What is Collagen?
Collagen is the body’s most abundant protein (made up of amino-acids glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine) and is one of the most important building blocks, as it gives structure to our hair, skin, nails, bones, ligaments and tendons. Collagen is the protein that provides cohesion, elasticity and regeneration of all the connective tissues in our body. In essence, it is the glue that holds everything together, it strengthens various structures in our body, and supports the integrity of our skin. There are more than 16 different types of collagen, although about 80-90% of the collagen in our body is one of three different types – Type I, II, and III.
Type I collagen is extremely strong and forms the primary component of tendons, the connective tissue that links muscles and bones. Type I also helps to strengthen and support our bones. Type II collagen is the major protein in cartilage, the tough connective tissue found in our nose, ears and all the joints throughout our body. Type II collagen fibrils are smaller than type I fibrils and form random orientations in a gelatinous matrix of protein-carbohydrate complexes - these fibrils help give cartilage its strength and resiliency. Type III collagen is found in arterial walls, our skin, and in the intestines. It is produced more rapidly than type I collagen and is used to seal up damaged skin in response to injury. Once a wound has time to heal, type III collagen fibers will gradually be replaced with type I fibers to form hard scar tissue.
What Types of Collagen Supplements are There?
As you can see, collagen is an extremely important protein in our bodies; which is why companies have manufactured collagen supplements. In fact, there are a couple different ways you can supplement collagen:
Vitamin C, an essential vitamin and strong antioxidant, is becoming well known for its critical role in collagen formation, thanks to Keith Barr, PhD, and his research team at the Functional Molecular Biology Laboratory at UC Davis. Dr. Barr and his team found that the combination of gelatin and vitamin C promotes the body’s optimal ability to produce collagen. They recommend combining 15 grams of gelatin with 50 mg of vitamin C one hour before a short loading exercise and six hours apart from other training sessions to maximize its potential impact.
Why Supplement with Collagen?
Collagen and gelatin supplementation is happening all over the country in collegiate and professional sports. Non-athletes are also using collagen to promote healthy hair, skins, and nails; as well as to decrease joint pain and for bone support. As we age, and the more stress we put on our body, the greater the impact on collagen production. Decreases in collagen production leads to:
For athletes specifically, studies have indicated that adequate collagen production may help to:
Getting collagen in a balanced diet can help our bodies regenerate what’s been lost or broken down. To ensure your body is making collagen you will want to eat protein-rich foods, like beef, chicken, fish, beans, eggs and dairy products; in combination with vitamin C rich foods, like citrus fruits, red and green peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and greens. If you’re an elite athlete, an every day runner, or even someone trying to ward off wrinkles supplementing with collagen or gelatin + vitamin C is a great option, especially if you are not eating enough protein-rich foods.
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Shaw, G., Lee-Barthel, A., Ross, M. L., Wang, B., & Baar, K. (2016). Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 105(1), 136-143.
Fasman, G. D., & Sober, H. A. (Eds.). (1976). Handbook of biochemistry and molecular biology (Vol. 1, pp. 176-181). Cleveland: CRC press.
Zdzieblik, D., Oesser, S., Gollhofer, A., & König, D. (2017). Improvement of activity-related knee joint discomfort following supplementation of specific collagen peptides. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 42(6), 588-595.
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For years now, I have been questioning modern medicine and what some people call “normal” treatment. A lot of this speculation has come from my own experiences helping individuals through health struggles, eating disorders, and sports injuries. I have had clients tell me all sorts of things about their general practitioners – shaming them to lose weight, telling them to starve themselves until the weight is gone; as if this is going to solve all their problems, and starting them on medications for no conceivable reason. I know these health care professionals mean well. The problem is not their intentions (not usually, anyways). The problem is our current health care system. Physicians are pressed for time and prescription pads are the easy way out.
Is there another way? A growing evidence base shows that addressing the underlying causes of patients’ illnesses with a personalized lifestyle program is far more likely to prevent and possibly reverse the vast majority of chronic diseases. Therefore, it is only logical that a treatment plan that focuses on diet and lifestyle is far more effective than throwing a medication at someone. This is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. What truly helps is getting to the root cause of what is going on and exploring every aspect of the patient’s lifestyle – emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental. This is called integrative medicine.
In the integrative medicine model, nutrition is at the core of the functional medicine approach in the prevention and treatment of disease. Integrative and functional nutrition is a systems-based approach that evaluates the many interacting factors that promote health or disease. It seeks to understand the root causes of possible imbalances that influence someone’s biology, genetics, nutritional status and well-being. A comprehensive nutrition assessment helps the practitioner design a personalized treatment plan, tailored to the patient’s unique needs and lifestyle to support the highest amount of health and healing. This integrated approach can dramatically improve patient outcomes and quality of life.
This model of nutrition therapy is extremely comprehensive and entails a robust relationship between patient and practitioner. The nutrition assessment is very in-depth and on-going until all possible imbalances are found; in order to correct and resolve symptoms. What an integrative and functional dietitian will look at includes, but is not limited to:
Jones, D. S. (2010). Needed: A coherent architecture for 21st-century clinical practice and medical education. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 16(4), 64.
World Health Organization. Obesity Fact Sheet. 2013. Online document at:
www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/ Accessed April 25, 2014.
As an anti-diet dietitian; I do my absolute best to teach people how to eat and enjoy food without worrying about every single thing they put into their mouths. There is so much shame, judgement, and stereotypes surrounding food; which oftentimes leads to dangerous and destructive food behaviors. What I have found, through my own experiences, as well as my clients’, is that the more you worry, obsess, and judge yourself and others about food, the more damaging your thoughts and behaviors become. How many of you have a friend that is CONSTANTLY talking about his/her weight, new diet, or foods they can and can’t eat? Do these people ever see results? Usually, the answer is no. This constant obsession and fight with your body is not the answer to your health and body size goals. You need to stop listening to society telling you to constantly obsess about the size of your body and what new diet plan you should start next. This is not the answer.
So, what is the answer to your weight/health goals? I do not have a magic wand or the perfect answer, but I will tell you what has worked for me and my clients.
We live in the greatest country ever ya’ll. Enjoy your holiday celebrating all of the opportunities available to you!
Allison Tropf, MS, RD, CSSD
Allison is a Sports Dietitian in Michigan. She enjoys helping others reach their nutrition and fitness goals through reliable and trustworthy recommendations.
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