I know I should be taking a collagen supplement, but I'm not sure which one is best. I hear that I need a certain collagen type for my skin but I don't understand how to tell which supplement will make my skin look the youngest?
This is a really common question, and a really good question, that I hear in my treatment room frequently. There is so much misinformation out there on social media channels and advertisements about collagen and your body's collagen synthesis process, and I'm here to straighten it out for you.
I'm sure by now you've heard that as you age your body produces less and less collagen, so in order to have tight, bouncy skin, you need to supplement your body's collagen.
So I'm going to take up a few minutes of your time to explain to you how this whole collagen synthesis works in your body, so that you are not wasting money on supplements.
Why is collagen important to your skin?
Collagen is one of the fibers located in your interstitium, which is underneath your skin. Collagen, as well as the other fibers and fluids in the interstitium, help keep your skin plump and elastic. And in appearance, this is what helps your skin not sink in and show wrinkles. Collagen is one of the fibers that is the underlying strength to your skin.
How your body produces collagen:
Your body's collagen can only be produced in your body. You cannot under any circumstances injest any type of collagen and have it be superimposed in your body.
Your body can only make collagen from its basic amino acids.
So think of a baker for instance. If a baker gets an order for a wedding cake she cannot then turn around and grab a cake and give it to the customer. She has to understand what type of cake the customer wants, the colors, the artwork, and the flavors.
She then has to find all of the individual ingredients to put together to make the cake.
This is how your body functions.
You ingest protein, in the form of food, be it fruit, vegetables, nuts, meats, all of these foods have proteins in them. Your digestive system will then start breaking down the proteins. From the proteins it will break it down into polypeptides, then into individual peptides, and then from the individual peptides into individual amino acids.
Your body literally cannot absorb anything bigger than the amino acids. The molecules are too large to get through your stomach lining into your bloodstream.
If your body does not break the food all the way down to each individual amino acid, the rest of it is considered waste and will be removed from your body, unabsorbed.
Once the amino acids are in your bloodstream they become part of a pool. Think of this as your body's amino acid cupboard. Everything is organized into different amino acids and sits there waiting for the baker to come and choose it for their next recipe.
Your entire body needs 20 amino acids to exist. 11 of those we produce by ourselves, meaning we don't need to ingest anything in order to have these amino acids, we can do it all by our little selves.
But nine of those amino acids, known as essential amino acids, we cannot produce by ourselves. We must ingest them. In fact, all animals cannot produce every single one of their needed amino acids. Only plants can produce all of their necessary amino acids.
So going back to our cupboard of amino acids, this cupboard is stocked three different ways.
1. What our body naturally produces by itself (the non-essential amino acids).
2. What gets into our bloodstream. (Via injestion or absorption).
3. What we recycle from our own body.
These are the only ways that your cupboard is stocked.
So once your little body's Baker gets an order, it hands that off to one of its workers. The worker then runs to the cupboard to grab all of the ingredients it needs to make this specific protein.
For today's story of course, we're talking about the protein collagen. Your worker has an order for collagen, so it will run to the cupboard to grab the following amino acids:
Lysine, proline, glycine, isoleucine, histidine, threonine, arginine, alanine, glutamic acid, aspartic acid, tyrosine, phenylalanine, serine, cysteine, and glutamine.
And then it will saunter off to make the strongest, most flexible collagen it can possibly muster.
So even if you are taking a very expensive collagen supplement, your body's worker can't use that in it's current form.
Number one, all proteins, which collagen is the most abundant protein in our body, all proteins are species specific. Meaning cow protein is completely different than human protein is completely different than banana protein, is completely different than salmon protein.
And secondly, human muscle protein is completely different than human collagen protein, is completely different than human keratin protein. We have an estimated 20,000 different proteins in our own bodies and they are not synonymous or interchangeable.
So long story short, all proteins must be broken down into their amino acids in order to be usable to your body. There is no exception to this rule.
You cannot make a chocolate cake using a vanilla cake and just add some chocolate syrup and reblend it all. It won't be a chocolate cake, it'll be a great big mess.
The lies of collagen supplement companies:
One of the most common lies that I hear is that because we're producing less collagen as we age, we need to add more collagen to our diet.
What we need to make sure we have enough of is the individual amino acids. And to be quite honest, if you're eating a healthy, varied diet, you probably have enough amino acids.
But an excellent way to check is by downloading the chronometer app. Find it here. This is my favorite app, it is free, and it will tally up all of your essential amino acids if you input what you're eating daily.
Most clients I see are getting enough amino acids from their diet, most but not all. So it is very important to start out making sure that you are getting enough of the proper amino acids.
The breakdown tends to be in the synthesis of collagen. And there are many components to this. It could be that your body is not ordering the collagen to be made.
It could be that you don't have the proper nutrients to synthesize collagen.
So think of the poor Baker trying to make a cake, she has all the ingredients but her oven isn't working. Something like that could be happening in your body. For example, if you don't have enough vitamin C, your body cannot create the collagen. Even though vitamin C isn't an ingredient in collagen, it is a component required to make the collagen.
The problem could also lie in breakdown of old collagen. It may be that your body is not getting rid of the old, dead collagen properly.
It could be that your body is creating the collagen properly, but you are experiencing cross-linkage which makes collagen brittle and non flexible. This typically comes from a high sugar diet.
So as you can see there are many things that can go wrong in the process of a collagen's life that a supplement will not affect.
What amino acids do you need to make collagen:
From the list above, we make all but histidine, threonine, lysine, and phenylalanine. These are the essential amino acids that you must ingest in order to be able to have all the ingredients for collagen.
What foods have those amino acids in abundance:
Histidine: soy, beans, lentils, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, quinoa, spirulina, wheat germ. (12mg/ kg of body weight daily)
Threonine: sweet, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, flaxseed, cashews, almonds, beans, lentils, spirulina, wheat germ. (20mg/ kg of body weight daily)
Lysine: soy, wheat germ, pistachios, lentils, beans, oats, spirulina, quinoa. (38 mg/ kg of body weight daily)
Phenylalanine: soy, peanuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, quinoa, wild rice, Brown rice, oats, wheat germ, spirulina. (20mg/ kg of body weight daily)
As you can see a lot of these foods have many of the amino acids in them so you don't have to eat a lot of food in order to get your daily recommendations, but you do want variation in your diet.
So to answer the beginning question, what collagen supplement is best?
You don't need one if your diet consists of lots of fruits and vegetables and healthy whole grains, you should be getting enough amino acids in order to create collagen.
If you notice that you are not getting enough of these amino acids and you do need to supplement because for some reason you are unable to eat a properly balanced healthy diet, a supplement with these amino acids in it is what you're looking for.
I know that you are going to be bombarded with ads for collagen supplements and being told that you need to up your collagen intake in order to have youthful looking skin, but it simply is not true; that is not how your body functions. It cannot take collagen from another source and simply superimpose it into your skin like a band-aid.
Healthy eating and namaste to you my beautiful friend!