What is collagen? Found throughout our bodies, it’s essential for good mobility, healthy joints, and healthy skin. Dr. Doni talks about how to support healthy collagen levels in your body.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. We don’t think about it often, despite how important it is. After all, we can’t see it. 70% of our skin is made up of collagen. 90% of our organic bone mass is collagen. It’s also a major component of ligaments, joints, and tendons.
Collagen is quite literally what holds our bodies together. So you can imagine how important it is to maintain healthy levels of collagen in our bodies. Let’s take a closer look.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the main structural protein found throughout our bodies. Collagen is in our skin, bones, joints, ligaments, cartilage, blood vessels, organs, muscles, and even teeth. You might hear it described as the “scaffolding” of the body.
However, scaffolding seems to rigid. In reality, it is supportive yet stretchy at the same time. In fact, the word – collagen – comes from the Greek prefix, kόlla (glue), and the suffix, gen (producing).
This is what allows our body to bend and move with ease; sometimes with too much ease. If your collagen is too stretchy that could be a sign of hypermobility or Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. In both of these cases, the joints are able to flex to deeper degrees than normal, often increasing the chance for injury.
For most people, however, collagen is essential for keeping joints healthy, bones strong, hair full and skin tight without wrinkles.
Types of Collagen
While there are actually 16 different types of collagen, there are 4 main ones to focus on that account for the majority of the collagen in our bodies:
- Type I: Roughly 90% of collagen is type I found in the skin, bone, tendons, ligaments, connective tissue, and teeth.
- Type II: Found in joints and muscles this is what “cushions” our joints.
- Type III: Again, in the muscles, but also in organs and arteries.
- Type IV: Found in the layers of our skin to aid in filtration.
How Collagen Is Made
Our bodies produce collagen naturally, around the clock. Production levels diminish with age. That said, certain nutrients are still required for proper collagen production, namely proline and glycine, which we get from a healthy diet. Vitamin C helps combine these two amino acids – the building blocks of protein. When we digest animal proteins, fish, legumes, etc., the proteins get broken down into various amino acids before being converted into collagen.
Nutrients That Increase Collagen Levels
Altogether, the four nutrients you should seek to consume to make sure your body has what it needs in order to produce new collagen are:
- Proline: An amino acid found in dairy, egg whites, cabbage, asparagus, and mushrooms.
- Glycine: Also an amino acid, primarily in the skin of chicken and pork, as well as other proteins.
- Vitamin C: Easily sourced from citrus fruits, potatoes, peppers, and strawberries.
- Copper: found in organ meat such as liver, lentils, and seeds. (Please note, it’s important to make sure you get enough zinc along with copper.)
Collagen is Unique to You Based on Your Genetics
Interestingly, collagen is unique to each person’s own body and genetics. How collagen is produced or works within the body differs from person to person. There are a number of genes that influence collagen production, for example COL1A1, COL1A2, COL1A3, and COL5A1. Depending on which gene variations you have, you may be more likely to experience symptoms of hypermobility or Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, of which there are at least 13 types.
A few years ago, when looking at my genes, I realized that I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and so does my daughter. I lived this many years of my life without ever knowing that these genes were pre-disposing me to joint pain, injuries, migraines, allergies, and vaso-vagal syndrome. And many people have this same experience of not knowing why they are experiencing pain, or have been given a different diagnosis, such as fibromyalgia, when really it is stretching collagen that is causing the issues.
I feel passionate about this because, whether you’ve been diagnosed with EDS, arthritis, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, or other musculo-skeletal pain, most practitioners won’t tell you that there are supplements you can take to help support your collagen.
Like everything in our bodies, however, we must also look at the influences from environment, diet, stress and toxins. Comprehensively, this allows us to customize a protocol specific to what will alleviate pain, discomfort, or symptoms for you.
What Diminishes Collagen Production?
Unfortunately, collagen production decreases as we age. This can result in wrinkles, change in vision, arthritis, and joint pain as our bodies slowly reduce making healthy collagen.
Additionally, the following can damage current collagen or reduce production:
- Diets high in sugar and carbohydrates
- Sun and UV radiation (evident by the skin damage caused by prolonged exposure)
- Cigarette smoking (which also impairs wound healing)
- Inflammation, such as from food sensitivities and autoimmune diseases
- Prolonged stress exposure
- Inadequate sleep
To ensure healthy collagen throughout your body, we will want to avoid or decrease exposure to these factors, and at the same time, help your body get enough sleep and recover from stress. In fact I found that stress recovery has been essential part of my own health plan to keep me out of pain.
What is Stress Recovery?
Yes, the activities you are likely already thinking of, such as meditation, journaling, and listening to music all help our bodies recover from stress on a day to day basis. Exercise is also on the list of activities that help with stress, however for those of us with EDS, injuries or arthritis, it is important that we modify exercise so as not to cause further pain.
Then, the next level of stress recovery involves first finding out exactly how stress has affected your cortisol and adrenaline levels. If we don’t know your cortisol levels at this point in time, then we don’t know which nutrients and herbs would best help get your cortisol back to optimal levels. And if cortisol is not optimal, it is sending stress signals out to your digestion, immune system, hormones and nervous system over and over, every day, working against your goal of improving your health.
Doing a cortisol and adrenaline panel is critical to optimizing your collagen over time.
Now what if you could also swallow collagen – does it make it to your skin and joints?
Benefits of Ingesting Collagen
Since collagen is the scaffolding for our skin, the recent trend in collagen-related cosmetics and skincare makes sense. The question is, does ingesting collagen improve the skin?
At least twelve studies have shown that, in fact, ingesting collagen peptides* does have a positive effect on the skin without side effects. For example, a recent study demonstrated an increase in skin hydration, elasticity and the reduction of wrinkles in women taking oral collagen supplements. The effective dosage used in the studies is 10 grams of bioactive collagen for at least 56 days.1 (See references below.)
Studies have also shown that ingested collagen is absorbed in the intestines and increases the production of cartilage in joints. This is thought to be helpful for joint issues in men and women, such as osteoarthritis and Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome. A 2017 study demonstrated decreased joint inflammation and protection of the collagen-producing cells, which is remarkable.2
Another 2019 study on the use of collagen saw an increase in muscle growth in men who combined collagen peptides with their training.3
Finally, fibromyalgia patients apprehensive about excessive use of pain medication have seen promising results in pain reduction thanks to increased collagen production.
How to Add Collagen to Your Diet
As previously mentioned, it’s important to consume foods high in proline, glycine, and Vitamin C. You can also support collagen levels with:
- Hydrolyzed collagen is collagen that’s been broken down into easy-to-process peptides and made into supplements or powders which dissolve in cold or warm liquids. Powders can be from either animal or fish, though it’s important to find quality products that have all or most of the type I collagen.
- Bone broth made from animal bones. If you can, choose organic bone broth made from grass-fed animals.
- Gelatin which comes from cooked collagen, is colorless and flavorless. It is used to make jelly-like food products, such as gummy candies.
- Skin Te is a cold beverage that has collagen inside of it, created by my friend and colleague, Dr. Amy Bader, and her team.
How to Integrate Collagen Support:
- Add collagen powder to your beverage – tea, coffee or protein shake. I add 1 teaspoon of collagen powder to my pea protein shake.
- Use collagen powder as a hypoallergenic protein source. Collagen powder contains 5 grams of protein per teaspoon.
- Include collagen in your leaky gut healing protocol. It can be used along-side glutamine and DGL for leaky gut healing.
- Look for collagen powder that also includes other collagen and joint supportive nutrients such as vitamin C, magnesium, and hyaluronic acid.
- Also include Khavinson peptides to support collagen – specifically Sigumir and Cartalax. These Khavison peptides improve the body’s ability to make collagen by resetting cellular function at a genetic level. (I take these peptides for my hypermobility!)
If you would like to learn more about collagen production and how it can improve your skin, muscle mass, bone strength, or joint pain, watch me discuss it in this replay of the live session.
Finally, if you would like to schedule a consult to discuss symptoms you are having, you can do so here.
21st May 2020
*Please use any and all supplements with caution – nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or anything else. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.
- Bello AE, Oesser S. Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature. Curr Med Res Opin. 2006;22(11):2221‐2232. doi:10.1185/030079906X148373
- Dar QA, Schott EM, Catheline SE, et al. Daily oral consumption of hydrolyzed type 1 collagen is chondroprotective and anti-inflammatory in murine posttraumatic osteoarthritis. PLoS One. 2017;12(4):e0174705. Published 2017 Apr 6. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0174705
- Bolke L, Schlippe G, Gerß J, Voss W. A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2494. Published 2019 Oct 17. doi:10.3390/nu11102494