For millennia, our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to hunt for their meals and would consume their prey from “nose to tail”, not wanting to waste any food because they didn’t know when their next meal would come. Making soup stock or bone broth was also an ancestral practice to ensure nothing was wasted and all the potential nutrients extracted. The parts of the animal you couldn't eat - bones, marrow, skin, ligaments, etc - were boiled down and left to simmer over days. This technique would allow key nutrients such as the amino acids glycine and glutamine, minerals like calcium and magnesium, and protein like collagens to be absorbed. Today, we don’t have to worry about “hunting and gathering” our next meal, but unfortunately we’ve lost out on some of the major nutrition benefits of eating nose to tail
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the “glue” that helps hold the body together and is the most abundant protein in the body. Collagen keeps your skin firm and elastic, your joints strong and stable, and your digestive system healthy and working. However, as we age in years and use our bodies for movement, collagen levels in our bodies naturally decline.
1. Supports Healthy Gut
Digestive complaints are on the rise: gas, bloating, heartburn, constipation, and abdominal discomfort seem to be the norm these days. These are all signs that you’re likely suffering from dysbiosis, the medical term for the accumulation of too much bad bacteria in the gut.
This is problematic because it can lead to damage of the intestinal lining, which is a one-cell thick structure that resembles a cheese-cloth. When it is weakened, the intestine lining can allow foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses to flow into your bloodstream. This scenario is what the term leaky gut is referring to. People with leaky gut can also have silent, non-obvious symptoms too. In this case, you may struggle with fatigue, allergies, poor immunity (or an autoimmune condition), joint pain, or brain fog.
Collagen is loaded with the amino acid glutamine, which has been shown to be highly effective for preventing leaky gut and the subsequent chronic inflammation that can wreak havoc on the body.
2. Improves Skin Quality
The loss of collagen as you age contributes to wrinkles and poor skin quality. While spending money on expensive creams can help your skin externally, your diet has the biggest influence on your skin health, which means skin beauty starts from the inside out.
Diets high in sugar and processed carbohydrates cause our bodies to produce advanced glycated end products (AGEs), which reduce the density of collagen fibrils, leading to wrinkles and aging skin quality. As well, chronic exposure to the sun can damage the collagen fibers in your skin.
Supplemental collagen has been shown to reduce the harmful UV-B induced skin damage in order to support superior skin quality.
3. Fights Joint Pain
Chronic pain and arthritis are two of the most common reasons for patient visits to the doctor. The solutions often prescribed from those visits are ointments and drugs that help ease the pain, but do not address the root of the problem.
The building blocks of healthy joints come from your diet. These include key amino acids like proline, lysine, and glutamine, which support the natural production of collagen in the body.
Recent studies show improvement in pain and physical function after supplementation with hydrolyzed collagen (see Figure 1.0). Ensuring you eat enough quality protein or easily digestible supplemental collagen is fundamental to healthy joints in the long run.
Figure 1.0 – Impacts of Collagen Supplementation on Pain & Physical Function
4. Supports Weight Loss
Today, processed and convenient snack foods are all around us and are a major contributor to cravings for sugar, overeating, and weight gain. (Check out my recent article on the subject – How The Western Diet Triggers Weight Gain).
Collagen supports weight loss in a unique way. It’s not a thermogenic or stimulant, like most weight loss supplements, but rather it impacts your satiety levels by naturally inhibiting the main hormone in the gut that triggers hunger, stopping you from grabbing that mid-afternoon sugar-laden granola bar.
Adding collagen to your mid-morning coffee or mid-afternoon tea can be a great strategy to curb cravings and make it through to your next meal.
5. Improves Athletic Recovery
If you’re active, training intensely, or always on-the-go, then your joints are likely suffering from some wear and tear. The food you eat has the biggest impact on your joint health.
Recently, leading expert Dr. Keith Baar Ph.D. found that taking collagen 1-hour before exercise or rehab activity increases the uptake of collagen into your joints, thereby accelerating recovery.
Unlike muscles, which can soak up nutrients for hours after activity, your joints suck up the surrounding water and nutrients within the hour after exercise, making the timing of your collagen intake crucial for supporting joints. Add a little vitamin C from lemon juice or a fruit snack to help increase absorption.
6. Supports Deep Sleep
In today’s 24/7 society, we’re constantly on the run and there never seems to be enough hours in the day. Unfortunately, our sleep seems to suffer the consequences of this. The average Canadian gets about 6.5 hours of sleep per night, a far cry from our grandparent’s generation who slept more than 8 hours per night.
Interestingly, studies show that collagen can help to support deep sleep because it’s loaded with the amino acid glycine. Glycine helps your body decompress and unwind, thus promoting quality deep sleep (see Figure 2.0).
While it is not a sedative, glycine helps set the foundation for quality sleep so you can keep your energy levels high, fight off colds and flu, and thrive at work and play.
Figure 2.0 – Impacts of Glycine on Sleep Quantity and Quality
How Can I Add More Collagen To My Diet?
The natural source of collagen is found in our diet. The connective tissue of animals is loaded with collagen, which has tremendous benefits for your health both externally, for skin and hair, and internally, for joints, digestion, and sleep.
You can obtain collagen in your diet by eating more of the tendons and ligaments on your steak or chicken leg, but this is not a very appealing strategy for most people (myself included!). Today most people don’t enjoy eating the connective tissue of chicken legs or beef bones like our ancestors did.
This is where the convenience of a high-quality collagen supplement like Organika’s Enhanced Collagen is ideal; it’s virtually tasteless and can be added to a variety of different foods and drinks.
For example, add a serving of collagen into your breakfast smoothie or mix it in with your yogurt. It can also be easily added to coffee or tea, used in all baking recipes, or simply added to water during the day or at bedtime.
(My favorite is Organika’s Enhanced Collagen, naturally sourced from grass-fed cows, FREE of all hormones, antibiotics, GMOs and is 100% gluten-free.)
Collagen is an ancestral food that humans have consumed for millennia; however, unfortunately, it’s no longer a regular part of our modern diet. That’s why supplemental collagen can be a great addition to your nutritional arsenal. It is a superfood that provides a plethora of health benefits; from improved skin and sleep to joint and digestive support. Incorporate more collagen into your diet and feel the difference for yourself.
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
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- Hagarty, P et al. The effect of growth factors on both collagen synthesis and tensile strength of engineered human ligaments. Biomaterials 2012. doi:10.1016/j.biomaterials.2012.05.045.
- Yamadera, W et al. Glycine ingestion improves subjective sleep quality in human volunteers, correlating with polysomnographic changes. Sleep & Biological Rhythms. Vol 5, Iss 2, April 2007, pg 126–131.