the body’s natural loss of collagen. 

The ins and outs of collagen supplements

Most collagen supplements available today come in the form of a powder, making them ideal for adding to a breakfast superfood smoothie. These powdered forms of collagen typically come from cows and fish. So, they are an animal product, which may not work for those of you vegans out there—something to keep in mind. There are 3 types of collagen supplements. They are:

  • Gelatin

This kind of collagen supplement will form a gel when you include it as an ingredient to your recipes. The reason for this being that it’s yet to be hydrolyzed. 

  • Hydrolyzed collagen

Hydrolyzed collagen supplements are also referred to as collagen hydrolysate. Having been hydrolyzed, these powders don’t form a gel, and are easily blended into smoothies. 

  • Collagen peptides

Peptides are short chain amino acids. They’re quite easy for the body to digest, making them a popular form of collagen supplement. 

Collagen supplements are classified as one of the two:

Marine collagen supplements 

Marine collagen supplements come from—you guessed it—marine life. Most are made from the scales and skin of snapper and cod. If you’re going to purchase a marine collagen supplement, it should be wild caught. 

Bovine collagen supplements

These supplements come from cows. Namely, their cartilage, tissues, bones, and hide. If you’re going to purchase a bovine supplement, make sure the cows are pasture-raised or grass-fed. 

Additional ingredients that are healthy

As you probably know, low-quality supplements typically have fillers and additives. These are the ones you’ll want to avoid. However, many collagen supplements have healthy ingredients in addition to the collagen itself. They are:

  • Biotin

Biotin supports healthy, lustrous hair, making it an ideal addition to support collagen’s role in hair production. It’s a form of vitamin B7, and has been scientifically proven to promote hair growth in women with hair loss. If you see biotin as one of the ingredients in your collagen supplement, you’re in good shape. 

  • Hyaluronic Acid

This molecule is often added to collagen supplements because it supports skin health. You can think of it like water for your skin, deeply hydrating. Like collagen, we make it naturally but make less of it as we get older. 

  • Vitamin C

If your collagen supplement has vitamin C in its list of ingredients, that’s a good thing. Vitamin C naturally supports collagen production, making it an excellent addition to any and every collagen powder. Vitamin C naturally supports beautiful, supple skin, as does collagen. The two really do go hand in hand. 

Why are oral collagen supplements better than topical ones?

If you’re a natural skin care junkie like me, you’ve probably seen all kinds of collagen supplements lining the shelves, and been tempted to buy a product or two. And while topical collagen creams and serums are helpful in many ways—hydrating the superficial layer of skin, for example—they don’t reach the deeper layers.

Oral supplements do so by way of entering the bloodstream. They then reach the deepest layers of your skin. They also give the system specific amino acids that help the body make more collagen itself. So just imagine how putting a topical cream on the skin only penetrates so deep. Taking collagen orally, on the other hand, in the form of a powder, allows the collagen to be easily digested. It then gets to where it needs to go to support the body’s own natural production of collagen. You might want to think of creams and serums as akin to a more superficial, quick fix. Whereas, oral supplementation on a regular basis maintains and supports collagen production at the deepest level and over the long run. It’s a long-term kind of solution that helps the body in a number of ways.

Health benefits of taking a high-quality collagen supplement

Many health benefits come from taking collagen supplements. From decreasing fine lines and wrinkles to more lustrous hair and stronger nails, the benefits of collagen could definitely be viewed as those pertaining to vanity. However, there’s more to the picture than just looking good. Let’s take a look at why you should consider taking a collagen supplement. 

Collagen is great for digestion and overall gut health

Do you suffer from gut issues? Collagen supplementation can greatly benefit your digestive problems, as it decreases oxidative stress in the tummy by means of the amino acids released. Even research has found that those of us with digestive health problems can find relief through collagen supplementation. This 2003 study, published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, suggests that people who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and other inflammation within the gut may very well find some relief via oral collagen supplementation. If you’ve tried everything but collagen supplements for your gut health, I encourage you to give a high-quality oral collagen supplement the ol’ college try. 

woman using body tape measure while measuring her waist

Collagen supplements support the health of your bones and joints

Your skin is far from the only place where you’ll find collagen. The cool thing about collagen is that it’s naturally found throughout the connective tissues. This means that collagen supplementation is great for joint health, especially as you get older. If you suffer from joint pain, you’ll definitely want to consider giving collagen supplementation a try. It’s also a protein that supports the health of your bones. One of the reasons we get osteoarthritis as we get older is due to the decrease in our body’s ability to produce collagen. If you do happen to suffer from the annoying symptoms of osteoarthritis, you may want to consider investing in a high-quality collagen supplement. In fact, studies like this one, published in the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion, point towards collagen’s ability to relieve the symptoms of this bone and joint disease of degeneration. If you’re an endurance athlete who suffers from joint pain, this study, also published in the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion, explains how collagen supplementation improves activity-related joint pain in athletes. 

Collagen may increase muscle mass

Yet another benefit of taking a high-quality collagen supplement has to do with the potential boost in muscle mass. Collagen is an essential part of muscle composition. It’s an essential protein that increases muscle strength. As it decreases with age, so does the health of your muscles. Several studies point to collagen supplementation as a viable means of increasing muscle mass, strength, and overall muscle health. 

One study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition explains how collagen and resistance training together improved the muscle mass of men suffering from sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is just a fancy word for the muscle mass loss that occurs as we age.The same study, explains that supplementing with collagen may actually improve the growth of your muscles post-workout. Now, that could be beneficial to men and women wanting to maintain muscle mass with age. 

woman doing pull ups

Collagen builds strong nails

Your nails need collagen in order to remain strong and healthy. If you have brittle nails, nails that don’t tend to grow well, or nails that tear easily, you may need collagen supplementation, especially if it’s an issue for you. Even science has shown the benefits of collagen for healthy nails. A recent study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology studied participants who took collagen supplements each day over a 24-week period. Supplementation resulted in less brittle nails across the board. There’s even such a thing known as brittle nail syndrome, common for women, and quite possibly remedied via regular collagen supplementation. Participants also experienced an overall improvement in nail growth—perfect for those of us with less than healthy nails.

woman with manicure and ring

Collagen promotes healthy hair and scalp

Got hair loss? Collagen may be your answer. Why? Because the amino acids found in collagen peptides are necessary for keratin production. Keratin is a protein that’s necessary for hair growth. In fact, there’s an essential amino acid in keratin called proline. This amino acid happens to be found in collagen peptides as well. Thus, it follows that feeding your body the building blocks of this essential protein would result in healthy hair growth. 

One of the primary factors associated with hair loss has to do with oxidation. The oxidative stress that comes from living in a polluted environment can take a toll on the hair. This 2009 study, published in the International Journal of Trichology, explains how oxidative stress plays a major role in the process of hair ageing. So, if you’re wondering how collagen helps slow hair ageing, I encourage you to first understand how oxidative stress impacts hair. 

High-quality collagen supplements are antioxidants. Antioxidants combat oxidation. This is how taking a good collagen supplement could very well slow the process of oxidative stress on the hair. In fact, this 2017 study, published in the journal Food and Function, explains how certain collagen supplements have antioxidant powers to reduce oxidative stress. 

And if you have scalp troubles, collagen comes to the rescue yet again. Those of us who suffer from scalp inflammation—yes, it’s a thing—could use a healthy dose of collagen. Scalp inflammation typically goes undetected. But, it happens, and it results in the thinning of hair, and also the loss of it. If you have a red scalp, if your scalp is sore, or if you have flakes coming from the scalp, you probably have scalp inflammation, which can be remedied by a high quality collagen supplement that reduces inflammation through its antioxidant powers and ability to boost skin health, because your scalp is just a part of your skin. It’s just the skin on the top of your head. 

Collagen supports the health of your heart

With heart disease being the biggest modern day fatal disease, this news may come to a welcome surprise to many. The reason that collagen improves cardiovascular health has to do with the arteries. Collagen is an essential protein for arteries. Healthy collagen levels in the bloodstream means healthier arteries—ones that can better move blood throughout the body. If you’re looking for a study to support this hypothesis, take a look at this research article. 

It delves deeper into the ins and outs of collagen and its role in heart health. 

A  2017 study, published in the Journal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis makes a strong case for the role of collagen supplementation in the prevention of atherosclerosis. As you probably know, atherosclerosis is a hardening of the arteries, which can lead to more serious (and even fatal) heart conditions. As you can see, it wouldn’t hurt to supplement with collagen if you suffer heart issues, especially those associated with the health of the arteries. 

If you’re wondering what type of collagen supplement is best, you’ll definitely want to check out the one we’re providing you with at Applied Science Nutrition.