Collagen as a recipe for recovery, regeneration, and really soft skin.

3D blue medical figure running with joints highlighted

As an acupuncturist I treat a lot of pain conditions. Whether from athletic injuries, or just living life actively, pain can be a hindrance. Some of the more popular questions I field in my practice are: How can I heal faster?, How do I keep my body in good shape for as long as possible?, and can I do anything about my creaky joints?

My answer is: it’s complicated. While I could wax poetically all day about the wonders of tai chi, qi gong, yin yoga, functional movement, whole food nutrition, and bone broth (oh bone broth!), I will keep it simple. Try supplementing with collagen hydrolysate for 2 months and re-assess from there.

While I believe bone broth to be the true king of joint health, I find that sometimes a supplement can be more manageable for patients. This one in particular gives you lots of bang for your buck. (Note: you can get collagen and other wonderful nutrients from homemade bone broth and it is straightforward to make).

For those who want a short cut without compromising too much, I suggest a collagen hydrolysate supplement. More and more are coming onto the market, but I can speak for two brands that other practitioners, patients and myself have had success with: Great Lakes Gelatin and Bulletproof. Both brands use 100% grass fed animals, ensuring the your collagen supplement is passing along the highest quality nutrients.

What is collagen?

Collagen supplies the building blocks for our connective tissue. It is in our skin, bones, organs and throughout the body. Naturally, there are food sources in which collagen can be found. However, most people aren’t consuming in a “nose to tail” fashion and benefiting from all the parts and nutrients contained in a carnivorous meal. If you’re eating only muscle meat – chicken breasts, steaks, and the like – you are missing out on collagen.

Collagen hydrolysate offers an easy-to-digest version of collagen that can be mixed into hot or cold liquids without clumping and it is nearly tasteless.

Collagen vs bone broth

Let’s get one thing clear, collagen supplementation is not the same as drinking bone broth regularly. There are a multitude of minerals and vitamins in bone broth, as well as collagen. The synergy created for absorption of nutrients in a wholesome food like bone broth can’t be recreated in a single supplement like collagen.

Collagen is nearly pure protein, a mix of amino acids, famous namely for its glycine content. Glycine is a non-essential amino acid, however studies show the body produces under a third of what it needs, so the rest must come from foods for optimal functioning. Additionally, collagen production starts declining in the the 30-something years for most people.

Benefits of collagen may include:

-Faster recovery from injury and faster wound healing.

-Less joint pain and stiffness

-Balanced levels of glycine in the body that are depleted by eating muscle meat (i.e. your steaks, and burgers). In other words the “other” parts of the animal you’re missing out on when you eat your chicken breast, or T-bone are necessary sources of collagen, which helps keep nutrients balanced. Eating only muscle meat is like eating white bread – you’re getting a refined and less nutritious product, rather than a whole food that has synergy.

-Improved skin tone as collagen “plumps” up skin that would otherwise sag and wrinkle.  Bonus, your skin might feel really soft.

-General support of joint health and guarding against degeneration. A 24 week human study on athletes showed great promise for supplemental collagen hydrolysate to support joint health, decrease pain and possibly reduce joint degeneration.

How should I use collagen hydrolysate? How much do I need?

There are a multitude of interesting and delicious ways to get in your collagen. The taste is very mild and it shouldn’t greatly alter the consistency of most liquids. The easiest is a tablespoon mixed into your organic coffee or tea in the morning. You shouldn’t notice the taste in a 12-16oz of fluid. Another easy method is to drop 1-2 tablespoons into a smoothie. Oatmeal can be another vehicle, with a little more vigorous mixing.

Most brands recommend 4 tablespoons per day for maximizing your results. Myself and patients have found this to be fairly accurate. I have also had patients do quite well on 2 tablespoon per day, and even some sensitive patients noticed significant results with 1/2 tablespoon. Like all foods, your ability to digest it dictates your ability to absorb and utilize the nutrients. Therefore, if you notice acid reflux, bloating, excessive gas, or other digestive disturbances are ailing you, try cutting back on the dose. Additionally, in the vein of Chinese medicine, try adding digestive spices like ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cardamom, fennel and other aromatic spices to your concoctions to help breakdown the collagen for better assimilation.

Medicine is very individual, and there’s no set dosage that works for every body, every time of the year. Listen to your body and adjust accordingly. Maybe you just need a boost for a while, then drop it, or maybe you need just a spoonful a day for the rest of your life to feel great.

ADSC_0133manda Johnson (AJ) practices at Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. She loves to show patients how Chinese medicine is fantastic at relieving body pain, aiding recovery and enhancing vitality. When not in the clinic, she’ll surely be out hiking, cycling, or playing in the water. 
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