What is Collagen and why do I need it?
Collagen is a type of protein found in the body. Your body can typically make its own Collagen naturally by breaking down amino acids from dietary (food) protein. Collagen is the main component of connective tissues in the body like skin and cartilage and it’s essential to providing structure to your skin and helping blood clot. Basically, Collagen is the ‘glue’ that holds everything together in your body.
There are actually at least 16 different types of Collagen each with its own amino acid profile and composition. Most Collagen is type 1 which is found in skin, tendons, internal organs and parts of bone. The rest is mostly found in cartilage, bone marrow, lymphoid tissues, surrounding tissues, and hair.
The body makes Collagen from dietary proteins you eat as well as from other nutrients. Collagen is formed by combining two amino acids -- glycine and proline and this process requires Vitamin C in order to work.
Why is Collagen important during pregnancy?
1. Supports skin health during pregnancy
Our skin stretches and expands a lot during pregnancy and the main structure of that skin is made out of Collagen. To support that stretching (and hopefully help prevent stretch marks!), Collagen is essential.
2. Supports gut health during pregnancy
Collagen has also been shown to have digestive benefits. It can help seal and heal the gut lining which in turn can boost immunity and other complications associated with a permeable or “leaky” gut.
3. Supports joint health during pregnancy and the Fourth Trimester
In addition to stretching skin, pregnancy puts a lot of stress on joints and ligaments. Since Collagen is the main component of connective tissue and is that glue that holds us together, it’s great for an extra boost to help keep those joints comfortable. And once baby is born, the stress on your joints and ligaments doesn’t disappear - you’re carrying baby, leaning over more often breastfeeding, and healing that body of yours.
4. Supports protein needs during pregnancy
Protein needs increase overall during pregnancy and Collagen is a piece of that puzzle. Protein in general is essential for adequate blood supply and keeping common pregnancy conditions at bay like pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and swelling. Ensuring you’re getting enough protein - and especially foods high in the amino acids used to make collagen, is essential for a healthy pregnancy.
How can I get Collagen in my diet?
Remember that Collagen is made of amino acids glycine and proline and requires Vitamin C to produce. With that in mind, it’s not enough just to eat high-protein foods -- you also need to incorporate Vitamin C. Additionally, to better aid the process of making collagen, you should be getting enough Zinc and Copper.
Look to incorporate these 10 foods in to your regular meal rotation and check to make sure that your prenatal vitamin contains optimal levels of Vitamin C, Zinc, and Copper:
Another simple way to ensure you’re getting/making enough Collagen is to sip on bone broth or add hydrolyzed Collagen peptides into your smoothies, coffee, tea, or other recipes. Needed has a wonderful Collagen Protein powder that's in an optimal hydrolyzed format! Here's a recipe for my favorite immunity-boosting smoothie made with their hydrolyzed Collagen protein.
While I’m always a food-first nutritionist, there are a few times where supplementing with Collagen can be really helpful.
- If you’re experiencing extreme nausea and food aversions in pregnancy. Many mamas experience an aversion to healthy foods especially in the First Trimester. An unbalanced diet isn’t good for baby or mama and while your protein and calorie needs don’t increase in the First Trimester, you still need to be nourishing yourself and baby. A hydrolyzed Collagen supplement can be helpful here.
- When you’re in the thick of postpartum and newborn life and just don’t have enough time and energy to cook and prepare healthy balanced meals. Dropping a scoop of Collagen powder into a smoothie can be a great simple way to make sure you’re getting enough to support postpartum healing.
- If you’re at risk or already have developed preeclampsia you could benefit from hydrolyzed Collagen powder. The amino acid glycine (that essential one for making Collagen) is also really helpful in reducing oxidative stress which has long been associated with preeclampsia. Glycine needs greatly increase during pregnancy and can be tough to get solely from foods, this is a great time to supplement.
- Collagen supplements may also be helpful for those dealing with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Like preeclampsia, PCOS is related to elevated levels of oxidative stress and glycine can help. Additionally, PCOS is often cited as an underlying reason for infertility or difficulty getting and staying pregnant.
As protein needs are higher in pregnancy, I’ll often recommend my clients track their food for a few days so I can see protein levels and make sure they’re getting enough of the other building blocks for Collagen (Iron, Copper, Vitamin C). Then we’ll adjust from there either with more protein-rich foods or a hydrolyzed Collagen supplement like the Collagen Protein Powder from Needed.
How much Collagen per day should I be getting?
Our bodies are naturally making Collagen regularly but, at the same time, the body is constantly using up Collagen. Further, at around 25-30 years, the production of new Collagen slows. With any nutrient, needs vary by person and lifestyle. To determine how much collagen per day you need, you first need to determine your ideal daily protein intake. Keeping in mind that collagen is a type of protein.
Research varies on optimal protein intake but a fairly recent study concluded “the average daily protein intakes would be ∼79 grams per day (∼14% of calories) during early gestation (~16 wks) and 108 grams per day (∼17% of calories) during late gestation (~36 wks) for normally nourished women...”.
Another study published in 2019 concluded “including collagen peptides at 36% of total daily protein intake maintains an optimal dietary balance of dispensable and indispensable amino acids …”. So a good starting point would be to take the amount of Collagen peptides that would make up 36% of your overall protein intake. For example, in the First Trimester, ideal Collagen intake could be up to 28 grams of your total protein intake. This is just one study and the research on Collagen needs during pregnancy or any other life stage is limited so before starting any supplement regimen or diet changes, check with your healthcare provider.
Most recommendations for Collagen supplement dosage is between 2.5 - 15 mg daily. This is definitely below the 36% of overall protein intake but a good starting point to use when considering beginning a supplement routine with Collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen.
There are always factors that influence Collagen production and depletion. We already know Vitamin C can help enhance natural collagen production but here are a few factors that can also negatively impact your body’s natural ability to create collagen:
1. Extreme sun exposure.
Too much sun exposure can lead to excess free radicals in the body which depletes Collagen levels. UVA rays specifically are what cause Collagen to break down. You can combat this by wearing moisturizer, sunscreen or even foundation with at least 30 SPF daily and wearing sunglasses that are UVA and UVB-blocking.
2. Sleep hygiene.
We all know that getting a good night’s sleep is incredibly important for overall health. Skimping on sleep can slow down your immune system which will also slow down Collagen production. Getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night, turning off electronics and screens 2 hours before bedtime, dimming the lights and lowering the bedroom temperature are all ways to ensure you sleep is supporting healthy Collagen production.
3. Poor diet.
Obviously, food should be the first place you look for increasing Collagen intake. Not only making sure to get enough foods that contain the amino acids needed to produce Collagen naturally in the body, but Vitamin C, Zinc and Copper as well. If you’re eating a diet balanced in colorful vegetables, adequate protein, healthy fats and whole-food carbohydrates, you’ll find yourself much better off when it comes to Collagen depletion.
While there are no official recommendations on how much Collagen per day is needed, I typically suggest sticking with 2.5 - 15 mg and increasing slowly throughout pregnancy and postpartum to support all the stress on your tendons, joints and skin. Again, every woman and every body is different so it’s important to speak with a Nutritionist or your OB before making any dietary or supplement changes.
It’s also important to note that a side effect of hydrolyzed Collagen supplementation is feeling fuller faster and suppressing natural hunger cues. So when starting to supplement with Collagen peptides -- go slow and make sure to be mindful about your hunger and satiety cues.
Brianna is a holistic nutritionist and maternal health expert supporting women on the arc of motherhood with food, movement and behavior change that lasts for generations. Brianna holds a Masters of Science in Nutrition Education from American University along with half a dozen training and certifications from postpartum corrective exercise to intuitive eating. By combining different wellness modalities and strong evidence-based information, Brianna walks her clients through simple, effective healthy changes that last. Brianna is a mother of 4 living in Colorado and offers in-person and virtual consults worldwide.
Website - www.thefoodtherapistms.com
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