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Do We Really Need Collagen Supplements?

Collagen, a topic I have been asked about numerous times in the last month.

I want to start by stating you cannot out supplement a diet that is devoid of vitamins and minerals, BUT you can certainly consider supplements improve your health. When considering if you should be taking collagen, you must remember that just because someone else takes collagen and it works for them ,does not mean it will work for you too.

What is Collagen?

Collagen is a protein that makes up the main structural systems in our body. It's the most abundant protein in the human body and provides structural support to tissues. Collagen also plays important roles in cellular processes such as tissue repair, immune response, blood vessel repair and cellular communication. Collagen is present in our skin, nails, bones, tendons, and ligaments. Without it we may find deterioration of our joints, skin, hair, nails, etc.

Collagen is made up of three amino acids, proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline, the main building blocks of protein. They are pulled together to form a braid-like structure that gives the tissue strength.

There are over 28 different types of collagen in the human body, each serving a unique function. Most collagen found in humans is type I, II or III.

  • Type I collagen is found in skin, bone, teeth, tendons, ligaments and organs.

  • Type II collagen is found in cartilage.

  • Type III collagen is found in skin, muscles and blood vessels.

The human body makes it’s own collagen. As we age, we become less efficient at making collagen and we may need to be more diligent about how we supply our body with nutrients to optimize collagen production.

Where Can You Find Collagen?

Collagen is found abundantly in the body. However, it is also can found in food and supplements.

Here are some of top places to find collagen:

  • Bone Broth/Bones of animals

  • Chicken

  • Fish & Shellfish

  • Eggs (the egg whites contain proline which is a component of collagen)

  • Spirulina

Collagen isn’t a great protein powder because it’s not a complete protein; meaning that it has a limiting amino acid – tryptophan – one the essential amino acids that we do not get from food. Our body thrives on having ALL essential amino acids so the point is to say collagen can be ONE source of protein in your diet but it should not be the SOLE source of protein in your diet as you will want to make up for the lack of tryptophan elsewhere in your diet.

Ways to Increase Collagen Production

Calories. If we do not consume enough calories, it’s likely we will not be able to consume enough of the inputs mentioned below. More often than not if we are restricting ourselves we will not have the proper inputs we need to make collagen.

Protein. Besides just calories, making sure you are eating enough protein is also essential. Why? Because the amino acids (proline & glycine) needed to form and produce collagen are found in protein. If you eat enough protein, your body should be able to make the collagen you need. Aim for 1-2g/kg body weight per day. Animal proteins, like chicken, fish, eggs and dairy, will be more efficient in creating collagen but you can also use plant based sources of protein as well including nuts, seeds, beans, etc.

Vitamin C. vitamin C helps with the synthesis of collagen in the body. You can find vitamin C in your fruits and vegetables like citrus fruits (i.e. lemon, oranges, grapefruit), berries, and bell peppers to name a few.

Copper. Adequate copper consumption an enzyme that is helpful in the synthesis of collagen and elastin in the body. Some top sources of copper include: liver, oysters, nuts, seeds and dark chocolate.

Zinc. Adequate zinc can help to synthesize collagen in the body and deficiency of this mineral has been shown to reduce to production of collagen in the body. Some top sources of zinc include: meat, shellfish, beans/legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs & dark chocolate.

Should You Be Taking Collagen?

Taking collagen won’t harm you, but it may not be worth all the “hype.” As stated before, you cannot out supplement a bad diet.

You must have a good overall diet first with sufficient energy and protein before you can reap the benefits of any type of dietary add-on such as a supplement. Collagen alone can’t replace the wide variety of amino acids that we need to maintain our bodies.

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