Why You Need Collagen
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It’s also the most abundant protein in the animals we eat. It’s found in connective tissues such as cartilage, bones, tendons, ligaments and skin. Collagen sort of acts like glue that holds tissues together. In fact, the word collagen is actually Greek for “glue producing”, because glue was originally produced from boiling the skin and tendons of horses.
Collagen is vital to the health of your tendons, bones, muscles, hair and skin. In fact, it’s essential to your health in more ways than you can imagine. Our ancestors, including your grandparents, ate a ton of collagen. When they killed an animal, they ate the whole thing, including tendons, ligaments, and even skin. They even used the bones to make soups, stocks and stews.
Our civilized culinary habits have prevented us from consuming the amount of collagen our ancestors ate. When was the last time you ate chicken skin or bone broth soup? We have the luxury of eating the “best” cuts of meat and throwing the rest away. What’s really sad is conventional wisdom convinced us to even throw poultry skin away.
Our ancestors, who ate more collagen, were leaner, healthier, moved better and looked better than most of us. They didn’t lose their hair or have nearly as many knee and hip replacements as we do.
Let’s look at the science behind this ancient protein that’s been removed from our modern diets.
We Don’t Make Enough Glycine
Glycine is one of the 20 amino acids we need on a daily basis. It’s the simplest amino acid, and it binds a lot of other amino acids into complex structures like collagen. Your body can make glycine, but it never makes enough.
The average person needs 10 grams of glycine per day. The average person makes 3 grams every day and gets between 1.5 to 3 grams from their diet. That leaves a deficit of about 4 or 5 grams per day.
Collagen is the single greatest source of glycine in the human diet. You can obviously get more glycine by eating more skin, tendons, and ligaments, but that’s not always practical. A typical serving of 20 grams of hydrolyzed collagen (the most common collagen supplement) will give you about 4 grams of glycine—enough to make up the deficit.
Conventional Meat Consumption
Animals contain lots of collagen, but we don’t eat animals. We get rid of the skin, connective tissue, cartilage, tendons and bones so we can eat only the select cuts of meat. Some of us even get rid of the dark meat (don’t get me started on how crazy that is). We have been conditioned to eat lean, clean, tender (void of connective tissue), and costly cuts of meat.
The amino acid profile in meat is much different than the amino acid profile in the stuff we discard. Meat contains a lot of methionine. Collagen contains a lot of glycine. Animal studies tell us that the more methionine an animal eats, the shorter their lifespan—unless they balance it out with glycine.
Meat has been a critical part of the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years. Recently it’s gotten a bad rap, and there are studies showing associations of certain kinds of meat consumption with certain kinds of diseases. It’s possible the way most of us eat meat in developed countries—eating boneless, skinless chicken breasts, lean steaks, and muscle meat without the bones, skin and tendons—is unhealthy.
Getting plenty of collagen can provide you with enough glycine to mitigate the toxicity of methionine. The study listed above showed that elevated glycine levels in rats increased their lifespan. The same could be true for us.
Red meat consumption has been shown to increase the risk of diabetes, but studies that control for low glycine status show no risk at all. People with low glycine levels and high meat intakes were more likely to have diabetes, while people with higher glycine levels could have higher meat intakes without any issues.
Another study found that low circulating levels of glycine predicted diabetes risk, while high levels of glycine predict normal blood sugar. Low glycine levels usually occur before the onset of diabetes, suggesting glycine status could be a cause of diabetes.
Your Skin Needs Collagen
Your skin is mostly collagen. If you want your skin to look good and less wrinkly, getting plenty of collagen in your diet is essential.
Just 2.5 grams of collagen per day for 8 weeks has been shown to reduce eye wrinkling by 20%. The effects were so good that wrinkling was still reduced one month after stopping supplementation.
One gram of chicken sternum cartilage collagen extract per day reduced wrinkling by 13% and skin dryness by 17%. Maybe that boneless skinless chicken breast isn’t so great after all.
The appearance of cellulite can even be reduced after 6 months of collagen supplementation.
Your Joints Need Collagen
Your tendons, ligaments and cartilage are all made of collagen. If you have joint problems, one of the first things you should do is get more collagen. Collagen has been shown to reduce joint pain in athletes. It’s also been shown to reduce pain and improve walking ability in folks with osteoarthritis.
How To Get More Collagen in Your Diet
The best way to get more collagen is to eat whole animals. Our modern culinary preferences make that really tough (pun intended). So, for most of us, taking a collagen hydrolysate supplement on a regular basis is probably best. But here are a few tips to help you get more collagen from the food you eat.
Clean your bones. All the stuff attached to the bones that we usually through away is cartilage and tendons. It’s all made of collagen. Eat it.
Eat skin. Skin is almost pure collagen. Buy poultry with the skin on and eat it. Pork rinds are made of pig skin. If you haven’t tried Epic Pork Rinds, you’re really missing out.
Drink bone broth. Your great grandmother probably had an awesome bone broth recipe that never got passed down. Bone broth is gaining popularity again because we understand how much collagen is in that stuff. If you don’t want to make your own, try Bare Bones Instant Bone Broth.
Use powdered gelatin. You should always keep some around to experiment with making different sauces and gravies. Zen Principle makes an awesome grass-fed & pasture-raised beef gelatin.
Supplement with collagen hydrolysate. If the options I’ve mentioned so far seem overwhelming, just add 20 grams of collagen powder to your morning coffee. My two favorite brands are Great Lakes and Vital Proteins. If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try 10 grams of collagen mixed with hot water. Drink it like an evening tea. It will improve the quality of your sleep.
No bones about it, collagen is necessary for your health and probably missing from your diet. If you want to improve the health of your skin, joints, and just about every metabolic process in your body, get more collagen.