Collagen isn’t just the province of the Real Housewives franchise—this protein is found throughout our skin, bones, muscles, tendons, blood vessels and even our digestive system. Yes, it’s responsible for making our skin look elastic and youthful, but it also helps our body in other important ways. In fact, it’s the most abundant protein in the body.
As we age, we start losing collagen—our skin wrinkles and our cartilage is slowly depleted. If you have certain genetic or digestive diseases, smoke a lot or eat a diet high in sugar, your collagen production may not be what it once was. Here’s why collagen is so important, and what you can do to increase it.
Get familiar with collagen, one of your body’s best friends
While collagen includes 19 amino acids (both essential and nonessential), the two main amino acids are proline and glycine. Proline offers joint and cardiovascular benefits, while glycine helps build healthy DNA strands and strong muscles. These amino acids are most commonly found in organ meats—which Western diets tend to shun—so many people lack sufficient amounts of proline and glycine. (Maybe Grandma was right: you should eat your liver and onions.)
Collagen also has plenty of glutamine, which helps regulate anxiety, immune response, sleep, tension, energy and more. Finally, it’s high in arginine, which has a positive effect on arterial and heart health, circulation and even the male libido.
How collagen can help you look and feel your best
- Strengthens nails, hair and teeth. We don’t have to tell you about the importance of strong, healthy teeth—at the very least, it’ll save you money on trips to the dentist. In addition to your teeth, however, collagen will also boost your hair and nail strength. If your hair breaks easily and your nails are brittle, add more collagen to your diet. Plus, it’ll make your hair look shinier.
- Keeps your skin looking youthful. Beauty might not be skin deep, but few people are really excited to watch wrinkles develop. Taking a collagen supplement will go a long way toward improving your skin’s youthful appearance. Expect to see better elasticity and moisture while banishing dryness and roughness. Even better, it can help reduce stretch marks and cellulite. Just think of it as nature’s airbrush.
- Prevents joint pain. If your joints creak more than a haunted house, you could probably benefit from adding some collagen to your diet. Collagen helps your joints glide smoothly, and can even prevent further deterioration. Ask your doctor how much collagen you should consume for joint health or to improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Helps you burn fat and build muscle. As we age, our metabolisms tend to slow down. Collagen and its helpful amino acids can help you burn fat and put on lean muscle mass. It also helps your body utilize antioxidants, maintains your nervous systems and even creates cells from DNA and RNA. Best of all, when you consume a steady supply of collagen, it encourages your muscles and tissues to heal faster from wounds—or that intense workout you just did.
- Improves heart and vascular health. The heart wants what it wants, and what it wants is more collagen—this versatile protein is responsible for helping break down fat buildup in the bloodstream, controls your blood pressure and helps repair your artery tissue. All of these cardiovascular benefits help your heart function normally, which means you don’t have to worry about the effects of the occasional double bacon cheeseburger quite as much.
- Maintains a healthy liver. Finally, collagen helps your liver perform its important detox functions. Your liver helps filter out poisons and toxins (like alcohol). Collagen not only boosts that function, but it can even help repair liver damage from a few too many keggers in your youth. (You shouldn’t rely on collagen as a free pass for binge drinking, but it definitely helps reduce negative effects.)
Collagen is found in chicken, beef, fish and eggs, but collagen supplements will also do the trick if you don’t regularly consume these foods. Another great way to get a collagen boost is to drink real bone broth—you can even make it yourself. However you choose to get your collagen fix, just make sure you get it. This protein is responsible for some of your body’s most important functions—and with any luck, it’ll keep you looking naturally younger than the Real Housewives, too.