It sounds rather bizarre, but collagen, a connective tissue from cows, and sometimes chickens or fish scales, has become a trendy drink for boosting health and beauty – in fact, celebrities like Jennifer Aniston have thrust it into the spotlight after turning to this powdered, drinkable form to help keep their skin looking young and firm.
The ingestible collagen craze started in Asia, where collagen powders, drinks, and supplements have been sold for years. The bone broth phenomenon is what warmed up us westerners to the idea of drinking collagen, with a number of brands rolling out supplements that feature this power protein.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen protein is unique in that it contains high amounts of the amino acids glycine, proline, and lysine, all of which are crucial for the formation and repair of connective tissues, repair of bone matrix and joint surfaces, support of healthy skin and hair, and more. Drinking collagen, instead of injecting it or applying it topically, supplies the entire body with important building blocks necessary for the creation and repair of connective tissues in the body, something that begins to break down around your mid-20s. But that process can be kick started again by providing your system with collagen
Our body’s collagen production naturally begins to slow down as we age. That degenerative process is what we have to thank for those signs of aging like sagging skin, fine lines and wrinkles, and joint pain. There are lifestyle factors that can also contribute to depleting collagen in the body, such as smoking, a high amount of exposure to the sun and eating a diet with a lot of sugary foods.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, found in bones, skin, muscles, blood vessels, tendons and the digestive system. It’s what helps skin stay strong and elastic as well as for replacing dead skin cells. Think of it like this – it’s the “glue” that helps hold the body together, and when the glue begins to disintegrate, that’s when we begin to fall apart.
Collagen can even help reduce cellulite, as improving the skin’s elasticity with collagen means that dimpling becomes less evident.
As a woman who recently hit the big 5-0, this was definitely something that intrigued me, but before making a purchase, I needed to find out more, including whether or not this was just a clever marketing ploy. Was there any science behind it? Well, it turns out there is.
Two recent studies, published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, found that taking a collagen supplement daily improved skin elasticity and reduced wrinkles around the eyes by 20 percent after just eight weeks. The first study, conducted in Germany, included 114 female participants between the ages of 45 and 65 – after the eight-week period, they showed a 20 percent average decrease in wrinkle volume around the eye, and some even experienced a reduction of nearly 50 percent. The second study, out of London, involved 69 women, all over the age of 50. They drank collagen dissolved in water for 8 weeks, and following that period, experienced a significant improvement in hydration, skin elasticity and roughness.
There are many other studies that have been conducted involving collagen too, as you’ll soon find out.
The Benefits of Collagen
The next thing I needed to know is, other than the anti-aging benefits for the skin, what can taking collagen do for me?
Stronger hair and nails
If you’ve struggled with unhealthy looking, hard-to-grow nails, including problems like splitting, peeling or brittle nails, it could be due to a lack of collagen. Taking a collagen supplement regularly is said to help keep the nails healthy and strong. Collagen is essential for healthy hair too, helping to keep it thick, long, and strong. It may even reverse signs of hair loss, as research published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found an “essential relationship between extracellular matrix (ECM) and hair follicle regeneration. The experts say that suggests collagen could be a potential therapeutic target for hair loss, as well as skin-related diseases.”
Reducing joint degeneration and joint pain
One of the reasons when we get older we start noticing more aches and pain is because of the loss of collagen. That causes us to feel stiff more frequently, our joints to swell, and makes it harder to move easily. When we have enough collagen, it helps to hold the bones together better, allowing us to move without pain, kind of like fixing a squeaky door hinge. A study from the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago even found that collagen supplements are effective for treating joint pain and disorders, even osteoarthritis, while other research from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston showed that it could help those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis get relief from painful swelling.
Improving digestive issues
Collagen helps to form connective tissue, which helps to seal and heal the protective lining of the gastrointestinal tract. When your gut is unhealthy, or if you suffer from leaky gut syndrome, it can lead to a wide range of health problems. Collagen can help as it breaks down proteins and soothes the lining of the gut while healing cell walls and delivering essential amino acids. Research has discovered that those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have decreased levels of collagen. The ability for collagen to help build the tissue that lines the GI tract and colon means that it can help treat many different gastrointestinal disorders, including not only IBD and leaky gut, but acid reflux, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and IBS.
Increasing lean muscle mass, boosting metabolism and supporting weight loss
Increasing collagen can also mean a higher metabolism and greater lean muscle mass which can help you lose or maintain an ideal weight. Retaining muscle mass is essential as we age, as it helps support bone health, better posture, and burns more calories than fat. Glycine, one of the key amino acids in collagen, has been found in scientific research to play a significant role in overall health and vitality, slowing the effects of aging by helping the body better utilize antioxidants, as well as being used to help construct healthy cells from RNA and DNA.
Taking collagen is also said to protect heart health and improve liver health.
Which Brand of Collagen to Choose?
Those purported health benefits were more than enough for me. Of course, I wanted a good value too, so I headed over to Amazon and ended up purchasing Vital Proteins Pasture-Raised, Grass-Fed Collagen Peptides. Vital Proteins is one of only three 100% grass-fed collagen brands, as far as I can tell, and grass-fed is a must to derive the benefits of collagen. After researching review after review, this brand came out on top – plus, this product has nearly a 5-star rating on Amazon, which is always something I factor in when making a decision.
My container of collagen peptides arrived in just a couple of days. I decided to document my experience using it over the next week to find out how it compared with the benefits that so many are talking about. They say there are lots of ways to use it, and that it has no taste, nor does it change the texture of what it’s used in. It can be stirred into coffee, tea, soups, stews, sauces, smoothies, or plain old water.
Here’s what happened after I began taking this collagen supplement.
So, here goes. I’m not sure I believe that this powder is totally tasteless, so for my first try at this, I decided to stir it into one of my favorite summer drinks and enjoy an after-lunch treat. It’s something I created a while ago, and it’s incredibly refreshing on a hot day – I would know instantly whether or not stirring in the powder would make it any different.
Here’s how I made it:
- Crushed ice
- 2 tbsp 100% pure lime juice
- 1/2 cup 100% pure cherry juice
- Plain mineral water
First, I crush about a half-tray of ice cubes in my high-speed blender and then pour it into a wine glass. You can use any type of glass, of course. I then add the lime juice. Before adding the cherry juice, I stirred a scoop of the collagen powder into it – watching it dissolve, I thought for sure it was going to change the drink entirely, and there would be no way that I didn’t notice any difference at all. Still, I added that mixture in, and then enough plain mineral water to cover the ice.
I sat back on my deck and prepared to be disappointed. Wow! It tasted just as good as ever, and I wouldn’t even believe there was collagen in it had I not added it myself. No yucky sludge either as it had totally dissolved.
Now, I didn’t expect to notice a difference in how I felt right away, but because it contains lots of filling protein, it is supposed to help you feel fuller longer. I’d had my lunch at noon, and the drink about 30 minutes later, which meant another 4 or 5 hours until dinner. Usually, by late afternoon, I’m feeling famished. Could I make it until 5:30 without reaching for a snack?
What do you know, I managed to do it. Admittedly, I did start feeling hungry around 4:30 or so, but that was the first time in a long time that I wasn’t so hungry that I had to eat something before dinner.
On my second day of supplementing with collagen, I decided to add it to a smoothie. I often have smoothies for breakfast, so this was a no-brainer.
Here’s the recipe I used (all ingredients are organic):
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened hemp milk
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1/2 avocado
- 1/2 cup frozen mango
- 1/2 cup frozen pineapple
- 2 scoops Collagen Peptides
I blended it on high for about 45 seconds and poured it into a glass. Once again, there was no chalky taste or any difference whatsoever. This is a smoothie I enjoy for breakfast many mornings, so I would definitely notice if there was a change.
But the real test was, how would I feel? How soon hunger reappears, and would I start to notice a difference in digestion? In the morning, I often have to bolt to the bathroom, more than a few times, but collagen is supposed to help improve that.
The results? While I still had to go to the bathroom after eating, there was less cramping, and I didn’t have to “bolt,” so either it was a very nice coincidence, or it was helping my gut heal. And, I didn’t start to feel hungry for at least four hours after drinking my collagen-infused smoothie.
This morning after washing my face, I looked closely to see if there was any difference in my skin. I often have a few dry patches, even if I moisturize well, but realized that my skin actually felt softer and more supple, and those dry patches had diminished. Could it be the collagen? There was no difference in the fine lines around my eyes, but I certainly wouldn’t expect a change like that to occur for quite a while.
Today, I decided to add collagen to dinner, rather than breakfast or lunch just to switch things up. It can be added to any liquid, hot or cold, so I added a couple of scoops to my pasta sauce – no flavor difference, as usual.
I was running short on time today, so this morning I simply added a couple of scoops of the powder into my coffee.
Side note: I didn’t skip breakfast, I scrambled up a couple of free-range eggs with spinach and turmeric, which didn’t seem like the best meal to stir it into. That extra protein punch kept me going with lots of energy today. I had no problem making it until lunch.
This morning I noticed something really strange. For months now, if not a year or even longer, my left knee made some loud creaking sounds every time I went up the stairs, and it was occasionally painful too. But today, it was silent. Hmmm, could it be the collagen at work? I happily dumped two scoops into my usual smoothie and enjoyed the wonderful silence of no creaking, crunching knee all day long.
My experiment is almost over, and so far I’m impressed. I’ve managed to lower my overall calorie count each day, seem to have more energy than usual, and fewer digestive problems too.
Today, I added the powder to the soup I had with my salad at lunch. All is great, but I’ll wait until Day No. 7 for a complete assessment.
And, the end of the week is here. What do I think? I’m definitely going to keep up with the collagen supplements.
Here are the changes I’ve noticed:
- My skin is softer and the dry patches have almost completely gone away – I look forward to seeing those fine lines fade in the near future.
- My bathroom issues have significantly improved – there have been little in the way of IBS symptoms.
- My nails are longer than I can remember them being in quite a while, and they feel stronger too.
- My knee has stopped popping and I haven’t experienced any pain associated with it.
- I’ve lost 2.2 pounds without really trying! I generally follow a healthy diet anyway and exercise regularly, but my problem is snacking in between meals, and portions that are too large. I believe that collagen really did help me to stay fuller longer to prevent overeating and needless snacking.
Ready To Try Collagen Peptides?
If you’d like to see if collagen peptides work for you, then you can purchase a 20 oz tub of grass fed collagen from Vital Proteins and available on Amazon here.
For those of you with busy, on-the-go lifestyles, you may find these Single Serve Stick Packs useful to keep on hand for use throughout the day.
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Enjoy these “human guinea pig” experiments? Take a look at what happened when I tried bone broth for a week.