Collagen is a protein that is made in the body from the amino acids proline, glycine, hydroxyproline and arginine. Collagen is a building block for the structure of our hair, skin, nails, ligaments and tendons. There are at least 11 different types of collagen, and they are divided into groups according to the structure they form. The most common type in the body is Type 1 collagen (1). This makes up 90% of our body’s protein, as it is found in skin, tendons, vasculature, organs and bones. Cartilage is made from Type 2 Collagen.
Animal skins, scales, muscles and bones are cooked down to make gelatin. Hydrolyzed collagen is further refined to make a product that is more dissolvable than gelatin. You can consume collagen directly through the consumption of gelatin in jellies, some small bones (tinned salmon bones), bone broth (see a recipe below), or cuts of meat which are tougher due to more connective tissue in the muscle, so need to be slow cooked, to make the meat more tender. If you are a vegan, you cannot get collagen directly from a vegan diet, you need to eat foods that contain both glycine and proline, which will help your body to make collagen.
There is new emerging research on the use of collagen to strengthen the ligaments and tendons of the body. In one study, participants taking 10 grams of collagen hydrolysate over a 24 week period found less joint pain on walking, standing, carrying and lifting (2). Another study looked at collagen hydrolysate in 5 gram or 15 gram doses enriched with Vitamin C (48 milligrams). They took serum from subjects taking collagen, applied it to engineered ligaments, and found they had increased collagen content and improved mechanics, in both 5 gram and 15 gram doses (3). Thus the recommendation currently is to take 10 grams of collagen hydrolysate 30 minutes before exercise, or 5 – 15 grams gelatin, with 50 milligrams Vitamin C for both (4).
Vitamin C is essential for collagen biosynthesis. Vitamin C serves as a co-factor for enzymes prolysyl and lysyl hydroxylase, the enzymes responsible for stabilizing and cross linking collagen, and it directly activates transcription of collagen synthesis and stabilises procollagen (regulating collagen synthesis). Consuming plenty of anti-oxidants may help prevent the breakdown of collagen in the body (5). Eat lots of fresh, colourful fruits and veggies.
As we age our natural collagen production declines, and visible signs of aging appear such as the fine lines and wrinkles on our hands and face, and our skin becomes more fragile. Exposure to sun is one of the main reasons for skin aging, due to the buildup of free radicals which destroy our cells. You can obtain benefit from topical (direct) application of collagen and Vitamin C to your skin (5), or you can consume plenty of good quality proteins and vitamin C in your diet to help with healthy collagen production.
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