How Collagen Helps You Reverse Signs of Aging
You might have heard before of a healing food called collagen that can reverse the signs of aging. This food nourishes skin, cushions the joints, reduces inflammation, and supports detoxification. It’s also what we have when we’re feeling ill to recover faster. What is this healing food? Bone broth!
Now, I have a sweet tooth, and I’m all about quick and easy when it comes to being in the kitchen. So making my own bone broth and sipping on the salty, savory food isn’t my thing.
Collagen powder to the rescue! It’s made of the same proteins as bone broth, and is essentially the dehydrated version. Collagen is a powerhouse supplement with head-to-toe benefits. Read on to find out how you’ll benefit from having more collagen in your life!
1. Collagen Heals Aging Joints
Cartilage, tendons, and ligaments are connective tissues that hold together our bones and joints. When these tissues get worn down, you may feel it as joint pain and stiffness. This can progress to more “wear and tear” known as osteoarthritis.
Fortunately for those who suffer, collagen works to prevent and slow this process. It provides building blocks to help the body make new healthy tissue, and antioxidants to repair the damage. When studied in a lab culture, researchers saw that adding collagen to bone cells or connective tissue cells caused them to produce more collagen. It also increased production of other important components of cartilage like hyaluronic acid, which helps to lubricate the joints. (1)
Beyond the repairs happening at the cellular level, studies show that you can really feel the benefits. Athletes given a collagen supplement saw a significant reduction in joint pain when walking, standing, and lifting objects compared to placebo. Notably, the benefits of taking collagen were even more pronounced in those with knee pain. (2)
I’m not an athlete, and I bet you aren’t either. When I did play sports in high school and college though, I suffered a few injuries. Medical imaging in my 20s showed I already had arthritis in several places of my body. Not a good sign when you’ve got another 80 years for things to break down!
Part of my plan to keep my body fit and pain-free has been collagen most days of the week. This is because it’s been proven across multiple studies to improve symptoms of osteoarthritis. Participants taking collagen report less stiffness, pain, and fewer overall osteoarthritis symptoms. (3)
2. Collagen Is Great For Your Bones
Connective tissue isn’t the only structural component that can degrade over time. We also need to think about our bones, especially if you’re in the high-risk group of postmenopausal women. Adding collagen can promote bone cells to produce more raw materials and improve the overall structure of bones.
Research on bone mineral density, a test that assesses bone health and strength, reveals how impactful collagen can be. In one study of over 100 postmenopausal women, those given collagen every day for a year had a 4.2% and 7.7% increase in bone mineral density in the spine and neck respectively. This is amazing considering that a decrease in density is expected as we age. Researchers also saw high levels of a bone-formation protein marker and lower levels of a bone-degradation marker in these women, suggesting a state of repair. (4)
3. Lowers Inflammation
Inflammation is at the root of many health conditions, and collagen can help. A common way it’s measured is via a marker called hsCRP. In a study of patients with severe burns, an example of extreme inflammation, collagen supplementation lowered hsCRP. Furthermore, these patients experienced lower insulin levels, less insulin resistance, and lower fasting blood glucose. (5)
That’s the great thing about natural solutions like collagen: they work holistically to benefit the body in many ways! Lowering inflammation meant there was less insulin resistance, and therefore other aspects of health improve. For example, decreased insulin resistance leads to more stable energy levels, less chronic disease risk, and a healthier weight.
4. Collagen Repairs Aging Skin
Beyond the benefits you can feel, collagen has benefits you can see! It makes sense that collagen would help the skin because it makes up 75% of the skin by dry weight. In addition, visible aging is associated with a decrease in the quality and quantity of collagen in the skin.
Across 11 studies of over 800 patients total, those taking collagen saw improvements in:
1. Signs of aging
4. Quantity of collagen in the skin
5. Appearance of cellulite. (6)
Fortunately, it doesn’t take very long or very much to provide the benefits most of us are looking for. Women in one study saw benefits in skin elasticity in just 4 weeks from a daily dose of 2.5g of collagen, a much smaller amount than the standard dose in most store-bought collagen powders. (7)
5. Strengthens Your Gut
Have you heard of leaky gut? It’s a big topic in the functional medicine world. It’s essentially one of the core reasons for, or in functional medicine lingo: root causes of, chronic inflammation. The more scientific term for it is intestinal permeability, in case you wanted to impress your medically-inclined family member.
Either way, a leaky gut is where the cells of the gut lining allow more particles through that, under healthy conditions, wouldn’t be granted permission. This can result in allowing large food molecules and bacterial toxins through that create sensitivity reactions when eating those foods and higher toxic burden. The result? More inflammation!
Very high stress, whether mental or physical, can increase the leakiness of the gut. In the case of severe physical stress from injury or burns, the gut is at its worst state, and is extremely leaky/permeable. Fortunately, collagen may help protect us, even in these situations. Supplementation has been shown to prevent the increase in gut leakiness that occurs with burns by maintaining the proteins that hold the gut barrier together. (8)
Furthermore, a study found that collagen had the same protective effect against inflammation-induced leaky gut. It can suppress inflammatory compounds and prevent the breakdown of important proteins that hold the gut barrier together. (9)
You should be proud of yourself; you now understand a very important topic in functional medicine and a way to address it! If you want to learn more, you can dive deeper into the topic of gut health here.
6. Your Liver Loves It
Collagen is a protein, meaning that it’s made up of amino acids. Two superstar amino acids are glycine and glutamic acid, and they just so happen to be highly concentrated in collagen! (10)
One of the many ways glycine benefits our health is by supporting the liver. In one study, mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) were given glycine. Not only did their liver health improve, but also their glucose levels, cholesterol, triglycerides, body fat, and inflammation. Conversely, restricting access to glycine in mice with fatty liver, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides enhanced inflammation and worsened their conditions. (11)
To sum up:
“Supplemental glycine may have the potential for improving endothelial function [blood vessels], preventing cardiac hypertrophy [certain heart issues], aiding control of metabolic syndrome, preventing the complications of diabetes, dampening inflammation, protecting the liver, and promoting effective sleep.”(12)
7. It’s Great for Sleep
Another benefit of glycine is the way it supports a healthy brain and nervous system. An overactive nervous system can manifest as anxiety, insomnia, migraines, and more. Sound familiar? Glycine calms the nervous system, preventing it from being overactive. (13) Because of this calming effect, glycine prior to bedtime improves sleep in those with insomnia. Though I think we can all benefit from those effects!
Notably, taking glycine during the day did not cause participants to feel drowsy, so don’t be afraid to put collagen in your morning smoothie! (12) We’ll talk more at the end about how to consume collagen (don’t worry; you’re almost there!).
8. It Supports Your Immune System and Injury Recovery
The other superstar amino acid in collagen is glutamic acid. This protein building block is converted to glutamine by the body, and then can be converted back, so they’re basically interchangeable. Glutamine is essential for maintaining and repairing muscle, feeding the gut lining to reduce leaky gut, and fueling the immune system. Although your body can make it, levels are often too low when you’re under stress.
Therefore, research shows supplementing glutamine helps to maintain muscle mass and supports recovery from injury and disease. Compared to those who don’t supplement, athletes given glutamine have fewer infections and healthier immune markers in their blood (14). It even increases the overall survival rate in hospitalized patients! (15)
9. It Boosts Your Antioxidant Defenses
Glycine and glutamic acid each have their own benefits, but the body also combines these amino acids to form part of an extremely important compound called glutathione. What do you get when you combine two superstars…? Comment below if there’s a word for that, so I can give glutathione a deserving title!
As the main antioxidant and detoxification enzyme made by the body, glutathione is vital to our body’s defense, repair, and detox systems. (15) Pro-oxidants (toxins) damage our cells and age us, and antioxidants come to our rescue (both the ones we eat and the ones we make).
When the bad guys start to win, we’re in a state that is associated with a variety of ailments, such as a weak immune system, decline of brain function, poor eye health, cancer, and more. (16) Since glutathione levels decline as we age, we become more vulnerable to oxidative stress. (12, 16) If you’re like me and want to age as slowly as possible, then you’ll want to prioritize collagen so your body can make more glutathione.
Summary: Collagen can help us age more gracefully by: cushioning joints, strengthening bones, lowering inflammation, firming and hydrating skin, decreasing leaky gut, improving liver health, enhancing sleep, recovering from injury and illness, and optimizing antioxidants.
That’s quite a list! And it’s so simple: just buy collagen peptides, like the ones in my catalog here (with a forever 10% discount!). Then add to coffee, tea, yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, soup, or anything else it can dissolve in. It has no taste or texture, so it couldn’t be any easier to promote health and reduce the effects of aging.
Collagen is part of the meal plan offered in my online program. Feel comfortable and confident in your body as I guide you step-by-step in making simple, evidence-based changes in your daily life.
- An Overview of the Beneficial Effects of Hydrolysed Collagen Intake on Joint and Bone Health and On Skin Ageing. 2015. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26267777/
- 24-Week Study on the Use of Collagen Hydrolysate as a Dietary Supplement in Athletes with Activity-related Joint Pain. 2008. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18416885/
- Effect of Collagen Supplementation on Osteoarthritis Symptoms: a Meta-Analysis. 2019. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30368550/
- Specific Collagen Peptides Improve Bone Mineral Density and Bone Markers in Postmenopausal Women. 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793325/
- Effect of Collagen Hydrolysate and Fish Oil on High-Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein and Glucose Homeostasis in Patients with severe Burn. 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34405148/
- Oral Collagen Supplementation: A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications. 2019. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30681787/
- Oral Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides Has Beneficial Effects on Human Skin Physiology. 2013. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23949208/
- Collagen Peptides Administration in Early Enteral Nutrition Intervention Attenuates Burn-Induced Intestinal Barrier Disruption: Effects on Tight Junction Structure. 2019. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1756464619300908
- Collagen Peptides Ameliorate Intestinal Epithelial Barrier Dysfunction in Immunostimulatory Caco-2 Cell Monolayers via Enhancing Tight Junctions. 2017. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28174772/
- Vital proteins Collagen. https://www.vitalproteins.com/products/collagen-peptides
- Glycine-Based Treatment Ameliorates NAFLD by Modulating Fatty Acid Oxidation, Glutathione Synthesis, and the Gut Microbiome. 2020. https://www.science.org/doi/abs/10.1126/scitranslmed.aaz2841
- Dietary Glycine Is Rate-Limiting for Glutathione Synthesis and May Have Broad Potential for Health Protection. 2018. http://www.ochsnerjournal.org/content/18/1/81.abstract#sec-8
- GABA and Glycine as Neurotransmitters: A Brief History. 2009. https://bpspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1038/sj.bjp.0706443
- The Effects of Oral Glutamine Supplementation on Athletes After Prolonged, Exhaustive Exercise. 1997. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0899900797830365
- Clinical Use of Glutamine Supplementation. 2008. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/138/10/2040S/4670117?login=true
- Deficient Synthesis of Glutathione Underlies Oxidative Stress in Aging and Can Be Corrected By Dietary Cysteine and Glycine Supplementation. 2011. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/94/3/847/4431102?login=true
Very helpful article, Katie. Thanks! How about glycine and glutamic acid being a Duplestar?! 😃
Did you make up that word? I like it!