Whether you're an athlete, trying to get better skin, or looking to improve your bone health, there's a supplement you need to know about: collagen.
At a beautiful outdoor breakfast in Nantucket, MA, I was introduced to collagen as a supplement for the first time, and it came in the form of pancakes, waters, and matcha lattes, with special (tasteless!) supplement powders from a brand called Vital Proteins. This was also the first time I had heard "collagen" referenced in the health world without any reference to needles or fillers — in fact, there were more stats thrown around about athletes and runners. Let's just say that I was more than intrigued.
Collagen is found naturally in the body, and it's essential to our tissue structure and elasticity — but its production declines with age ( . . . yayyyy). While collagen is found in animal proteins that you can eat naturally (like beef, for example), it's not typically in the cuts of meat you'd want to eat. Collagen comes from connective tissue — the stuff you're cutting off your meat, typically. Eating a boneless, skinless chicken breast? It's not exactly loaded with collagen. It's okay though, we don't really want to gnaw at bones and tendons, either.
There are also certain foods you can eat (turmeric is a good one) to increase your body's natural collagen production, but you won't get the same volume as you would with a supplement.
Supplements deliver the collagen or collagen peptides to your body in a way that can increase your levels directly. The benefits of collagen supplementation are pretty impressive and largely backed by science. Here are some reasons to consider loading up on this fundamental protein.
- For skin. Multiple studies have shown the beneficial effects of collagen supplements on the skin. One study in 2013 showed that consuming collagen supplements reduced signs of aging, and another noted a significant improvement in skin elasticity.
- For your bones and joints. A 2008 study showed "improvement of joint pain in athletes" with a dietary collagen supplement. The same study also noted that collagen supplements have been shown to be beneficial for patients with osteoarthritis. Another study observed the growing bones of rats and concluded that collagen did in fact increase bone mass — something to think about, since women struggle with bone density more than men. Thanks, genetics!
- For athletic performance. Collagen is a protein; adding collagen into your diet also means adding in protein. For example, adding two scoops of a collagen supplement like Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides adds an extra 18 grams of protein to whatever you're eating and drinking. Adding protein helps with muscle repair and building, recovery, and satiety, helping you exercise better and feel your best.
- For your gut. Naturopathic physician Dr. Josh Axe says collagen can help remedy leaky gut syndrome — a medical condition that can cause food sensitivity, digestive problems, and a slew of other physical ailments. We've seen more and more about this on health blogs like Paleoleap.com, but have yet to see scientific research. All in all, it seems like there are no harmful side effects, so it can't hurt to try — especially since collagen is even easier to digest than gelatin.