Collagen Protein: How And Why You Should Include It In Your Diet

Tiffany Lester, MD
June 5, 2017

Collagen has recently become the darling of the protein powder world, and for good reason. It has numerous benefits ranging from healing the gut to glowing skin. At Parsley Health we have been getting numerous questions about collagen powder from patients. Everyone wants to know whether they should be adding it to their diet.

You may have heard about the external benefits of collagen—reducing fine lines, healthier hair, and strong nails from topical beauty products. But taking collagen powder internally can have even greater health benefits. Additionally, topical products typically have molecules that are too large to fully absorb through the skin. Because of this, healing the body from the inside out through diet and oral supplements is key to lasting health.

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Collagen is literally the “glue” that holds our tissues together including our bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, and digestive system. And it is the most abundant protein in our bodies. Around age 35, our natural collagen stores begin to decrease which may lead to achy joints and poor digestion. In addition, genetics, smoking, a high sugar diet, excessive alcohol intake, and environmental factors can also speed the natural decline in collagen amounts in our bodies.

Here’s what you need to know about collagen:

The different types of collagen

There are actually 16 different types of collagen with type one accounting for about 90% of the body’s total supply.

  • Type 1: the strongest and most abundant form found in bones, joints, skin, and organs.
  • Type 2: primarily builds cartilage which is essential for joint health.
  • Type 3: found in highest quantities in our blood vessels and skin.
  • Type 4: found in our digestive and respiratory organs.

Most of the collagen on the market is bovine (cow or beef) collagen. And this is the naturally occurring protein found in the hides, bones, and cartilage of cows. In addition, it provides adequate amounts of Type 1 and 3 collagen while also being rich in the amino acids glycine and proline (ideal for muscle building and cardiovascular health). The best brands contain hydrolyzed collagen which is 90% more bioavailable than what is found in food.

Chicken collagen is mostly type 2 collagen and provides support for healthy joints especially through glucosamine and chondroitin. In addition, it contains arginine, an amino acid that converts to nitric oxide. Because nitric oxide is a neurotransmitter that relaxes blood vessels (key factor in high blood pressure), it improves overall circulation.

Fish collagen is high in type 1 collagen and are more highly absorbed than chicken or bovine due to smaller particle size. And it is sometimes called marine collagen when looking at a nutrition label.

What if I am vegan/vegetarian?

Collagen only comes from animal sources. So, depending on why you are following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, taking a collagen supplement may not be possible for you. But, we recommend that you incorporate foods that are high in collagen into your diet, some of which are listed near the end of this article.

The benefits of collagen

  • Repairs leaky gut (glutamine)
  • Reduces appearance of cellulite and stretch marks
  • Reduce anxiety (glycine)
  • Protective for heart disease (proline)
  • Improves alcohol related liver damage
  • Reduces joint pain
  • Boosts metabolism

How to add more collagen to your diet

  • Bone broth. This is one of my favorite ways to consume collagen. And whether you make your own or find a quality store brand, it is worth the investment.
  • Collagen protein powder. Make sure you get a grass-fed, pasture-raised version that doesn’t contain chemicals or antibiotics. But more is not better as may lead to constipation so keep your serving size to 1-2 tbsp a day. Because it’s very versatile, you can add it to your smoothie, oatmeal, pancakes/muffins, or coffee.
  • Eat collagen rich foods. These include beets, fish, kale, spinach, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and garlic.

Check out our new Essential Collagen in the Parsley Store.

Tiffany Lester, MD

Dr. Tiffany Lester is a board-certified Integrative Medicine Physician who has practiced a holistic approach to health for over a decade. She is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where she completed her training in internal medicine. She also graduated from the Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil, and has extensive training in functional medicine through the Institute of Functional Medicine. Dr. Lester is also featured as a teacher for the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and regularly contributes to national wellness publications.

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