Trying to find the best collagen option can be very confusing. Depending on who you ask, you might be told that there are three, five, sixteen, or even twenty-eight different types of collagen to choose from. And that’s not even mentioning all the brand varieties!
Before you give up or just grab the nearest bottle on the shelf, here is some guidance to help you find your way through the collagen maze.
What is Collagen?
First, back to basics. What actually is collagen? The most fundamental definition is that collagen is a protein, the most abundant protein in your body. In fact, it makes up roughly a third of the protein component of your body. Your bones, skin, muscles, and ligaments depend on collagen content to stay together. Collagen is also found in your teeth, corneas, nails, and hair.
It’s particularly essential to maintain the elasticity of your skin, which is why it is so often found in beauty products. Collagen is probably the single most important building block in your body, acting as a kind of adhesive to keep everything together. The word collagen comes from the Greek word ‘kolla,’ which means glue.
What is Collagen Made Of?
If you’ve heard the term ‘connective tissue’, that’s collagen. One important thing to know about collagen is that it depletes as you get older. Although your body can make its own collagen molecules, this process slows down as you age. Hence, sagging skin, depleted muscle mass, fragile joints, thinner nails, and hair. Scientists estimate that by the time you turn 40, your body’s ability to produce collagen has dropped by 25%, and by age 60, it has fallen by over 50%.
Collagen is made of the amino acids proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline. Your body can easily make collagen from these amino acids if you consume animal products like meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. But if you eat a plant-based diet or if you have cut down on animal products, you may find it difficult to source enough amino acids to keep producing the collagen your body needs.
What are the Most Common Types of Collagen?
Science has found up to twenty-eight different types of collagen in nature. The human body contains mostly types 1, 2, and 3, with a little dash of Types V (in connective tissue, cell surfaces, hair, and placenta) and X (in joint cartilage).
Type 1 Collagen
Type 1 collagen, not surprisingly, is the most common type found in the body. This is the collagen that is found in your bones, muscles, eyes and is especially vital for your skin, nails, and hair.
Type 2 Collagen
Type 2 collagen is mainly found in the cartilage of the body. It makes up the disks in your spine, protects your joints, and smooths the movement of your knees, elbows, and fingers. The wearing out of cartilage is what leads to joint pain, inflammation, and arthritis in older people and athletes.
Type 3 Collagen
Type 3 collagen is the second most abundant form of collagen in your body. It’s found it in the intestines, muscles, uterus, and blood vessels. It is essential for maintaining elasticity in muscle function, gut healing, and skin hydration.
What Depletes Collagen
As well as the natural decrease in collagen due to aging, you can unwittingly speed up the loss of collagen in your body by:
- Overeating sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Too much exposure to sunlight and UVA/UVB rays
These suck out the collagen from your body, especially from your skin, and make you age faster.
How Do You Take Collagen?
Your body can make collagen from amino acids, using Vitamin C in the process. The easiest way to increase collagen in your diet is to increase your intake of amino acids, and the easiest way to do that is to eat more protein-based foods.
The best sources of high-quality protein and amino acids are animal products, meat, poultry, seafood, fish, dairy, plus tofu, and legumes.
Other nutrients necessary to make collagen are:
- Vitamin C, which can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables
- Prolein and glycine, found in animal-based products, asparagus, and mushrooms
- Copper, found in sesame seeds, organ meats, cashews, cocoa, and lentils.
An easy way to supercharge your amino acid intake is to have a pot of bone broth on your stovetop and take some every day.
To make your own bone broth, simply take a large cooking pot, some beef, chicken, or fish bones, a little apple cider vinegar, and water. A good ratio of bones to water is approximately 4 pounds of bones to a gallon of water. Add salt and vinegar to taste. Simply simmer on a low heat for at least twelve hours. Allow to cool, and strain off the bones. What’s left is good, natural bone broth. Adding chicken feet will increase the amount of collagen released into the broth.
How Should You Choose the Right Collagen Supplement for You?
Even if you eat a diet rich in protein, it can be hard to work out if you’re getting enough collagen to meet your body’s needs. And if you have particular health problems due to collagen depletion, the quickest way to supercharge your collagen intake is to take supplements in liquid, powder, or capsule form.
To find the right formulation and type of collagen supplement, you should identify your own personal health needs and goals.
If you want to improve or maintain your skin’s hydration and elasticity, you should choose a product that is high in Type 1, or Types 1 and 2 collagens. This type of supplement will also help protect your eyes and promote bone health and wound healing.
For gut health, choose a bone broth product or make your own bone broth at home.
A supplement containing Type 2 collagen will help to ease joint pain and inflammation and prevent further joint damage. Bone broth is also helpful for joint health.
Of course, you can also consult your healthcare practitioner for advice on the correct balance of supplements for your health and wellbeing issues.
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Is It Safe to Take Collagen?
Collagen is generally safe to take. After all, humans are mostly made of collagen! However, if you are allergic to any of the sources of collagen, eggs, or shellfish, for example, you may suffer a similar reaction to a supplement.
Collagen supplements are usually well-tolerated, but it is possible that a gelatin-based product may leave an unpleasant aftertaste or lead to a feeling of fullness or heartburn. If you experience such symptoms, stop taking the supplement and consult your health care provider for an alternative.
If you suffer a chronic health condition or take regular medication, it’s probably a good idea to check in with your health practitioner before making any significant changes or additions to your diet.
Collagen is a vital part of your body that depletes as you age or with exposure to certain elements like sugar, sunshine, and cigarette smoke. Increasing your intake of collagen-rich foods and supplements can help to stop this depletion and improve your skin, muscle mass, and bone and joint health.
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