By Kejal Sheth
Collagen is general term for the main structural proteins found in the skin and connective tissues in humans and animals and makes up about 30% of the protein in the human body. Plants also contain collagen. Collagen is comprised of 19 amino acids (for example, glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, lysine and arginine).
There at least 29 types of collagen. Humans have mainly Types I-III. Type I exists mainly in skin, tendon, vasculature, organs, and bone. Type II is in cartilage, and Type III is in reticular fibers (thin branching fibers in connective tissue).
What is the collagen diet?
The collagen diet is an eating plan to avoid too much sugar and refined carbohydrates and consume foods high in collagen that some sources report maintains youthfulness, energy, and beauty. Other forms of the diet may include consuming collagen supplements and collagen injections.
Food Sources of Collagen
Food sources of collagen include the following:
- Egg whites
- Citrus fruits
- Red and yellow vegetables
- White tea
- Leafy greens
- Bell peppers
- Herbs high in collagen (Chinese knotweed, horsetail, gynostemma)
- Herbs that help to produce collagen (gotukola, bala, ashwagandha)
The above foods are considered to be foods to improve skin elasticity, anti-aging, and help joint pain by individuals who recommend this diet. It is important to note that while small, limited studies have shown some benefits of consuming collagen, it is unclear whether these benefits would have also occurred by consuming any type of protein and maintaining a healthy diet in general. Also, since collagen cannot be absorbed and is broken down into amino acids when consumed, the consumption of collagen does not guarantee that any new collagen will be made.
What Happens When Collagen Levels Drop?
The body’s production of collagen decreases dramatically with aging. When this happens, there is a reduction in your skin elasticity and epidermal thickness. This leads to skin damage and an increase in wrinkles, crepey skin, and sagging skin. Decreases in collagen may also lead to stiffer and less flexible tendons and ligaments, shrinking and weakening muscles, joint pain, osteoarthritis, and gastrointestinal problems. Low collagen may reduce hair growth and contribute to hair thinning.
Health Benefits of a Collagen Diet
Many health benefits are claimed by those individuals who are proponents of the collagen diet and/or collagen supplements. The claims include
- improved skin tone
- reduced hair loss
- restore collagen to the face
- improved sleep
- build stronger muscles
- promote bone health
- strengthen your immune system
- healthy for your heart
- increase antioxidant and detoxification
- increase your lifespan
- restore sexual and hormone health
- promote bone health
- help individuals to be calmer and more upbeat mood, and
- help with weight control.
Although many of these claims have not been scientifically proven, the overall diet recommendations (minus the supplements) often contain many foods recommended by a dietitian for a healthy diet.
The Cons of a Collagen Diet
There seems to be little if any cons to a collagen diet (excluding supplements). However, there are a few such as
- allergic reactions to potential allergens like shellfish or eggs
- some individuals complain of felling too full and others complain of a bad taste; and
- Too much collagen can result in thickened skin and organ damage.
Are Collagen Supplements Safe?
Most collagen supplements undergo hydrolyzation to form hydrolyzed collagen that makes it easier to absorb and turn into tablets, capsules, and powders. Some supplements are infused foods that are drinks and/or edibles injected with collagen. Ingesting more than 20 grams per day may be harmful according to some dieticians.
Bone broth supplement is in trend to use as a supplement, but recent data suggests the collagen in it may not absorb very well. In addition, supplements can be made from animal byproducts (for example, bones, hoofs, tendons) and some may contain viruses (for example, mad cow disease) and others have had high concentrations of toxic metals found in the preparation. Check the ingredients before purchasing. Before using a supplement, consult with your doctor.