THESE DAYS, we don’t just want to feel OK. We want to feel absolutely, positively amazing—and look the part, too. Aging gracefully depends on how you nurture your body. Today, a trove of studies shows the importance of following a nutrient-dense diet, staying active and taking dietary supplements to support a healthy aging process. One of the clear standouts to help along the way: collagen, a bioavailable, anti-aging nutrient that rose to stardom in Japan decades ago and now is making its prowess known here in the U.S., thanks to innovative, research-backed products and an understanding that what goes in your body supports your skin, hair and nails.
“In Asia, collagen supplements have long been a craze, and even before it was available as a supplement, the tradition of consuming certain foods to rejuvenate the complexion is an old one,” says Naomi Whittel, founder of Reserveage Nutrition. “Asian diets are rich in collagen as well, unlike our Western diet, including foods like homemade bone broth from chicken with skin and bones.” Found just about everywhere in our bodies—from our skin, hair, and nails to our bones and joints—collagen is an important protein for staving of wrinkles and keeping our joints healthy. In fact, it’s the primary structural component of the body’s tissue, making up 85 percent of ligaments and tendons and 75 percent of skin. The problem? As we age, we start to lose it. Notable decline in collagen production starts at age 25, which means relying on your body’s stores simply isn’t enough.
Are you getting enough?
When it comes to collagen, experts agree that it’s nearly impossible to get enough from diet alone, and with declining production of the nutrient, as you age, you have to look elsewhere. Luckily, with foods getting more functional and supplements seeking new delivery formats, it’s no challenge to find products that contain the powerful anti-aging protein.
“My first goal is for my clients to get everything they need from their food,” says Brooke Alpert, RD, founder of the website and nutritional practice B Nutritious.That’s why she recommends that clients drink bone broth, as well as cook chicken bone-in to up their dietary intake. “It’s still not enough to really reap the health and skin benefits; that’s why I always recommend a collagen supplement.” Today, more and more companies offer alternative deliveries such as powders—these are an excellent choice if you don’t like taking pills or don’t want to have to take too many. Whether you favor a pill, a powder or a chewable, collagen supplements are beneficial for a few reasons: As with other supplements, they can send a quick dose of the nutrient to the body. Unlike other supplements, a collagen supplement can also stimulate cells to produce even more collagen at a faster rate, spawning natural rebuilding of the body’s tissues. And collagen in the supplement form is generally hydrolyzed, which is a process that improves the ingredient’s bioavailability.
Types to know
Although there are actually at least 20 types of collagen, most of the talk about collagen is around types 1, 2 and 3—and for good reason.Types 1 and 3 are found together in the body and makeup more than 90 percent of our bones.Type 1 is also the major collagen of tendons, skin, ligaments, cornea and many interstitial connective tissues.Type 2 is found in cartilage and makes up less than 10 percent of the body’s supply.
“Though the types overlap, for the most part, collagens 1 and 3 are concentrated in the skin, while collagen 2 is concentrated in the joints,” says Jonny Bowden, “The Nutrition Myth Buster” and author of 15 books on health and nutrition. “The skin breaks down over time, losing moisture, plumpness and elasticity, so you’ll see benefits in all those areas with collagen 1 and 3 supplementation.”
Although types 1 and 3 may be the optimal beauty boosters, don’t ignore type 2 when it comes to skin health, Whittel says. This type contains hyaluronic acid—another key antiaging nutrient that helps skin stay plump, firm and supple. As for joint health, type 2 collagen is the clear go-to, says Bowden. “It can help address the breakdown of cartilage and loss of collagen that results in increased friction and less synovial fluid.”
Focus on quality
With the rise of collagen, supplementation has come more scrutiny over the quality of the ingredients. In order to find a top-notch product, ask the company or your retailer about the specific ingredient—does clinical research support its joint or skin benefits? Also be sure you know where and how the ingredient was sourced. “Collagen is produced all over the world, so it’s important to pay attention to the way the animals are raised,” says Corey Friese, Vital Proteins cofounder, and vice president of product strategy.
The three main types of collagen are bovine, chicken and fish, so responsible companies source only the highest quality ingredients that meet the same standards you’d look for if you were eating those foods—for example, grass-fed cattle or wild-caught fish.
Of course, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, collagen is off limits. That’s one reason that the next frontier for collagen may be plant-based collagen precursors or building blocks, Whittel says. “Ingredients such as high-quality vitamin C, preferably organic plant-based; specific amino acids such as glycine, proline, and lysine; and silica-rich compounds such as bamboo extract all help our bodies synthesize and produce more collagen.” This is good news for shoppers who want collagen’s benefits but can’t take the supplements. Some collagen companies are also adding these ingredients to collagen to help you get more value for your money.
JESSICA RUBINO – Living Healthy Magazine