You might recognize collagen as an ingredient in your favorite skincare products and supplements, or maybe you put collagen in your smoothies or beverages. Yes, collagen is the building block of your skin, hair, and nails given the many amino acids it contains, but what exactly is collagen and what does it do?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, especially type 1 collagen. It’s found in muscles, bones, skin, blood vessels, digestive system, and tendons. Collagen benefits are so striking because this protein is what helps give our skin strength and elasticity, along with replacing dead skin cells. When it comes to our joints and tendons, in simplest terms, it’s the “glue” that helps hold the body together.
Our body’s collagen production naturally begins to slow down as we age. We can thank this degenerative process for signs of aging and other lifestyle factors — like eating a diet high in sugar, smoking and high amounts of sun exposure also contribute to depleting collagen levels.
Nutrition Facts of Collagen
Collagen is often referred to as a “complex protein,” which is not surprising considering it contains 19 different amino acids. These include a mix of both nonessential and essential types. Collagen is a particularly great way to get more specific amino acids like arginine, glutamine, glycine, and proline.
Proline and glycine are the primary types of amino acids found in collagen chains. Both proline and glycine are two important amino acids that are not abundant in animal meats, which is where most people eating a “Western diet” get most of their protein from. This means that people are lacking these amino acids in their diets — since they regularly avoid eating some of the best natural sources.
For reasons you’ll see below, “nonessential” amino acids are important — so don’t let the name fool you! Under normal circumstances they’re produced by your body. However, when you’re sick, under a lot of physical or emotional stress, or otherwise unhealthy, your body may not be able to produce enough of these amino acids on its own. The body then needs help from outside sources, mainly your diet or supplements, to get its fill.
The highest percentages of amino acids found within collagen, along with some of their key benefits, include:
- Proline: Proline makes up about 15% of collagen. Proline and glycine play a major role in ensuring your body’s running smoothly. Proline helps protect integrity of blood vessels, improve joint health, and has various cardiovascular benefits.
- Glycine: Around one-third of the protein found in collagen is glycine. While size-wise it’s the smallest amino acid, glycine has big effects. 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: Considered to be one of the most important and abundant amino acids in the body, Glutamine is both created within our muscles and obtained from food sources. Research shows that glutamine has benefits for preventing anxiety, tension, sleep disorders/insomnia, a lack of concentration, poor digestive health, a weakened immune system, and low energy. It can also have positive effects on production of growth hormone and the release of GABA, which gives us inner calm and tranquility.
- 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. Arginine has also been shown to improve circulation, help strengthen the immune system and has a positive influence on male libido.
How's that for an abundant protein?! What questions do you have about collagen and all of its benefits?
xox, Dr. G