Collagen – you might have heard about it over the last year as it blows up on social media, but what exactly is it, and should you be supplementing with it?
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body and is the second most abundant substance overall after water! So it is pretty darn important. Collagen is found in our connective tissue, which means in our bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, skin, hair, and nails. It’s the protein that gives the structure to all of these tissues. In addition to providing structure to the body, collagen also helps maintaining healthy blood vessels and healing wounds. Most people seek out collagen for either bone and joint health or for beauty purposes (skin/hair/nails) or both!
Like all proteins, collagen is made up of various amino acids, which in this case are namely glycine, lysine, and proline. These amino acids need to be converted into a special form by enzymes to create collagen, a process that requires vitamin C. Therefore sufficient vitamin C is extremely important for the formation and maintenance of healthy collagen. Other minerals such as zinc, copper, manganese, and sulphur are also cofactors for collagen production and maintenance.
Factors affecting our collagen levels
- general aging – our collagen breaks down over time
- high sugar intake levels
- excessive sun exposure
- smoking / second-hand smoke
- autoimmune disorders
- repeated physical stress on a part of the body
Collagen and Beauty
Collagen is often used in the beauty world to claim anti-aging properties. However, the collagen particles are generally too large for the skin to absorb topically, so the positive benefits tend to be more attributable to the moisturizing properties of the product. That being said, collagen is important in maintaining skin strength and elasticity, it just needs to come from external sources.
Sources of collagen
The best source of collagen itself is through consuming something like bone broth which is made from cooking animal bones, including the cartilage, for a long period of time so that it breaks down and turn the broth gelatinous. The yolks from chicken eggs also contain collagen.
Other ways to boost your collagen is through consuming foods rich in the cofactors needed by your body to produce healthy collagen. For example:
- citrus or berries for vitamin C
- salmon or pumpkin seeds for zinc
- leafy greens for chlorophyll which is shown to increase the precursor to collagen
There are also some collagen supplements on the market, generally as a powder than can be mixed in with cold or warm liquids. Take care if you are using collagen as a protein powder in smoothies or shakes as it is not a complete protein; it could still be beneficial to add in some high quality whey powder along with it.
Do I need to supplement with collagen?
Are you a generally healthy person following a healthy diet? Then no, you don’t need to supplement with collagen. And the best way to ensure healthy collagen levels in your body is to consume collagen containing foods, or foods with the needed cofactors, rather than relying on a supplement.
That being said, it could be helpful to supplement with collagen during recovery from injuries or surgery. In addition, I have found personally that using a collagen powder supplement helped my skin and nails improve, especially after periods of prolonged stress. But the most documented benefit of collagen supplementation is an improvement in bone and joint health through a reduction in pain and inflammation.
If you’re wanting to try out collagen powders, you can literally add them into any hot or cold liquid and it is virtually tasteless. It’s as easy as stirring a spoonful into your cup of tea or coffee!
But if you want something a bit more inspirational, try out my strawberry collagen chia seed pudding below that gives you not only the collagen but also some of it’s cofactors!
Strawberry Collagen Chia Seed Pudding
- ½ cup (125mL) chia seeds
- ½ cup (125mL) fresh or frozen strawberries
- 1 ½ cup (375mL) coconut milk
- ¼ cup (60mL) collagen powder
- 2 tbsp (30mL) shredded coconut
In a blender, combine all ingredients except the chia seeds and blend until smooth. Pour into a mason jar or other air-tight container of at least 2 cups / 500mL. Add in the chia seeds and stir well or shake to combine. Let sit for a couple minutes before stirring/shaking again. Put in fridge and allow to sit for at least 20 minutes but ideally overnight.
Enjoy the pudding as is, or top with your desired toppings! I went for some more strawberries, greek yogurt, and some pumpkin seeds (for that zinc!).