Everything You Need To Know About Collagen

Collagen is the body’s most abundant type of protein. In fact, it makes up around 30% of the body’s total protein content. We thought we should take a deeper look at this special protein so as always, have spoken to Kelly who gives us the lowdown!

First up, what is it?

Proteins are made up of amino acids, and collagen is no exception! It’s composed of repeating groups of the amino acids glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. These amino acids form long chains, and collagen is the ‘rope’ formed when three of these long chains of amino acids twist about each other in a triple helix shape.

Why do we need it?

Why do we need it?

Basically, collagen is part of the fibrous ‘scaffolding’ which gives our body its form and shape.

It is the major building block for connective tissue – i.e. those tissues that give your body shape and structure. These include your hair, skin, nails, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bones. Blood is also technically a connective tissue and collagen helps with blood clotting.  Blood vessels, teeth and the corneas of our eyes also contain collagen. 

Finally it provides strength, resilience and elasticity to the body’s connective tissues. For our skin, this translates to firmness, suppleness, elasticity and that ability to ‘bounce back’.

Are their different types?

Are their different types?

Yes! In fact, 28 different types have been discovered so far. But of these, 80-90% belong to the first three types – types I, II and III.  

The most abundant form in the body is type I, followed by type III, and they are always found together.  These types of collagen make up skin, hair, nails, blood vessels, teeth, tendons and bones. They are the strongest types.

Type II is the form most often found in joint cartilage. Cartilage protects the ends of bones from rubbing against each other, as well as providing the structural shape of the ears, nose, bronchial tubes, and rib cage.  Type II is also important for supporting the health of our gut lining. It improves the barrier function of the gut and in turn supports both digestive and immune health.

Are any of these types better than the others?

Different types of collagen have different roles to play in the body.  One type isn’t better than another, it’s just what’s used to make up that particular tissue.  In terms of supporting the health of these tissues, you want to replicate the type of collagen that it’s made from. So if you were supporting your skin’s health – choose types I and III. For joint health or gut health, go for type II.

Do our bodies create collagen or do we need to get it from our diets?

Do our bodies create collagen or do we need to get it from our diets?

Yes our bodies can make it but to do so the body needs the right raw materials. Protein foods, particularly animal proteins, are a rich source of the amino acids needed to form collagen.

When we eat protein, our body breaks it down into the individual amino acid unit for building new proteins and compounds. The same applies when we consume collagen supplements. There are 11 non-essential amino acids that the body can make itself.  But there are 9 essential amino acids that must be obtained from the diet.

How do we make collagen?

How do we make collagen?

The two key amino acids for building collagen are proline and glycine. These are non-essential amino acids, meaning the body can manufacture them. But keeping dietary supplies high mean you don’t have to waste resources making it.

Proline is found in large amounts in gelatin, bone broth, cheese, whey protein, spirulina, egg whites, wheat germ, mushrooms, cabbage and asparagus. Glycine is found in the skin of chicken, turkey and pork, gelatin and broth, avocado, garlic and fennel.

Vitamin C is also critical for converting proline into the third needed ingredient for collagen formation – hydroxyproline.  This can be found in rich supply in kiwifruit, citrus, strawberries and bell peppers.

How will collagen help me?

Studies show that types I and III can improve the appearance, thickness, function and moisture content of our skin. As well as improving the structural integrity and elasticity of skin. Plus, it may also reduce photo-damage from UVB light, helping you to look younger!

It also strengthens your hair and nails.  Hair follicles readily absorb into its collagen-containing structures.  Research also shows that a lack of collagen can delay the hair cycle and hair growth. Brittle nails are also helped by its intake, with daily supplementation supporting nail growth and strength.

In addition to hair, skin and nail health, collagen also supports the health of joints, bones and a strong digestive tract. It’s a win, win!

How much do we need?

How much do we need?

A research paper published in the scientific journal Nutrients in May 2019 asked this very question. And the result was that an additional 2.5 – 15g of collagen peptides could be safely incorporated into the daily diet whilst maintaining normal amino acid balance.

How would I know if I’m not getting enough?

How would I know if I’m not getting enough?

If you are experiencing any of the following, then it may be your body’s collagen production needs some help. 

  • Skin laxity and wrinkles
  • Thinning skin
  • Hallowed checks or eye sockets
  • Brittle hair or nails
  • Aching muscles or joint pain
  • Cellulite
  • Brittle bones, slow-healing fractures
  • Leaky gut

Should I use a collagen supplement?  What sources are best?

Should I use a collagen supplement?  What sources are best?

Collagen supplementation is a convenient and easy way to ensure you’re getting high-quality protein.  But finding the right source depends on your goals.

Marine-sourced type I collagen is best for raising overall levels and improving the quality of skin, hair, nails and bones.  It’s 1.5 times more bioavailable to the body than chicken or beef-sourced collagen.

However, type II collagen is the most important form of collagen for supporting your joints, digestive tract and immunity.  Chicken or bovine cartilage are the main sources.  So make sure you check which type you are using!

Are there other ways to increase my collagen intake?

Making your own bone broth is an excellent way of increasing your intake!  And it couldn’t be easier.  Slowly simmering marrow-filled bones and cartilage of animals in water with apple cider vinegar yields a collagen-rich, gelatinous liquid.  On the stove, it takes about 8-12 hours or at least 4 hours in a pressure cooker. The easiest way to make it though is to throw all of your ingredients into the crockpot and leave slowly simmering away for 24-48 hours!  Then just strain and cool the liquid. If the consistency is very jelly-like when the liquid is cooled, then you have a very high gelatin collagen content.