Food Freedom Friday Edition 194 - Getting More Collagen

Collagen may be best known for its role in keeping skin firm, yet as the most abundant protein in the body, it also does a whole lot more. Studies suggest its amino acids can help reduce joint pain and other arthritis symptoms, protect the delicate lining of the gastrointestinal tract, and even promote healthy sleep.

Collagen is an important part of the body, especially with conditions that tend to arise with increasing age. These include decreasing bone density and joint health, and arthritis.

Collagen stores decline naturally with age, however, and certain environmental factors, like stress and toxic exposures, can further slow its production. This may lead to a host of unwelcome issues — stiff joints, sagging skin, and the creeping onset of arthritis symptoms.

As mainstream knowledge of collagen’s benefits has grown in recent years (especially its connection to gut health), the popularity of supplements has also surged: Collagen powders now crowd the shelves at health food stores, and bone broth (an excellent whole-food source) has become a trendy drink and menu addition.

As is often the case with “new” health products, the risk that collagen marketers promise too much looms large. There is general agreement that the protein is essential to your overall health, even if disagreements surface as to amount, the best sources, and how to most effectively support its production in your body.

Why Collagen Matters

Collagen protein is a central component of the body’s connective tissues, including skin, tendons, and ligaments. It is also found between the spinal discs and in bones, muscles, fascia, cartilage, blood vessels, the gut, and even the cornea.

Its amino acids, especially glycine, offer powerful health benefits. Studies have connected the amino acids to improved immunity, tissue resilience, protein synthesis, and wound healing, as well as increased antioxidant activity. Glycine, specifically, has also been shown to reduce the risk of developing several chronic conditions, including obesity and type 2 diabetes.

People typically focus on how collagen supplements enhance the look of the skin but collagen is also a powerful anti- inflammatory due to being rich in glycine. Reducing chronic inflammation is the biggest key to preventing chronic conditions.

Collagen contains many other supportive amino acids. Proline, for example, supports skin health and wound healing, while hydroxyproline (which the body makes from proline) strengthens connective joint tissue.

The Collagen Process

Because collagen production begins to wane with age, health experts often recommend more collagen-rich foods and supplements to offset any effects. There is, however, some debate as to how much these interventions help.

When you eat collagen, digestive enzymes break it down into single amino acids and small peptides. The body absorbs them, at which point they may be repurposed back into collagen — or not.

There is some evidence that eating collagen may help restore collagen in the skin, but it is inconclusive.

Other research suggests supplemental collagen may help ease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) without the side effects of conventional drugs. In a study of 228 patients with RA who received either a placebo or one of four differently sized doses of oral collagen, researchers found that participants experienced positive results from even the lowest collagen dose.

There are many factors that can accelerate collagen degradation including overexposure to the sun, environmental toxins, sugar, and stress. This in turn means there are many reasons to add a moderate dose of collagen to your diet.

How to Get More Collagen

It is important to support and enhance your body’s own production of collagen. The best approach would be whole foods first and supplements second. Certain foods help stimulate collagen production, and specific nutrients, including vitamin C, are necessary for this process.

Whole Meats

Because collagen comes from animal tissue, one might assume eating more meat will help. Yet much depends on the type of meat.

Certain cuts, including roasts, sausage, and skin-on chicken, contain connective tissue rich in collagen. Simply choosing whole, bone-in chicken with the skin on, for instance, is an easy way to incorporate more collagen into a meal.

Most people eat primarily lean muscle meat. When eating something like a  skinless, boneless chicken breasts, the connective tissue and the collagen that’s present in skin-on meats cooked with the bone is lost.

Skinless, boneless muscle meats pose further problems. They are high in methionine, an amino acid that raises homocysteine levels, which research has linked to an increased risk of metabolic disorders, chronic inflammatory conditions (including cancer and cardiovascular disease), and accelerated aging.

In past millennia, early humans ate more parts of the animal and thus tended to avoid these health issues, possibly because eating bone-in meats and other collagen-rich animal tissues helped mitigate methionine’s negative effects, thanks to the glycine.

Eating fish is an easy way to incorporate more food-based collagen into your diet. Fish broth and canned salmon are prime sources of collagen. Fresh wild-caught salmon contains high amounts of zinc, which activates the proteins needed for collagen synthesis. Cod, mackerel, and other types of whitefish are loaded with glycine and proline.

Bone Broth

Drinking bone broth is an excellent way to supply your body with collagen along with its precursors and building blocks.

Making your own bone broth requires patience but little else. All you need are bones (chicken, beef, or fish), some apple-cider vinegar to help pull gelatin from the bones, and whatever vegetables you like. Put all the ingredients into a large stockpot or slow cooker and simmer for 24 to 48 hours.

When choosing bones, opt for grass-fed, organic livestock sources or wild-caught fish. This is especially important because any toxins the animal harbors will be concentrated in the long-simmered liquid.

Most natural markets now carry premade packaged bone broth, but shelf-stable brands tend to offer less collagen than homemade versions, because manufacturers typically cook the broth at higher temperatures for shorter durations. Look for freshly made collagen-rich broths in the refrigerated or freezer section when making your own is a challenge.

Note: Broth containing plenty of collagen thickens when it cools. If it stays clear and thin, it’s lacking.

Non-Meat Collagen Boosters

Vegetarians and vegans can choose from a variety of plant-derived compounds that deliver benefits similar to those of collagen.

L-glutamine, for example, addresses gastrointestinal issues. It can be found in red cabbage, asparagus, broccoli raab, and other whole foods. Some researchers consider L-glutamine more powerful than collagen for healing intestinal permeability.

Consider incorporating a few of these foods which contain plentiful amounts of the amino acids that make collagen so beneficial:

·       Glycine-rich foods, including bananas, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kiwi, pumpkin, and spinach.

·       Proline-rich foods, such as asparagus, beans, buckwheat, cabbage, cucumber, chives, mushrooms, seaweed, spinach, and watercress.

Help Collagen Help You

Your body needs specific nutrients to produce its own collagen.

·       Vitamin C helps link specific amino acids together to build collagen. In addition to citrus, vitamin-C-rich foods include broccoli, kale, chili peppers, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, and parsley.

·       Sulfur is critical to collagen formation. Ideal foods include garlic, onions, leeks, eggs, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Garlic is a very good collagen-supporting nutrient because it is rich in sulfur and contains taurine and lipoic acid, both of which help repair damaged collagen.

·       Zinc and copper aid collagen synthesis. Foods high in zinc include pastured lamb, nuts, pumpkin, and pumpkin seeds. Sunflower seeds and shellfish are good sources of copper. Oysters and cacao powder contain both copper and zinc.

·       Lysine is an amino acid required for collagen synthesis. Key sources of lysine are Meat, specifically red meat, pork, and poultry, cheese, particularly parmesan, eggs, pistachios, pumpkin seeds and tempeh.

Collagen Supplementation

While views differ about the effectiveness of powdered collagen supplements, most experts agree they can’t hurt.

Although real food is always best, by taking collagen powders you will get more of the amino acids that may help you make your own collagen.

Powdered supplements are also easy to integrate into any diet. They generally have a mild flavor that tends to go unnoticed when blended into smoothies or coffee.

Powdered collagen supplements are also a highly digestible, assimilable form of protein. For people a compromised gut, where it is more challenging for them to get the nutrition out of food, collagen powder is one step closer to being digestible.

If you opt for a supplement, make sure it is free from sugar or chemical sweeteners. Avoid making it your only protein powder. The amino acids in collagen powder are supportive, but are not complete. There is no tryptophan in collagen, meaning collagen fails to support mood. Protein supplements are best when rotated.

Supplement Labels Simplified

Learn how to decipher some of the terms you’ll encounter on supplement labels:

·       Gelatin: When collagen is cooked down to make it more digestible, it produces gelatin. Gelatin is collagen, just in a cooked and easier-to- absorb form (it is considered partially hydrolyzed or broken down). Gelatin thickens when it cools. You can use grass-fed, sugar- and additive-free varieties of gelatin to make a healthy version of the boxed- gelatin treats or gummies you may enjoy.

·       Hydrolyzed collagen: This form of collagen is broken down even further into its component parts than gelatin, making it even easier for the body to absorb. Hydrolyzed collagen can be dissolved in hot or cold water (gelatin must be dissolved in warm water), and it does not thicken when it cools.

·       Peptides: This is just another word to indicate that the collagen has been separated into its various components so it is easier to absorb. It is often used interchangeably with “hydrolyzed collagen.”

Whether or not taking additional collagen supplements will help your ills is up to your individual condition and lifestyle. There are many natural ways to get in your dose of this superstar nutrient each day. If you want to consume collagen naturally, eat a well-balanced, high-protein diet that includes animal products or plants that support collagen synthesis.

Michal Ofer