connective craze: is collagen healthy for you?

Based on the scoop I’ve learned about the latest supplement trend, I won’t be scooping into a tub of Vital Proteins any time soon.

Across social media, people are toting the benefits of collagen powders and products. Instagram models share their morning smoothies and bulletproof coffees, proudly advertising for health brands coming out with new ways to consume more collagen.

For all the collagen I see, rarely do I see people answering the question, is collagen healthy? Should we all be taking it, and if so, why aren’t we? Collagen makes big claims, but I don’t buy all of them.

What is collagen?

Collagen is a structural protein found in the connective tissues in our bodies, which means it’s in our skin, hair, muscles, bones, and even blood vessels. As a protein, it contains amino acids like glycine, proline, and lysine, which are needed to repair muscles, bone, and joints, and support healthy hair and skin. Collagen makes up about 30 percent of the structural protein in the body and acts as a glue holding everything together.

As we age, the elasticity of our skin decreases because we produce less and weaker collagen.

Our bodies naturally make collagen from the amino acids and vitamins and minerals we eat, such as copper and Vitamins A and C. As we age, the amount of collagen in our bodies slowly decreases. Since 70 percent of our skin is made of collagen, it makes sense that wrinkles, cellulite and sagging creep into older years. Some also blame that decrease in collagen production for creaky joints, thinning cartilage, and slower muscle recovery.

So why would we supplement collagen?

Until recently, collagen was still a “secret ingredient” for fighting the signs of aging, but it was only used in topical forms or injections focusing on one area of the body, like the face.

What collagen supplements claim is taking the protein as a supplement in your diet will support your overall collagen production, beating signs of aging before worrying about any spot treatment. That means collagen will support your overall tissue health, especially focused upon bone strength and your hair, skin, and nails.

Not only the skin and bones use collagen. The proteins can help repair any stress damage in your digestive tract, fighting against inflammatory bowel disease. And since muscles are made of tissues, the most important muscle in your body, the heart, also benefits, along with keeping your metabolism in top shape.

Worth the hype? Nope.

There are very limited studies into how taking collagen as a supplement actually helps your whole body. Just like exercise, you cannot entirely isolate and target specific parts of your body to become leaner or stronger. There is no research that suggests that the collagen we eat automatically gets turned into collagen in our tissues.

Collagen is still a protein, a polypeptide chain of amino acids. When you digest this substance, it’ll go wherever the body might use it best, not necessarily to make you look prettier, younger, or more agile. It’s not much different from eating proteins from other sources.

Not to mention, collagen supplements are expensive, a one month’s supply of drinkable collagen powder coming in around 50 bucks a month. Especially when there is limited studies backing up its claims, the best way to keep collagen levels up in your body is to enjoy a variety of protein sources in your diet, such as beans, quinoa and nuts.

Where do we source supplemental collagen?

It’s not pretty, nor healthy for the environment.

Collagen is a type of gelatin. This is what it looks like before going into your smoothies. Yeah, not pretty.

Virtually all collagen supplements are not vegan. Collagen is technically the hydrolyzed form of gelatin. Since we are technically animals, other animals like cows, pigs, and fish also produce collagen. This means we’re ingesting their ground-up bones, ligaments and skin to try and make our skin better. Even the keratin in sheep’s wool has been used to help human collagen production.

Does that make much sense? If you’re interesting in boosting your collagen production, something you don’t need to be concerned with until after age 25, there are other ways to do so.

More power, less powder.

Taking straight collagen hasn’t been proven to have much benefit. It’s not worth investing your money into, nor is it necessary to consume by-products of the animal industry in the process.

The best way to support collagen levels and production now and in the future? Consuming whole, plant-based foods high in vitamins and minerals. Some important examples for supporting a healthy body include:

broccoli, kale, peppers (with Vitamin C)
tofu, beans, and quinoa (with amino acids)
carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes (with Vitamin A)
cashews, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds (with traces of manganese, copper and zinc)

Another way to keep up collagen levels? Take care of your skin and muscles. Collagen shouldn’t be your one “super nutrient” expected to solve all your health and aging woes. Stay active with exercise you enjoy. Wear sunscreen and keep your skin clean and protected when exposing it to the elements.

So, is collagen healthy for you? It’s an abundant material composing our bodies’ structures. But we’ve known how to effectively take care of it long before the trendy sponsorships began. A balanced, nutritious diet and regular exercise are what we really need.

We cannot isolate one aspect of life, the signs of aging, and look for a miracle cure. It’s just life. All we can do is take care of ourselves, our entire selves, and do so mindfully and consistently.

Mindful meditation: Our Father, as You grant us blessed years on this earth, we must face our changing faces and bodies: wrinkles, sags and all. Help us to accept ourselves in every stage of life and prioritize full-body wellness to best serve You and others. Amen.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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