Collagen is a protein that is essential to the health and function of connective tissues in your body. Connective tissues weave your different body parts — skin, bones, and organs — together and give your body shape. Without collagen, your body might look very different.
There are approximately 40 different types of collagen in the human body, but four are considered the most common. They are:
- Type I collagen – forms fibers and is found in connective tissue associated with bones, ligaments, tendons, and skin
- Type II collagen – forms fibers that are less organized than type I and is found mainly in cartilage
- Type III collagen – forms thinner fibers than type I and contributes to cell organization in organs
- Type IV collagen – found in the “basement membrane,” a sheet-like structure of collagen cells that surround different tissues
Our bodies create collagen by breaking down the protein we eat into amino acids, which are the building blocks from which our bodies can form new proteins.
You can get collagen through foods as well as dietary supplements. Research is ongoing as to the specific health benefits of collagen supplements versus food collagen. However, it’s clear that collagens add essential elements to your diet.
Why You Need Collagens
As you age, sustaining collagen levels becomes more difficult. This is particularly true for women who have already gone through menopause. This is because, over time, your body increasingly struggles to absorb adequate amounts of the nutrients needed to make collagen.
However, eating collagen-rich foods can help your body overcome some of this absorption problem. As a result, your body can stay stronger and healthier even as you get older.
Some of the main health benefits of collagens include:
Type I collagen is responsible for giving your skin a plump, youthful appearance. It is the core structure of the tissue.
Several studies have linked the consumption of collagen supplements to improved skin elasticity in women 35 years of age and older.
Bone mineral density tests measure bone strength and are used to help diagnose people with osteoporosis. A decreasing bone mineral density level can lead to an increased risk of bone fracture or worse bone breaks.
For older people experiencing muscle deterioration, collagen may help strengthen muscles. One study of 72 male participants showed that an exercise regimen combined with collagen supplements produced greater improvements than exercise alone.
Foods With Collagens
Foods rich in collagen come from animals. This includes chicken, fish, or cows. The following three foods contain high levels of collagen:
1. Bone Broth
Bone broth is made by simmering animal bones and connective tissue for an extended period of time. The process extracts collagen from the bones and skin and places it into the broth. Common animals used to make bone broth include chickens, cows, turkeys, and deer (venison).
2. Fish With the Skin On
Fish are an excellent source of collagen from food, as long as you leave the skin on. That’s because much of the collagen found in fish is stored in the skin. Other benefits of fish include omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.
If you’ve ever prepared a whole chicken, you know there’s quite a bit of connective tissue in the meat. This makes chicken a good option for adding more collagen to your diet. Chicken feet in particular — while not a common food in some parts of the world — are a good source of collagen.
Fruits and Vegetables
For vegetarians and vegans, consider eating foods high in vitamin C. Eating foods rich in this nutrient encourages the body to make its own collagen and keep you healthy and strong.
Examples of foods with high amounts of vitamin C include fruits such as blueberries, papaya, or citrus, and vegetables like broccoli, leafy greens, and cauliflower.