Skin creams, serums and supplements are all advertising collagen to help you reduce signs of aging. Cool, but what’s all this hype about? I mean, collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies. It accounts for 30% of your total protein mass. Why do we need more of it?
What is collagen?
Collagen is protein molecules in the shape of a triple helix--strands of amino acids known as peptides are twisted together in a spiral shape. These molecules fill the space between our cells, and keep our bodies structurally intact. It makes our tissues grow and when you zoom out from the molecular level, collagen keeps your skin, cartilage and joints firm and elastic.
Collagen fiber types
Vertebrates, the animals like us with spines and tissue, contain roughly 15 different types of collagen peptides, each of which serves a different purpose. Collagen type 1 is the most abundant type in our body (90%). Here’s where the most common types are found in our tissues:
- Type 1: skin, tendons, internal organs, the organic matter of bones
- Type 2: cartilage
- Type 3: bone marrow, lymph tissues
- Type 4: everywhere -- these are the base layer of collagen in most tissues
- Type 5: hair and cell exterior
You can think of collagen as the glue that holds everything together. But for supplemental purposes, people gravitate to types 1 to 3, because these types offer different benefits. Collagen type 1 makes our skin firm, type 2 is important for our joint health and sufferers of arthritis and type 3 makes our tissues elastic.
Benefits of collagen
The reason people are interested in taking collagen supplements is that they can stimulate the growth of new collagen to prevent aging. From age 20 on, we produce less collagen. This makes the network of collagen peptides fracture and weaken. The effects gradually add up, as our skin sags and wrinkles, our joints become brittle, and our hair gets thinner. People turn to products with collagen in hopes that it will minimize these downsides of aging. But collagen has multiple uses from healing wounds to treating arthritis.
One study cites the benefits of collagen serums and creams have shown different results. It can improve collagen synthesis, promote growth, and improve the skin barrier that prevents free radicals from damaging our skin. However, when taken orally, it can also improve skin’s hydration and firmness, but reducing fragmentation. And this can have lasting effects, according to the study.
But there haven’t been enough studies to scientifically verify the health claims. And another issue is that not all collagen supplements have been tested for quality. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate health supplements in the same way as drugs, and it has less regulations on supplements. It’s up to you to research the brand you buy your collagen from.
Collagen is typically made from animal sources, so vegans may have to search hard to find a plant based source. It is a highly processed product, because the animal sources it comes from, like cow bones and fish skin, have to be crushed into a powder of fragmented peptide chains. This way, it becomes easy to administer in the form of a tablet, cream or in a glass of water. Collagen is referred to as hydrolyzed collagen in this state, which basically means water-soluble.
The difference between collagen, elastin and gelatin
Collagen, gelatin and elastin share similar properties, but it’s important not to confuse them. Here are some of the key differences between these different types of protein.
Gelatin is a form of cooked, degraded collagen made by boiling rather than breaking down bones or other animal parts. Gelative only dissolves in hot water. In contrast, collagen dissolves better in cold water, so adding it to coffee is not going to be very effective. Based on nutrition, they’re equal in protein amounts, but the types of protein they contain differ slightly. In fact, they share most of the same nutritional benefits, but gelatin is more widely known as a gelling agent for making Jello, pudding and other jiggly foods.
Elastin, like collagen, is a protein found in our connective tissues and it also helps with the elasticity of our tissues. This is its primary function, whereas collagen’s primary function is giving structure and firmness, so it also is a factor in aging.
Elastin is less abundant, however, and is only found in our blood vessels and skin. Unlike collagen, which we produce throughout our lives, we stop producing elastin after puberty. Similarly to collagen, elastin is impacted by sunlight and smoking, but it is also affected by weight gain, sleep loss, stress and dehydration. Up to 200 mg of elastin per day can be used as another anti-aging supplement.
Foods with collagen vs collagen stimulating foods
Most foods that contain collagen are animal products. When you eat these foods, you’re literally eating the skin of fish or nutrients from bone broth or other parts of meat that contain connective tissue like small ligaments, tendons or cartilage. However, if you’re not a meat eater, you can still supplement your collagen.
There are plenty of foods that contain amino acids that stimulate the growth of collagen by providing the helpful foundation to get the growth started. This is why keeping a balanced diet is key to fighting the effects of aging on your skin, joints and other tissues as you age.
Promoting your wellness through a nutritious diet will create a compounding effect, so you’ll get the benefits of more than just the targeted lack you face, whether it’s collagen or anything else. Ensuring that your body has the abundance of nutrients it needs is always ideal.
Foods for collagen growth:
Beef, chicken and fish are great sources of collagen.
Soy products like tofu and tempeh
Beans like blick and kidney beans
Legumes of all kinds
Seeds like pumpkin, sunflower and chia
Nuts like pistachios, peanuts and cashews
Fruits like berries, citrus, tomatoes and avocados
Veggies like garlic, red and yellow peppers, leafy greens, and yellow squash
How to take collagen
There are loads of products available that contain collagen. The main difference is that some are ingested orally, while others are rubbed on the skin topically.
We think the best way to get your collagen is by combining it with water. This way you get the dual benefits of hydration and strong and healthy skin, hair and tissues. Sip on collagen water from your Healthy Human and soak up its rejuvenating benefits.
An ancient remedy for all kinds of ailments, bone broth has returned in popularity thanks to an increased awareness of the benefits of collagen. Beyond collagen, though, bone broth is so potent and rich in amino acids and healthy lipid fats, that it has benefits for leaky gut and irritable bowel syndrome, joint and bone health and of course anti-aging properties. Now it is sold in condensed form and can be taken as a food-based supplement if you don’t have the time to let the leftover bones simmer in a pot of water at home.
Collagen water is a way to hydrate your body and drink healing vital proteins like collagen at the same time. There are a lot of collagen-enhanced drinks available on the market, but the problem is that many of them are contained in large bottles of single use plastic.
This is why we prefer administering collagen into water via hydration tablets. A single packet of water-soluble tablets can contain 30+ tablets. This way, you can drink healthy electrolytes along with your collagen peptides and other beneficial vitamins and nutrients for a well rounded nutritional drink. And you won’t have to pollute the planet with extra plastic along the way.
A convenient way to drink collagen water is by dropping a collagen hydration tablet into your healthy human water bottle to take your collagen supplement to go. Additional ways to ingest your collagen orally are collagen gummies and collagen powder.
Collagen serum, cream and masks
Collagen serums and related anti-aging formulas are not intended as moisturizers but rather potent combinations that your skin absorbs for its beneficial properties. You can apply them after you wash your skin and before moisturizer to receive their healing effects. Serums can contain collagen as well as other vitamins such as C and A that may also stimulate collagen, reduce sun spots or other forms of discoloration and signs of aging. Because of their potency, serums sometimes cause irritation, so test them in small amounts on a small area first.
Like serum, collagen cream is applied topically to your skin, but it usually contains both moisturizing properties and collagen that sink into your skin. The last way for collagen to be absorbed topically is through a mask. Each of these products can come with a variety of other beauty-enhancing ingredients.
Technically, there is now a form of vegan collagen available on the market. The catch? It’s a bacteria made in a lab, similar to lab-produced meat. It’s a string of amino acids created through a process of genetic modification. So, if you’re looking for a simple source of vegan collagen in nature, it will be difficult to find.
On the other hand, multi-vitamins may also give you similar effects in helping your body to boost collagen production. They contain the building blocks of collagen: amino acids.
Choosing your collagen routine
Did you know… starting a collagen routine is super easy. There are essentially two types of collagen users: one is the beauty routine queen who has all of her bottles and potions stuffed into a cabinet. She loves to insta story her way through life. The other can’t bother with makeup or skincare, because her hands are full. She’s juggling work, kids and millions of whatsapp chats, so she keeps her powders and tabs in her purse.
We hate to generalize, but you probably fall into one of these two groups? The one thing they both have in common is the need to stay moist to get the best anti-aging benefits from any supplement. Keep a Healthy Human tumbler on hand if you’re into photo ops and a Healthy Human stein clipped to your backpack if you’re constantly on the move.
This way you can drop in a collagen tab into some fresh water from the tap. Add healthy collagen water into your day whenever you think of it without missing a beat.
How much collagen is recommended per day
Anywhere between 2.5 to 10 grams of collagen powder per day may be safe and effective. However, it is difficult to generalize, considering the quality and effectiveness of collagen varies, because it is not tested the same way drugs are tested. Women who are pregnant or nursing or people with fish or shellfish allergies should take more caution when testing out collagen supplements. In general, everyone should consult with their physician to determine an appropriate amount.
Beyond collagen, overall health still matters
Even though we may want that one miracle ingredient to solve all of our problems, the truth is, our bodies benefit from a balanced, diverse diet. Don’t limit yourself to taking collagen supplements if you want to reduce aging.
Make sure you’re also staying active, hydrated, getting enough sleep and reducing your stress levels. Keep your diet balanced by eating lots of whole grains and healthy fruits and vegetables. And most of all, be grateful for your body, no matter what condition it’s in. It’s a wonderful powerhouse that lets us do the things we love.