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Home/Blog/What Does Collagen Do? Benefits and Best Sources

What Does Collagen Do? Benefits and Best Sources

By Rachel Link, RD, MS

April 9, 2024

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You might recognize it as an ingredient in your favorite body lotion, perhaps noticed supplements in the vitamin aisle that feature it or, most likely, seen much buzz about it on the internet. But what is collagen and what does it do?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies and its benefits are so striking because this protein impacts nearly the entire body. It’s what helps support skin strength and elasticity. When it comes to our joints and tendons, in simplest terms, it’s like the “glue” that helps hold the body together.

However, our body’s collagen production naturally begins to slow down as we age. We can thank this process and lower levels of collagen for contributing to “normal signs of aging.” Other lifestyle factors — like eating a diet high in sugar, smoking and high amounts of sun exposure — can also lead to diminishing collagen levels.

What’s one way to support healthy collagen production as time marches on? Supplement with collagen products that offer benefits (depending on the product) such as improving the appearance of your hair and skin, boosting energy and reducing joint stiffness.

What Does Collagen Do?

The dominant protein in our bodies, collagen is found in our muscles, bones, skin, blood vessels, tendons and the digestive system. All of these areas of the body play incredibly important roles for our structural health.

Our bones are living tissue and serve to provide overall structural support for the body. Ligaments are a type of connective tissue that attaches bones together and holds joints together, while tendons are bodily tissues attaching muscles to bones. Cartilage is the flexible connective tissue found in joints between bones and other bodily areas.

You may hear collagen referred to as a “complex protein,” which is not surprising considering it contains 19 different amino acids. Amino acids are the “building blocks of proteins” and collagen includes a mix of both nonessential (also called conditional) and essential types.

Collagen also makes up about three-quarters of our skin. It functions to help skin retain and maintain its firmness, smoothness and elasticity (stretchiness). Collagen also plays a large role in healthy hair and nail strength.

Collagen Loss

Most people are experiencing a natural decline in collagen levels due to both age and lifestyle factors. The body’s collagen production typically starts to slow down after the age of 30. The collagen they are losing is typically not being replaced in the standard modern diet that lacks the nutrition and foods our ancient ancestors ate on a regular basis.

Some common ways to tell if the collagen is working is by noticing healthy skin on your hands and face, shiny nails, stronger hair strands and joint comfort support.

You may start experiencing these benefits within just seven days when taking a specific collagen product such as Ancient Nutrition’s Multi Collagen Protein powder or Multi Collagen Capsules.

Collagen Nutrition Facts

Collagen protein is composed of three chains, wound together in a tight triple helix. Each chain is typically over 1,400 amino acids long.

Consuming collagen is a particularly great way to get more conditional amino acids, like arginine, glutamine, glycine and proline — which can be lacking in your diet if you don’t eat a diverse range of protein foods.

Proline and glycine are the primary types of amino acids found in collagen chains. Both proline and glycine are generally not very abundant in animal meats, which is where most people eating a “Western diet” get the majority of their protein from.

Under normal circumstances, nonessential amino acids are produced by your body. However, when you’re under a lot of physical or emotional stress, for example, your body may not be able to produce enough of these on its own. The body then needs help from outside sources, mainly your diet or supplements, to get its fill.

Here’s a bit more about the highest percentages of amino acids typically found within collagen, along with some of their key benefits:

  • Proline: Proline makes up almost 15 percent of collagen. Proline helps support integrity of blood vessels, boost joint health and has various cardiovascular benefits.

  • Glycine: Around one-third of the protein found in collagen is glycine. To ensure our cells function properly, glycine helps build healthy DNA strands. It’s also one of three amino acids that form creatine, which promotes healthy muscle growth and boosts energy production during workouts.

  • Glutamine: Created within our muscles and also obtained from food sources, there’s evidence suggesting that glutamine can promote a healthy response to stress, restful sleep and healthy cognitive function.

  • Arginine: Arginine (also commonly called L-arginine) breaks down into nitric oxide within the body, which is an important compound for arterial and heart health since it helps promote healthy circulation.

Benefits of Collagen

How exactly can you benefit from obtaining and making more collagen? Below are some of the key benefits associated with collagen protein:

1. Supports Skin Health

Collagen for skin is probably its No. 1 application. Increasing collagen levels may help your skin look firmer, improve skin elasticity, increase smoothness, and help your skin cells keep renewing and repairing normally.

Ancient Nutrition's Multi Collagen Protein formula is the only one with a collagen ingredient and a probiotic ingredient backed by multiple human clinical trials and is proven to deliver real results. This first-of-its-kind collagen formula improves the appearance of crow's feet after 28 days and skin tone after eight weeks.

2. Offers Joint Support and Comfort

Is collagen good for the joints? Yes. It can help your joints move with more ease and help decrease stiffness in joints such as your knees. It may help contribute to enhancements in daily activities, such as walking up stairs, ascending or sleeping.

That same Multi Collagen Protein is proven to reduce knee stiffness and joint discomfort in a week as well as improve stiffness and knee function at 30 days. It's also improves exercise recovery by 53 percent.

3. Aids in a Healthy Gut

Collagen works for gut health, too, because it can help promote a healthy gut lining by “sealing up” connective tissue and support nutrient absorption. It may also help with the absorption of water within the intestines, keeping things moving more freely out of the body.

4. Supports a Healthy Metabolism and Muscles

A boost in collagen may help support a healthy metabolism by adding lean muscle to your frame and help with the conversion of essential nutrients.

5. Can Aid In Overall Health

Protein in general is important for healthy muscle tissue, healthy skin, healthy bodily tissues, boosting the metabolism, and aiding in proper growth and development. Some amino acids can also boost the body’s use of antioxidants and support healthy cells from DNA and RNA.

6. Can Help Strengthen Nails, Hair and Teeth

Collagen for hair growth is quickly becoming a significant reason to use this supplement. Collagen protein is the building block of your fingernails, hair and teeth and may support hair follicle health as well.

In fact, Multi Collagen Protein promotes healthy hair thickness and growth while reducing hair breakage.

7. Supports Cardiovascular Health

Amino acids in collagen can help to support healthy arteries and healthy normal blood pressure by assisting in normal vasodilation (the widening of arteries and relaxation of muscle cells and blood vessels that allows for healthy circulation).

Types of Collagen

A little known fact is that there are at least 16 different types of collagen within the human body. These include collagen types 1, 2, 3, 5 and 10.

The vast majority of the collagen — between 80 percent and 90 percent — consists of types 1, 2 and 3, with type 1 making up the vast majority of the body's collagen.

There are also different types of collagen found in certain foods or used to create collagen products and supplements.

Here’s an overview of the different types and their primary functions:

  • Type 1/Type I: The most abundant, and almost considered to be the strongest, type of collagen found in the human body is type 1. It’s made up of eosinophilic fibers that form parts of the body, including tendons, ligaments, organs and skin (dermis). It helps form bones and can be found within the GI tract, and is very important for skin health, giving skin its stretchy and elastic quality.

  • Type 2/Type II: Type 2 collagen primarily helps build cartilage, which is found in connective tissues.

  • Type 3/Type III: Type 3 collagen is made of reticular fibers and a major component of the extracellular matrix that makes up our organs and skin. It’s usually found with type 1 and helps give skin its elasticity and firmness. It also forms blood vessels and tissue within the heart.

  • Type 5/Type V: This type of collagen is needed to make the surface of cells, as well as hair strands and tissue found in women’s placentas (the organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy, provides oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby, and removes waste).

  • Type 10/Type X: Type 10 helps with new bone formation and forming articular cartilage. It’s involved in the process of endochondral ossification, which is how bone tissue is created in mammals.

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Collagen Sources

When it comes to sources of collagen we get from our diets, the main ones are foods very high in protein, including beef, chicken, fish and eggshell membranes, as well as bone broth.

Here’s a bit about how these collagen sources differ and serve us:

  • Bovine (cow or beef) collagen: Comes from cows, specifically from their skin, bones and muscles. It’s made of mostly types 1 and 3 collagen and is a good source of glycine and proline.

  • Chicken collagen: Most abundant in type 2 collagen, which is beneficial for building cartilage. This makes it supportive of joint health, especially since this source also inherently provides chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate and hyaluronic acid.

  • Fish collagen: Provides mostly type 1 collagen, with the amino acids glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. Because type 1 can be found throughout the entire body, consuming more fish collagen (and marine collagen) has been associated with benefits for the joints, skin, vital organs, blood vessels, digestion and bones.

  • Eggshell membrane collagen: Contains mostly type 1 collagen plus some type 3, 4 and 10. It provides glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid and various amino acids that have benefits for supporting the health of connective tissues.

Ancient Nutrition's Multi Collagen Protein is created from four real food sources: beef, chicken, fish and eggshell membrane. That includes sustainably sourced chicken bone broth concentrate and eggshell membrane from chickens raised in the U.S., bovine peptides from pasture-raised and grass-fed cows and wild-caught fish sustainably caught in North American waters.

Meanwhile, the new Multi Collagen Advanced supplement line — with products to help one lose weight and fat, gain muscle and strength, rapidly hydrate and promote healthy detoxification — is packed with 10 types of collagen from 10 food-based sources, including six premium grass-fed organs as well as a unique, clinically studied blend of superfood ingredients like ashwagandha, red cave salt, curry leaf, Indian globe thistle and more.

How Much Collagen Should You Take Each Day?

If using collagen protein powder, please refer to the product directions on the label for how much collagen per day to take. Some individuals aim for one to two servings (about 1–2 scoops) daily mixed with water, coffee, a smoothie or another beverage. Collagen powder can also be used in recipes. This equates to about 10–20 grams of collagen per day.

Otherwise, we recommend that adults take 3 capsules daily of our fermented Multi Collagen Capsules with 8 ounces of water or another beverage.

The reason we suggest a smaller serving size of collagen via our capsules is because of their unique preparation method; we’ve utilized fermentation to concentrate the strength of collagen so much that it’s up to 5x, 10x or even 20x greater by weight than typical hydrolyzed collagen peptides.

By the way, what are hydrolyzed collagen peptides? Collagen peptides contain the same exact set of amino acids and nutrients as collagen, but have undergone a process called hydrolysis to break them down into shorter chains of proteins. Not only can these peptides be dissolved in both hot or cold water, but may be easier for your stomach to break down and digest.

Multi Collagen Protein Beauty Within is considered the top choice for the skin. This formula is made with not only 10 types of collagen, but also botanicals and antioxidants (such as pomegranate extract, coffee fruit extract, camu camu, acai berry and more) that help promote healthy skin elasticity.

You can use/take collagen supplements in the morning, afternoon, evening or right before bed, whichever you prefer.

How Should You Use Collagen?

The top ways to consume more collagen include:

  • Taking collagen supplements, such as collagen protein powder or collagen capsules — or one of the new Multi Collagen Advanced supplements like Lean, Muscle, Hydrate or Detox.

  • Collagen powder can be mixed into smoothies, soups or even into baked goods to provide collagen’s health benefits without adding any taste to your favorite meals.

  • Using protein powder made from bone broth in recipes. You can consume bone broth on its own or use it in all sorts of sweet and savory recipes depending on the type of product.

  • Drinking real bone broth or using it in collagen recipes like soups and smoothies.

  • Eating a well-rounded diet also helps increase absorption of the collagen peptides you consume. There are many dietary factors that support the formation and use of collagen in the body — such as vitamin C, manganese, copper, proline and foods high in antioxidants like anthocyanidins (found in things like blueberries, cherries and blackberries).

When it comes to using collagen supplements, it’s ideal to choose a formula made from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows and other sources (with no antibiotics or chemicals).

Final Thoughts

  • Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. Up to 30 percent of all the protein in your body is collagen protein, which is found in joints, skin, bones, tendons, nails, hair and the digestive system.

  • Collagen contains 19 different amino acids, the “building blocks of proteins.” It’s especially high in several amino acids such as proline and glycine that are lacking in many other protein sources.

  • Benefits of consuming more collagen supplements can include support for joint health and comfort, digestive health, reduced stiffness, and promotion of healthy hair, nails and teeth.

  • In addition to getting collagen from bone broth, you can also up your intake with help from supplements such as Multi Collagen powder and capsules as well as Multi Collagen Advanced and Beauty & Function Collagen.

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