What is Collagen?
Collagen is the main protein in connective tissue found in bones, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and the skin. It is the most abundant protein in your body, making up 25 to 35% of your body’s total protein.
Collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen simply mean small protein segments. They are pre-digested forms of collagen. Collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen are more bio-available and easier to digest and absorb. They also dissolve easily in hot and cold liquids without gelling, making them very convenient and palatable.
Collagen can be obtained from food from the bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage of other animals like fish, chicken, or beef.
What is Gelatin?
Gelatin is the colorless goo that develops in food when you boil the connective tissue of animals (skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments). While gelatin usually refers to the protein in food and collagen refers to the protein inside your body, both terms are often used interchangeably.
This article is about the health benefits of natural nutrient-rich collagen and gelatin proteins. It’s not about processed gelatin foods like jello, marshmallows, flavored yogurts or others. It’s also not about commercial broth, stock, or bouillon that probably doesn’t have any collagen proteins.
What is Special About Collagen Protein?
Your body actually makes collagen on its own, but you make less and less as you get older. That’s when the signs of aging start to show.
Using collagen protein (or peptides) or eating foods that contain collagen will stimulate your body to make more collagen on its own. Collagen protein powder is a natural whole-foods supplement.
Traditionally, we used to use the whole animal for nutrition. However, a modern lifestyle that demands convenience and the fear of fat pushed us to depend on skinless boneless cuts of meat for protein. Tossing the bones meant that our diets provided less collagen or the amino acids that support collagen formation in our bodies.
Collagen peptides supply amino acids that are needed to build new collagen. Collagen is rich in two important amino acids, glycine and proline. These amino acids will stimulate your muscles, bones, ligaments, joints, skin, hair, nails to make more collagen, which will in turn improve the health of these tissues.
Health Benefits of Collagen
1. Weight loss
Protein will help you burn more calories and feel more satiated. If you want to lose weight (especially if you’re eating fewer calories) and increase lean body mass, your body needs more protein. That’s because protein will reduce lean body mass loss (aka muscle loss) during weight loss. Collagen peptides were found to be more satiating than whey, casein, or soy proteins.
2. Fitness and exercise
While athletes and fitness enthusiasts often focus on muscles, the connective tissue is as equally important for improved performance. Connective tissue makes up the tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bones that maintain muscle structure and give muscles stability. Collagen through the diet will stimulate your body to make more collagen in your body. Long term exercise leads to collagen degradation, and incorporating collagen in your diet will help protein against that. Supplementing with a 30 grams collagen peptides can reduce the risk of injuries on muscle, tendons, and ligaments in athletes. Plus, a high protein meal after exercise enhances muscle anabolism and replaces the proteins that were lost during exercise.
Collagen makes up 70% of the protein in your skin and ensures its cohesion, elasticity and regeneration. In your 20’s, you start making less collagen, so maintaining a healthy level of collagen in your skin is key to keeping your skin beautiful and youthful, and reducing the development of wrinkles, lines, and sagging skin. Collagen protein as part of your daily diet promotes new skin cells generation and skin elasticity, tone, strength, firmness, and moisture.
While topical collagen skin products can help the look of your skin, collagen through food will nourish your skin cells from the inside out. The dermis, the deepest layer and the foundation of the skin, significantly affects the elasticity and flexibility of the outer layer of your skin. Collagen is the main component of the dermis.
Collagen supplements can result in reduction in facial lines, wrinkles, and skin dryness. Another study found that as little as 5 grams collagen peptides a day improved skin elasticity, especially in elderly women. Collagen peptides taken through dietary supplements also increased the density of fibroblast cells (the cells that make more skin) and increased the formation of collagen in the dermis layer.
4. Hair and nails
Your hair and nails are made of collagen, keratin, and minerals. Incorporating collagen as part of your daily routine will stimulate your body to make more collagen and strengthen your hair and nails.
Cartilage in joints in made of collagen. Collagen proteins were found to reduce joint pain and improve comfort and joint function, and the benefit is more pronounced in people who had more severe pain. This is especially important for people with arthritis. Certain activities, like sports training or certain joins that involved stress on your joints, can predispose you to develop arthritis later in life. Carrying extra weight can stress your joints as well. Having collagen as part of your daily routine can help prevent joint problems from developing.
In one study, collagen peptide or hydrolysate supplements for 24 weeks significantly reduced joint pain in athletes. In another study, collagen hydrolysate accumulated in the cartilage and stimulated synthesis of cartilage matrix in people with osteoarthritis, leading to reduced pain and improved function.
Bone is made of a matrix made of minerals (calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium) that is interconnect through collagen fibers. Bone tissue is constantly changing, with some cells forming more bone mass and other cells breaking down bones to release their mineral content. Your body forms more bone during growth years. However, both men and women starting in their thirties form less and break down more bone tissue. Collagen can improve bone metabolism to build more bone tissue. Ingesting 10 grams of collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen for 4-24 weeks can increase bone mass density.
7. Digestion and gut health
Collagen stimulates your stomach to secrete gastric juices (hydroelectric acid) that initiate the digestive process in your body. The amino acids in collagen, glycine and proline, are necessary to restore the integrity and function of the cells of your stomach and intestinal lining. Collagen is part of a gut healing protocol for leaky gut syndrome, where foods, food chemicals, and toxins can leak inside your body. A healthy gut lining can prevent or even treat conditions like IBS, gas and bloating, ulcers, acid reflux, food sensitivities, migraines, headaches, skin issues, and others.
The liver detoxifies chemicals, waste, medications, alcohol, etc in two phases. Glycine is necessary for phase II liver detoxification pathways. Collagen (or gelatin) are the best food source of glycine.
Taking 3 grams of glycine (can be obtained from 2 scoops of collagen peptides) improved sleep quality and reduced daytime sleepiness.
Collagen Peptides Protein Powder
I use and recommend Vital Protein Collagen Peptides. While I still encourage you to make your own homemade broth (more on that below), there are reasons why I like and recommend this product.
- It comes from grass-fed cows raised without hormones and without GMO-foods or grains
- It is unflavored. You won’t taste beef or anything bovine and can be incorporated in many ways
- It is odorless, it won’t change the smell of your food
- It doesn’t gel, so you can dissolve it in hot or cold liquids by stirring with a spoon
- It is Kosher
- It is broken down into small protein segments so it’s more bioavailable and easier to digest
- It is convenient. You can easily add it to foods or drinks multiple times a day
- It’s gluten-free
To give it a try, you can 2 buying options:
- Get the large container. It’s cheaper by weight
- Get the smaller container and give it a try first
- Get the individual packets. They are the most expensive but convenient on-the-go
(By ordering through these links, you help support the work we do here in this practice and website)
How Much Collagen Do I Need?
The powder can be added to hot or cold liquids like water, smoothies, juices, coffee, tea, or soups. Aim for 2-4 scoops a day at least to get 18 to 36 grams collagen. Try these options:
- 1 scoop with 8-ounce cup of tea, coffee, ginger/lemon tea, herbal tea, or any other warm drink
- 2 scoops with a smoothie (smoothie recipes are in The Detox Way cookbook, pages 167-175)
- Add to baked good like muffins and pancakes (page 96 and 188-190 in The Detox Way cookbook)
- Add to date bars recipe (page 193 in The Detox Way cookbook)
- 1 scoop with simply 8 ounces of water
Don’t Forget About Bone Broth
Because of the health benefits of collagen and gelatin, I’ve included a bone broth recipe in my cookbook, The Detox Way (pages 72, 74, and 76). You can easily make a batch on the stovetop or in your slow cooker. I try to make a large batch and store the extras in glass jars in the freezer.
Keep in mind that you can make a stock in less than an hour. But to get the true benefit of bone broth, you have to cook the bones for 24 hours. Add raw apple cider vinegar to help extract the minerals surrounding the collagen.