For years naysayers disregarded collagen’s nutritional merit, citing its poor amino acid profile. There are many unique health benefits of collagen that no one is talking about.
Some still think collagen is low-quality
If you’re interested in building muscle, this article is not for you. However, if you care living a long, pain free and productive life, read because these collagen benefits are fascinating.
I’ll explain how conventional thinking about protein misses the point with respect to collagen.
Collagen Benefits include:
- Skin health
- Joint Health
- Gut Health
- Blood Sugar Control
- Brain Health
Researchers are now seeing collagen as the multifunctional powerhouse that it is. There’s evidence to suggest eating collagen rich foods will benefit everything from joint pain to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
But what is collagen?
Collagen makes up about a third of the protein in your body. It is mostly found in your tendons, ligaments, bone, cartilage, and skin.
Think of collagen as a hard, fibrous protein which holds our bodies together and gives our skin a natural elasticity. How hard do you ask? Type 1 collagen is stronger than steel when stretched. In fact, most of your connective tissue is made of collagen.
There are 28 different types of collagens, however, for our purposes only types 1, 2 and 3 are relevant as they make up 90% of the collagen in your body.
Collagen is secreted by connective tissue cells, where it forms the structural part of the extracellular matrix. This is the physical scaffolding in all tissues and organs: including your gut lining and skin.
Our body’s ability to naturally produce collagen slows as we age. Collagen production is further disrupted by sun exposure, environmental pollutants, alcohol, smoking and stress (the usual).
This led researchers to start looking at how consuming collagen may benefit.
You can read about other collagen boosting strategies here.
This all sounds great, but why is my friend touting collagen benefits as the best thing since sliced bread? Good question.
The blend of amino acids found in collagen is unique because they are deficient in our western diet. Unless you consume a lot of animal skin, small bones (think sardines or anchovies) or bone broth, it is difficult to get collagen in your diet.
Curious how bone broth fits into this? Read our report on the difference between collagen and bone broth.
For this reason, collagen’s health benefits extend everywhere.
Here’s are some crucial health benefits of collagen
1. Collagen Benefits Your Skin, But There’s a Catch
There’s always a catch!
As we age, our natural collagen production decreases leading to a gradual deterioration of our hair, skin, teeth, and nails. You see this visibly in wrinkled skin or osteoporosis.
Collagen got its fame as a nonsurgical remedy in the beauty and health scene for combating wrinkles.
It is thought to do this by forming fibroblasts (or specialized cell clusters on your dermis) which facilitate the growth of new cells. This helps replace dead skin with new youthful skin.
The catch is that no research shows the beneficial effects of collagen in topical form. Let that sink in for a second.
Why is this the case? Collagen molecules are too large for your skin to absorb them, rendering collagen-based skin care products useless. Your money is better directed elsewhere as there are no benefits.
Luckily, there are health benefits when you eat collagen. Through a collagen rich diet, you’ll improve your skin’s appearance from the inside and out.
There’s a growing stack of research showing an increase in skin elasticity from collagen supplementation after eight weeks.
Skin elasticity sounds fancy, but what is really going on here? Skin elasticity is increased by repairing damaged collagen fibers, increasing collagen content, and restoring the ratio of type 1 to type 3 collagen in chronically aged skin.
Replacing damaged collagen fibers with new collagen is what restores your skin’s hydration status. You develop an abundance of connective tissue making your skin appear more smooth and supple.
The same mechanism works on your hair and nails. Although most research focuses on skin.
Regardless of the research, celebrities are using collagen for its benefits. Here is what Kourtney Kardashian thinks.
“It has hyaluronic acid so it’s really good for your skin. And of course, collagen, which is great for skin, hair, nails—so many benefits.”
2. Collagen Helps You Digest Food Better
As I stated above, collagen is a protein made up of a bunch of individual amino acids. The single most beneficial amino acid in collagen is glycine.
You’ll be hearing a lot more about glycine in the next couple of years because it does so many wonderful things in your body. Read our companion piece about the health benefits of glycine.
Think of glycine as a savior to your gut. Glycine is the master at regulating inflammation in your stomach, small intestine, and GI tract.
Inflammation is caused in your gut when harmful toxins can pass through your digestive tract in your gut.
These toxins in the form of food particles now have free reign to pass into your bloodstream, kicking off all sorts of inflammatory issues in your body. No bueno.
Glycine helps reduce inflammation by forming connective tissue which protects the mucosal barrier of your gut. This helps tighten the tiny junctions in those suffering from leaky gut syndrome.
We know that glycine builds up the tissues that line your gut, colon, and intestinal tract. It follows that supplementing with collagen or glycine can benefit a plethora of gut issues.
Research is confirming this. Glycine is being used to manage ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory bowel disease due to its protective effects on intestinal absorptive cells.
It also has been shown to have other protective benefits on the small intestine during injury and improves fructose malabsorption.
3. Collagen Reduces Pain in Your Joints and Tendons
Everyone gets injuries at some point. They suck! But there is some good news about how collagen benefits joint, ligament, and tendon injuries.
Well-designed studies are demonstrating that collagen hydrolysate shows an improvement in joint pain in athletes.
This study showed reduced joint pain throughout daily life, at rest and during heavy activity such as exercise, sports, or weightlifting. The effective dose was 10g of collagen per day.
This works out to one standard serving of bone broth, a collagen or gelatin supplement.
More recent research is showing that collagen or gelatin taken with vitamin C assists in tendon repair and injury prevention.
There’s a protocol outlined by the researchers that is changing how we think about rehabbing tendon and ligament injuries.
They used gelatin as it is a more cost-effective alternative to collagen. For our purposes they are interchangeable, I’ll discuss the differences at the end.
So, what’s the protocol? You take fifteen grams of gelatin with vitamin C approximately 1 hour before you exercise, perform rehab or your activity of choice.
For example, in achilles rehab, the researchers recommend 8 minutes of jumping rope after the gelatin + Vitamin C.
The timing is crucial as the activity helps shove more collagen into your tendons, ligaments, and joints.
Compared to placebo, the gelatin + Vitamin C group had double the amount of collagen in their blood, leading to improved movement mechanics and treatment outcomes.
Why Vitamin C? Vitamin C is known to stimulate collagen synthesis, so it is always great to include in your diet if you’re recovering from injury
The tendon stimulating health benefits of collagen also helped many friends whom I’ve introduced the protocol to. They’ve reported success with rehabbing mcl sprains and achilles injuries.
A take home point here is that gelatin, collagen, or bone broth combined with vitamin C is fantastic insurance against ligament, tendon, and joint damage.
4. The Longevity Health Benefits of Collagen
I’m convinced that our western society consumes more meat than necessary for optimal health.
Most of the meat we eat is awful for us. The popular notion to ‘eat less meat’ completely misses the point if the meat we do eat is still garbage.
This doesn’t even get into the environmental concerns, which is a topic for another day. For now, let’s talk about methionine.
Methionine is the most abundant amino acid found in muscle meats like steak. It is essential because your body cannot make it from other things. It helps your liver detoxify drugs and make certain key molecules like the hormone adrenaline.
However, the often-ignored dark side of methionine is that it is toxic in excessive amounts.
Animals who consume diets high in methionine die much younger than those eating less methionine. It follows that you should eat less methionine to live forever, right? Not so fast!
This is not necessary if you get enough of another amino acid called glycine which is shown to counteract the effects of methionine.
Your liver needs glycine to effectively buffer out a surplus of methionine. So, the more chicken breast you eat, the more you should pay attention to your glycine intake to balance it out.
Glycine is one of the most important regulators of inflammation in your body.
The typical western diet comes up short of the 8-10 grams needed daily.
In addition to regulating inflammation in the liver, I’ll later discuss how collagen also restores antioxidant status to promote longevity.
Glycine makes up one third of collagen, gelatin, and bone broth. If you eat lots of animal meat, consider eating higher quality (grass finished, pasture raised, etc.) and slightly less.
Then you can benefit your health by adding collagen rich foods, gelatinous meats (animal skin, tendons, small bones, wings, oxtails etc.) and bone broth to balance out the methionine.
5. Collagen Benefits Your Sleep Better and Improves Your Mood
Collagen is quietly being touted as a potent mood relaxer, sleep promotor and productivity booster.
Human studies are showing that three grams of glycine (found in one collagen serving) taken before bed improves the quality of your sleep.
You might be wondering: does glycine knock me out like Xanax? No. Quite the opposite.
You see, glycine decreases core body temperature and inhibits muscle activity during REM sleep. Your body temperature naturally drops as bedtime approaches and continues to drop throughout sleep.
This may be why glycine helps you sleep; however, more research is needed.
Interestingly, there are other mood boosting effects that give us more insight as to why glycine helps with sleep. Studies are showing glycine to be an inhibitory neurotransmitter, much like GABA.
Glycine increases serotonin levels without increasing dopamine levels. Which is good. Among other things, this helps maintain healthy circadian rhythms leading to better sleep.
In addition to normalizing sleep, glycine also helped alleviate the symptoms of sleep deprivation.
The cool thing here is that glycine was shown to help with subjective feelings of anxiety related to work performance and energy throughout the day.
People also reported improvements in concentration during work, “liveliness and peppiness” and memory recognition, with a reduction in uneasy feelings.
We all have energy highs and lows throughout the day. Anything that may smooth out these ebbs and flows is welcomed in my books!
So, if you are sleepy during the day or have trouble falling asleep at night, it is worth getting some of the sleep benefits of collagen.
One serving of bone broth, gelatin or collagen will have the three grams of glycine needed for sleep benefits.
Personally, a mug of bone broth an hour before bed puts me right to sleep at night.
6. Collagen Boosts Brain Health
Anything that helps you sleep better should be celebrated. The mood boosting benefits of collagen extend further to brain health.
Few are writing about this, but researchers are finding a positive impacts on patients with schizophrenia who supplement with glycine as part of their regiment.
Glycine is useful for treating the negative symptoms of schizophrenia: depression and loss of mental fluency. It even improves psychotic symptoms in some cases.
Since the negative symptoms of schizophrenia have such devastating effects on the sufferer’s ability to function in the real world, the finding that glycine may help is significant.
You’d have to consume a lot of collagens to match the high glycine dosage (25 grams) in this research is, but it is worth mentioning regardless.
The benefits of glycine on the brain may extend to other psychiatric and mood disorders.
There are promising mechanisms to suggest that glycine assists with depression and neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.
Also, glycine protected the neurological damage caused by a stroke.
The cognitive enhancing effects apply to healthy individuals as well. Normal people show an increase visual, verbal memory recall and improve sustained attention when taking glycine.
This suggests that collagen can benefit you in situations where high retrieval of information is needed or when performance might be affected by poor sleep, jet lag and shift work.
Keep in mind that it is early. However, there is lots to be exciting about for collagen’s effects on productivity, cognitive disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases.
7. Collagen Benefits Antioxidants and may Protect you from Asthma
I’ll take a guess that you’ve heard how antioxidants are good for you. Everybody knows that. But how?
Antioxidants prevent oxidation. Oxidation leads to cell damage. Your body creates oxidants to fight off viruses and microbes. But if you produce too many then terrible things happen think cancer, heart disease, etc.
Unless you live in a bubble, you’re also exposed to oxidants in your daily life. So, you do your part by eating blueberries and taking Vitamin C when you’re sick.
Glutathione is recognized as the master antioxidant in the cell. We are deficient due to environmental factors like stress, infections, aging, air pollution, GMO’s, etc.
Researchers are showing that glutathione is an important predictor of longevity.
You might be asking: can I mainline glutathione into my bloodstream and live forever? It’s not that simple.
The production and availability glutathione are based on glycine. Yes, the same glycine from collagen that I keep harping on.
It is one of the three amino acids that your body uses to create this master antioxidant. In fact, glycine supplementation is shown to directly increase glutathione in your cells.
If you’re not getting enough glycine, then your body is not turning over new collagen and glutathione status is suboptimal. These have major implications for your body’s exposure to oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress increases the risk of some cancers, joint issues, and musculoskeletal injuries.
Oxidative stress also explains why we get asthma. Glutathione is crucial to the fluidity of mucus in your body. Sounds gross but bear with me. You get respiratory issues when the mucus in your respiratory tract is not fluid enough.
Proper levels of glutathione are protective against asthma and other lung conditions. If you want to live a long and healthy life, you should be paying attention to your glutathione status.
At this point you might be asking why this article is about collagen health benefits instead of glycine. It turns out that glycine on it’s own is poorly absorbed.
There is something about the balance of amino acids in collagen that makes for better glycine absorption.
As you can see, collagen’s research is promising but it is early.