What is Collagen?
Collagen gives our tissues structure. It is a protein that lives in our cells, and it makes our joints move smoothly and keeps our skin wrinkle-free. Collagen is the most plentiful amino acid in humans, making up approximately 30% of the protein in our body.
Found in joints, blood vessels, bones, hair/skin/nails, teeth, and the digestive system, collagen is the ladder upon which our body builds. Babies and young kids have massive amounts of collagen, this is why they are so flexible and seem to bounce back from injury quickly, and also why they have such perfect beautiful skin. As we age and are exposed to oxidation (UV light, pollution, illness, poor food choices) collagen production in the body starts to slow down, and eventually stops. This is when we notice wrinkles, and our joints getting creaky when we move.
Why do we need it?
Collagen is not easy for our bodies to build, especially as we age. To synthesize it we need many different minerals and vitamins, particularly Vitamin C. Vitamin C is used by the cells to create new collagen. When your body is working hard at trying to make more collagen it depletes your stores of Vitamin C, or if you don’t have any in your diet, the collagen produced is defective. This is where scurvy came from. Sailors who were on ships for months at a time didn’t get any foods with Vitamin C, which caused the collagen in their bodies to not work properly. This led to losing teeth and wounds that wouldn’t health. Once they started laying in stores of citrus fruits and green vegetables scurvy was almost completely eliminated.
One amazing thing about our bodies is that if we increase the collagen we consume, we start to make more. Our bodies wake up and take notice of this great new source of building material. The cells then start to copy and add on to what’s already there. This is why seniors with cartilage degeneration and arthritis see their symptoms reduce when they start putting more collagen into their bodies.
How do you get more of it?
I always advocate for food over supplementation, but there is only so much bone broth one can drink. If you are trying to treat a specific ailment or improve your hair, skin, and nails try adding in both foods and supplements.
Bone broth* is the star of collagen-rich foods. As the name implies, it is broth made of bones. Either slow cooked for many hours, or cooked under pressure, cooking broth extracts all of the collagen from the bones and makes it liquid. You know you have good bone broth when it’s like Jell-O when it’s cooled down. This jelly consistency is from the collagen, which turns into gelatin when cooked. You can use it in place of stock or other broth in recipes, or just drink it like you would a cup of tea. *recipe at the end of the post
Eggs are another food that contains collagen, found mostly in the yolk. Eggs also contain a good amount of sulphur, which is needed for collagen synthesis.
Foods like berries and dark leafy greens contain a high dose of antioxidants. While these don’t directly increase our collagen, they do protect what we already have and help our bodies make more. Antioxidants protect cells from pollution, sun damage, illness, and carcinogens in food so that they are plump and ready to make as much collagen as we need. Add some dark leafy greens and fruits like blueberries and pomegranates to your daily diet to get a yummy dose of antioxidants.
There are three different types of collagen supplements; powder, pill, and liquid. All three have their merits, and it mostly comes down to personal preference. Powder and liquid are preferable because they pack a big dose into a relatively small serving. Pills can be more expensive because of the large dose required. Whichever you take be aware that it can take up to 6 months to see improvement. Cellular turnover is not a fast process, especially for things like hair and skin.
Bone Broth to Change Your Life
This bone broth is super easy to make, and it freezes well too! Freeze in one-cup portions to make defrosting easier.
- Bones - beef, chicken, or both
- 1 onion - cut in 1/2, peeling not necessary!
- 2 carrots - cut in 1/2, peeling not necessary!
- 2 ribs celery - cut in 1/2 (or to fit in your pot)
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp sea salt
Preparation is the same for either slow cooker or instant pot
Add all ingredients to your cooker. Don't forget the Apple Cider Vinegar, it's what pulls out the collagen from the bones
Fill 2/3 full with water, making sure not to go over any max fill lines
Slow cooker: cook on low for 12 hours
Instant Pot: cook at high pressure for 120 minutes with natural pressure release
Allow to cool slightly, and strain through a fine mesh strainer. Store in mason jars in the fridge, or package in 1-2 cup portions for the freezer.
You can repeat the process with the same bones and adding fresh vegetables and more Apple Cider Vinegar. The colour won't be as deep but you'll be able to get a bunch more collagen out of the bones!