by Amy Myszko
If you’ve noticed the recent collagen craze, you may be wondering if it’s all it’s cracked up to be. Well, the research is pretty convincing, even if the price tag can be cringe-inducing. Collagen is a protein found in bones, muscles and connective tissues such as tendons and skin. You can get it from supplements (as in smoothie powders) or from collagen-rich foods. The human body also makes its own collagen, and some foods may increase or stimulate collagen production. Lastly, collagen is found in a number of topical skin treatments. Skin health starts from inside, and promoting collagen is showing great potential benefits for maintaining a healthy, glowing complexion.
What Foods Contain Collagen?
Dietary collagen is often derived from animal sources such as eggshells and bones (think bone broth). You can make your own bone broth by preparing a traditional chicken stock from a whole chicken, or by using marrow-rich beef bones. You can find powdered collagen and bone broth protein powders that mix well with fruit and your milk of choice, for a nourishing snack or meal replacement. For the less squeamish, organ meats are an excellent source of natural collagen. Love your pressure cooker? One-pot meals that include the bone/connective tissue (think skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs or lamb shanks) are also good ways to add collagen to your diet.
What About Vegan Collagen?
Since plants don’t really have connective tissue similar to ours, it is challenging to believe that a vegan substance could contain collagen. Some people claim, however, that the fibrous substances found in Chinese tremella mushrooms may mimic collagen in the body. And many plant-based foods can certainly enhance collagen synthesis in the body by providing important cofactors such as vitamin C, vitamin K and a whole host of antioxidants and minerals.
How Does Eating Collagen Help My Skin?
The collagen in foods and supplements has been shown in research to increase skin hydration, elasticity and collagen density in the skin. Recent animal trials demonstrated improvements both in quantity and quality of collagen in the skin, with a reduction in the skin aging process, through dietary intake of bovine collagen. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study from 2018 demonstrated that ingesting collagen peptides not only improved hydration and elasticity but also effectively reduced wrinkles.
Effects of Topical Collagen Application
While research shows that ingesting collagen can tremendously benefit the skin, applying it directly, through the use of cosmeceuticals, can also improve the skin. The researchers noted that topically applied collagen peptides acted deeply and effectively against wrinkles, reducing wrinkle depth and length measurably, while also promoting overall hydration and elasticity.
Natural Synergy: Collagen, Vitamin C and Antioxidants
Nourishing the skin inside and out means feeding it collagen as well as the co-factors that are involved in collagen synthesis, such as vitamin C. Interestingly, the skin seems to benefit greatly both from ingesting these powerful skin foods and from topical applications. A recent study showed an even greater benefit from collagen when combined with vitamin C, various minerals, L-carnitine and glucosamine. Food sources are much more likely to provide some of these co-factors than synthesized supplements, which highlights the importance of eating nourishing foods for the skin, period.
How Much Collagen Should I Take?
An effective dose is considered to be between 15 and 30 mg per day, although no upper limit has been determined for the safe consumption of collagen. If you’re taking a supplement, you can control your dose. If you choose to get your collagen solely through diet, the exact amount you consume will remain a mystery. Take collagen every day for at least 30 days to start seeing results in your hair, nails and skin. Adding collagen to your diet can bring long-term benefits that grow more noticeable the longer you maintain healthy levels of collagen. What are you waiting for?
Amy Myszko is a Certified Clinical Herbalist, Certified Lactation Counselor and Licensed Lactation Care Provider and has been practicing herbalism and nutrition since 2007. She recently graduated with a master’s degree in Lactation and is pursuing a career as a Holistic Lactation Therapist.