There is so much talk these days about supplements like; vitamins, minerals, protein powders, etc., that you're supposed to consume if you want to be considered healthy. But you hear very little about the health benefits of collagen and it's role in proper health. As a naturopathic doctor, I feel that there isn't enough being taught about this important nutrient's role in our health and well-being. So...
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is a naturally occurring protein in our body and is the most abundant protein of connective tissue. Collagen is in our skin, bones and teeth, eyes (corneas) joint tissues (such as cartilage, spinal discs and ligaments), blood vessels and organ tissues.
Collagen can be supplemented through our diet; however, typical western meat-eater diets usually don’t contain these parts of an animal, so our dietary sources can actually be quite limited. Dietary collagen intake has been shown to have a number of health benefits.
Collagen is a rich source of the amino acids, mainly:
Non-essential amino acids
Essential amino acids:
Healthy intake of these amino acids provide strength to our connective tissue and aid in tissue repair. As you can see, most of the amino acids that make up collagen are non-essential (meaning our bodies can make our own), so why is it important to have a dietary source? As our bodies age and wear down, the need for these amino acids can become greater than our bodies can produce.
There are a number of health benefits to supplementing collagen. Dietary collagen is absorbed by our digestive tract (small intestine), in to the bloodstream, and accumulated in to the skin for up to 96 hours.1 Collagen supplementation improves your body’s own production of collagen through stimulating the cells that make collagen (fibroblasts)1,2
Also by having a good source of these amino acids, the liver can function more efficiently as the rich level of glycine of collagen provides support to phase 2 detoxification!
I have historically recommended that my patient get collagen naturally by making your own bone broth. Boiling the bones of organic chicken, beef or turkey bones to extract collagen after you’ve consumed the meat is an excellent way to use the whole animals for all the nutrients they have to offer. Also not only do you get collagen this way, you also extract many vitamins and minerals! However it isn’t always the most convenient way to get a daily dose of collagen, which is when supplementation is useful.
Hydrolyzed collagen peptides has been the form of choice by most research studies. This form is almost tasteless, can dissolve in any type of liquid (hot and cold), or snuck in to recipes to up protein content without anyone being the wiser. Make sure you get a form from a reputable company that practice ethical farming produces (such as grass-fed cows) to avoid any negative influences that can make the collagen sub par.
Gelatin is also a form of dietary collagen - this is best used when you want to make something “jelly-like” such as making jello, or marshmallows, because it gels up when added to liquid. This form has been touted the best for digestive problems as it has the ability to coat the digestive tract.
None of the studies cited reported any adverse or negative effects of collagen supplementation.
Also, collagen production by our bodies REQUIRES vitamin C so ensuring that your diet is also rich in this vitamin is very important to note when supplementing with collagen.
Though studies are limited, the pool of research out there has nothing but positive things to say about this dietary supplement. Considering the impact and abundance of collagen in our bodies, this is a great protein addition to our diet, and can help improve the quality, strength and health of our connective tissues.
Yours in Health
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Annex Naturopathic Clinic is a clinic in downtown Toronto that offers integrative healthcare solutions. Toronto naturopathic practitioners Dr. Marnie Luck, ND and Dr. Tanya Lee, ND offer a variety of treatment plans using a range of modalities individualized to each patient which can complement conventional health care.
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