By Levi Stone, RN, MSN, Chief Nursing Officer
Proteins are the building block for tissues and also serve as a fuel source to keep the body going. As one of three macronutrients necessary to survive (the other two being fat and carbohydrates), consuming enough protein is a crucial part of maintaining health. Animal based or plant based, proteins come from a wide range of sources which allow for a variety ways to incorporate into meals or even as a supplement into smoothies or beverages. One popular source of protein of late, is collagen. With such claims as improving skin, bone, joint, muscle, and heart health, collagen protein has become a booming business among a diverse consumer base.
There’s certainly plenty of reasons why collagen is fast becoming a common choice among athletes, weekend warriors, body builders, and those fighting father time. As a complex protein, containing 19 different amino acids, including a mix of both essential and non-essential amino acids, when people ask if collagen is a good, healthy choice … the simple answer is yes. Considering the average American’s protein intake comes primarily from animal meats, this alone doesn’t give us the necessary proteins to satisfy all of our body’s needs. Collagen can be an effective supplement to help fill these gaps by providing the amino acids that animal meats lack. Proline and glycine are two of these particular amino acids which yield some pretty impressive benefits as well.
While the body makes some of its own proline, the majority of us could use a bit more. The need for more proline increases as we age and also for those with both acute and chronic illnesses. If you suffer from skin conditions (like eczema), slow healing wounds, poor gut health (such as Crohn’s, colitis, or leaky gut syndrome), or heart disease … chances are, your body needs more proline. What makes proline so effective is its roles and abilities in tissue healing, which include improving elasticity and barrier protection in skin to repairing intestinal lining allowing improved nutrient absorption and maintaining the integrity of the gastrointestinal system.
Glycine, while tiny in nature, does some pretty big things by supporting a healthy metabolism, maintaining strength in muscles and bones, keeping neurological function in top working order, and even promoting a good night’s sleep. Glycine also facilitates the production of creatine, a nutrient used by both the muscles and brain for energy. Long studied and safely used by athletes and body builders, creatine is of benefit in building lean muscle, enhance strength, and improve exercise performance. Collagen protein doesn’t stop with proline and glycine. Other amino acids such as glutamine, lysine, leucine, tyrosine, and arginine are packed within collagen, working together to improve skin and hair, strengthen teeth and nails, repair joints, and even help detoxify organs.
While studies continue and the evidence supporting collagen’s benefits are in their infancy, viewing collagen solely as a protein supplement is a good one. Because it packs more protein per calorie than other sources, while containing less sodium and sugar, its popularity continues to rise. In light of emerging science, choosing any supplement (including collagen) should be done with safety in mind. Diligence in understanding the source of where your collagen supplement comes from is a good start. Good Housekeeping suggests to start by looking at the label. Choose a product with as few simple ingredients as possible. To do this look for key words such as “collagen protein isolate,” “collagen hydrolysate,” “hydrolyzed collagen,” or “collagen peptides” as the sole ingredient. Avoid flavored varieties and instead go with unflavored options to avoid unnecessary additives. Lastly, look for credible third-party certifications from reputable groups such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), or United States Pharmacopeia (USP) to assure both the ingredients and procedures in creating them are safe for consumers.
With collagen protein being both convenient and beneficial, it affords another way in adding protein to meet a variety of needs for a variety of people. In many ways it may very well be the next big thing, but before putting all your hope into one form of supplementation … make it is just that, a supplement, and not replacing a well-balanced lifestyle which should include a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.