Collagen is a protein accounting for more than 25% of our body mass. As the most abundant protein in our body, collagen is a major component of bones, skin, muscles, ligaments and tendons. True to the origin of its Greek name, ’Kolla’, meaning ‘glue’, it provides the scaffolding for harder structures like bones and teeth, and for cartilage, viscera, and organs. Collagen also holds moisture to keep tissues firm and plump and plays a part in protecting the skin against damage from ultraviolet radiation. Our body makes collagen, but its synthesis and quality decrease with age, as well as with stress and illness, leading to thin, dry, loose, and wrinkled skin, weaker joints and bones, as well as impaired wound healing1.
Of the 16-plus types of collagen in the human body, 80-90% consist of Type I, II and III.
- Type I makes up the fibers found in connective tissues of the skin, bone, teeth, tendons and ligaments.
- Type II are the round fibers found in the cartilage
- Type III forms the connective tissues that give shape and strength to organs, such as the liver, heart, and kidneys.
Glycine, Proline and Hydroxyproline are the three main amino acids which make up collagen.
Fortunately, simply eating high-quality protein helps with collagen production, and, even better news for anyone on a ketogenic diet: dietary sources of collagen are all ‘keto friendly’. These include bone broth (not the bouillon type!), additive-free and minimally processed bovine (beef) or porcine (pork) gelatin (preferably grass-fed!), egg whites (including the shells’ inner membrane), and wild salmon.
General Health Benefits of Collagen
1. Enhances skin health: For anyone losing major amounts of weight, as often occurs on a ketogenic diet, collagen can be of benefit. If this describes you, your skin may not be able to keep up with the weight loss, and consuming supplemental collagen hydrolysate may help with your skin elasticity. Studies have demonstrated that supplemental collagen peptides are able to induce a clinically measurable improvement in the depth of facial wrinkles, skin elasticity and hydration2.
2. Helps manage joint pain and osteoarthritis: If you’re planning to add exercise to your Keto routine, collagen could potentially be a good supplement for your joints. Added body weight can be a strain on your joints especially with exercises like running and jumping, so reducing your body weight is also a great first step to relieving joint pain3. Hydrolyzed collagen has also been shown to be absorbed and distributed to joint tissues with analgesic and anti‐inflammatory properties, demonstrating its potential use as a therapeutic agent for the management of osteoarthritis and maintenance of joint health4.
3. Improves bone health by improving bone mass density and bone strength: Collagen provides strength to the bones, and plays an important role in bone structure. Together with calcitonin, a hormone in the body that promotes bone formation, hydrolyzed collagen can prevent bone collagen breakdown5. Collagen hydrolysate also has a therapeutic role in osteoporosis and osteoarthritis by potentially increasing bone mineral density. Supplementing with collagen has been shown to decrease age-related bone mass loss and the addition of exercise to the daily regimen appears to further enhance this effect6.
Benefits of Collagen Specifically for Weight Loss
1. Increases sensation of fullness and hunger suppression: Protein intake has been extensively studied for its ability to support weight loss by satisfying hunger and facilitating fullness. The unique structure of collagen protein peptides has been studied and found to provide greater satiety over similar quantities of other types of protein. Collagen’s distinctive amino acid profile also help in hunger suppression. Taken before meals, a collagen supplement can potentially reduce your level of hunger while increasing your feeling of fullness. When combined with a meal, it has been shown to help you ingest fewer calories7.
2. Improves body composition: Loss of body weight often results in a change in body composition manifesting as a loss of muscle mass. Collagen has been shown to be superior to other forms of protein for retaining muscle mass during weight loss, and especially during a period of rapid weight loss. This is particularly helpful for people consuming a low calorie intake on a ketogenic diet. In addition, as we age, our bodies lose muscle and bone mass, largely due to the decreasing amount of collagen our bodies produce, coupled with a decreased ability to metabolize protein8. These losses can be minimized—or even reversed—by an increased intake of protein and the use of hydrolyzed collagen, which has a higher digestibility and absorbability. In addition, cellulite is often more pronounced in thin and saggy skin, and collagen supplementation can potentially help this condition by increasing both the elasticity and thickness of the skin.
3. Helps boosts metabolism and energy expenditure: The stronger and leaner your muscles are, the higher your metabolic rate tends to be, allowing your body to burn more calories throughout a 24-hour period9. By increasing the amount of collagen in your diet, you can potentially boost your metabolism—both safely and naturally—by building and maintaining lean muscle. This is possible because collagen is a fibrous protein that strengthens the body’s connective tissues and is the major structural protein in skeletal muscle10.
The Case for Collagen Supplements
It makes total sense for anyone, including Keto followers, to heed the recommendation to ‘eat the whole food’ to ensure an adequate dietary intake. However, if you feel your Keto eating style might not be supplying enough collagen, supplements can offer an additional tool for increasing the amount of collagen in the body in order to help delay, prevent, or even reverse its age-associated decline. Since our body’s collagen production slows over time, it is vital that we keep it replenished.
Advantages of Collagen Supplements
1. Increased absorption: Collagen is a large protein, which means that when we eat it in the form of animal protein (i.e. egg, salmon or bone broth), the protein molecule is too large to pass directly through the gut wall and the enzymes in our digestive tract will need to break it down into individual amino acids or smaller amino acid chains (peptides) before it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. To help with the absorption, food manufacturers have developed new methods that dramatically reduce the molecular size of collagen, enabling it to be absorbed intact through the gut wall. Hydrolyzed collagen (or collagen hydrolysate) supplements have an extremely small particle size and are virtually “predigested” for immediate absorption.
2. Convenient source of protein: In the case that you are not able-or willing—to prepare collagen-rich foods at home on a regular basis, collagen supplements provide extra protein with a specific ratio of ready-made amino acids necessary for collagen production. Although there’s no guarantee that the body will digest the collagen and assign the resulting amino acids or peptides to form new collagen, the body can likely use these amino acids to produce other important proteins in the body.
3. Digestive issues: If gelatin or bone broth upset your stomach, hydrolyzed collagen supplements are very well tolerated due to their high digestibility, making them much easier for your stomach to break down and digest. In addition, hydrolyzed collagen has a high bioavailability, meaning that it can be absorbed into the bloodstream more readily than the regular collagen protein in food.
4. Neutral taste without an aftertaste: Collagen is ideal for anyone with strong food aversions or taste preferences because it is virtually tasteless and easy to include in all types of liquids, consumed hot or cold. You can add the powder to your water, coffee, mix it with MCT oil powder, or blend it into nut milks (i.e. almond, coconut, hazelnut), shakes, and even coconut cream. The powder can even be added to regular foods such as whole fat Greek yogurt, as well as baked or prepared dishes without altering the flavor.
Recommendations for intake: Just as every one of us is different, there is also a wide range of dose recommendations for collagen supplements. Factors to consider are your age, health status, and diet. It is also important to note that it takes our body about four months to replenish unhealthy tissue with healthy tissue. Most of the studies on the benefits of collagen based their research on a range of 5,000 mg (5 grams) to 15,000 mg (15 grams) per day, noting better results in the upper range of intake. Consistency is key, so make sure to take the supplement every day to help reverse our body’s decline in collagen synthesis. If you are allergic to fish, stick with bovine (from beef) or porcine (from pork) collagen instead of marine collagen.
Bonus nutrients to help your body use collagen
When consuming collagen, you can benefit from consuming other additional nutrients in order to ensure your body can convert the collagen into a useable protein. The following are vitamins/minerals that can improve the effectiveness of supplemental collagen:
1. Vitamin C: Is an essential part of skin health both as an antioxidant and as a critical factor for collagen synthesis. Vitamin C decreases the skin damage caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation and is needed for adequate wound healing. Without Vitamin C, collagen formation is disrupted, resulting in a wide variety of problems throughout the body. The benefits of Vitamin C supplementation are further increased when consumed in combination with other micronutrients, such as Vitamin E and Zinc11.
2. Magnesium: Functions as a cofactor for many enzymes involved in protein and collagen synthesis. It also plays a protective role in maintaining the extensibility of elastin, a protein found in the thickest layer of the skin called the dermis, providing elasticity and resilience to tissue12.
3. Iron: Is required for the formation of proline and lysine (two of the amino acids in collagen), and, as a result, severe iron deficiency can result in impaired collagen production. Iron participates in a variety of enzymatic systems in the body, including the enzymes involved in collagen synthesis. Iron is also required for the synthesis of collagen13.
4. Zinc: Activates proteins essential for collagen synthesis, including a type of protein that allows cells to remodel collagen during wound healing14.
5. Vitamin E: Works synergistically with Vitamin C to stimulate collagen formation and help prevent collagen breakdown15.
Just as more of us are recognizing the multiple health benefits of collagen, our body may not be able to produce enough of this valuable protein on its own. As a result, supplementation with hydrolyzed/peptide versions of collagen is fast becoming part of our daily lifestyles. Eating a well-rounded diet, along with the inclusion of additional collagen-boosting nutrients, can help increase absorption of your supplemental collagen. With advances in scientific research and technology, the positive impact of collagen – and its supplementation – will likely prove to be even more beneficial for our body, both on the inside and out.
- Factors Affecting Wound Healing: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2903966/
- Effects of a nutritional supplement containing collagen peptides on skin elasticity, hydration and wrinkles: http://www.jmnn.org/article.asp?issn=2278-1870;year=2015;volume=4;issue=1;spage=47;epage=53;aulast=Borumand
- Safety and efficacy of undenatured type II collagen in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee: a clinical trial: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2764342/
- A double‐blind, placebo‐controlled, randomised, clinical study on the effectiveness of collagen peptide on osteoarthritis: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jsfa.6752
- Role of collagen hydrolysate in bone and joint disease: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049017200568255
- Collagen supplementation as a complementary therapy for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis: a systematic review: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1809-98232016000100153
- Single-Protein Casein and Gelatin Diets Affect Energy Expenditure Similarly but Substrate Balance and Appetite Differently in Adults: https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/139/12/2285/4670596
- Amino Acids and Muscle Loss with Aging: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3183816/
- Muscle as a “Mediator” of Systemic Metabolism: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413114006093
- Structure and Function of the Skeletal Muscle Extracellular Matrix: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3177172/
- The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579659/
- Magnesium and Connective Tissue: https://edsinfo.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/magnesium-and-connective-tissue/
- Chronic Iron Deficiency as an Emerging Risk Factor for Osteoporosis: A Hypothesis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425147/
- Zinc may increase bone formation and collagen synthesis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2981717/
- Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583891/