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You can't escape collagen these days. As the latest wellness trend, collagen is added to drinks, people are popping collagen capsules, and even adding collagen powder to their morning coffee! (And, of course, you'll also find it added to many skincare and haircare products!)
What is collagen, and what are the health benefits for people with hypothyroidism? And, if you do need to ramp up your collagen production, what's the best way to do it? Does your thyroid gland benefit from collagen supplementation? Ahead, learn the basics of collagen and how you could benefit from this powerful protein.
Collagen is the body's main protein and provides the framing that holds together your skin, bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and blood vessels. In addition to serving as a fibrous structure for skin, collagen acts as a protective covering for your organs. Collagen makes up about 75% of your skin and about a third of your body's protein.
Your body combines amino acids from your food to naturally create collagen. When collagen production drops, the most obvious signs include reduced skin elasticity, wrinkles, joint pain and stiffness, aching muscles, elevated blood pressure, dry, dull, and thinning hair, and hair and nails that break more easily, among other symptoms.
Collagen levels naturally drop as we age. Women experience a significant drop in collagen production after menopause, and by 60, most adults have a substantial decrease in their collagen production.
Collagen production is also sensitive to other factors, including excessive sugar consumption, cigarette smoking, excessive UV sunlight exposure, and some autoimmune conditions.
Collagen production also depends on a steady supply of the critical nutrients needed to produce collagen, including the amino acids proline and glycine, vitamin C, and the minerals zinc and copper.
Collagen supplementation has several general health applications. In addition, given the prevalence of unresolved hypothyroidism symptoms -- and the fact that research shows that collagen synthesis is decreased in hypothyroidism -- collagen supplementation offers benefits that are especially relevant to people with hypothyroidism and to benefit thyroid health.
Hypothyroidism can cause dry skin, and collagen supplements improve skin elasticity, dryness, and reduce wrinkles.
The high level of the amino acid glutamine in collagen has been shown to help heal the gut lining and may help reduce gut inflammation and leaky gut – problems that contribute to autoimmunity and symptoms in patients with hypothyroidism.
In some hypothyroid patients, inactivity, fatigue, and/or a previous period of hyperthyroidism can result in reduced muscle strength and reduced muscle mass. Researchers have shown that collagen supplementation along with resistance training can help improve muscle strength and muscle mass and raise metabolism.
The risk of heart disease is higher in people with hypothyroidism. Research shows that collagen supplementation can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis – the buildup of plaque on the walls of arteries – a component of heart disease. Collagen supplementation also reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol.
Increased dietary protein without tryptophan
Higher-protein diets can be helpful for a sluggish metabolism, a problem frequently associated with hypothyroidism. Many types of meat and poultry are high in tryptophan, an amino acid that can make you feel sleepy. Tryptophan-free collagen supplements allow you to add more protein to your diet without aggravating hypothyroid-related fatigue.
Increased dietary protein without affecting T4-T3 conversion
Tryptophan is also a precursor to serotonin, and elevated serotonin levels can get in the way of effective conversion of the thyroid hormone T4 into T3, the active thyroid hormone and suppress thyroid hormone production. Again, collagen supplements that don't contain tryptophan are a way to increase your protein intake without added sleepiness.
Better insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control
Glycine is the primary amino acid (protein building-block) in collagen. A low level of glycine is linked to a higher risk of hypothyroidism. Glycine is a crucial amino acid for metabolism, and it stimulates the secretion of gut hormones that help insulin better remove glucose from the bloodstream. People with hypothyroidism are at increased risk of insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain. Increasing glycine intake via collagen can help improve glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity and reduce those risks.
Collagen may also help you lose weight. The high protein content in collagen may help you feel fuller, reducing caloric intake.
Bone broth is hands down, the best food source for collagen. (Don't know how to make bone broth? You'll find hundreds of delicious bone broth recipes and how-tos to quickly whip up some collagen-rich power food on your stove or with a crockpot or Instapot).
Other foods that are high in collagen include:
- Beef, pork, lamb, (especially organ meats like liver)
- Chicken (with the skin on)
- Fish (with the skin on)
- Pork rinds (skins)
- Head cheese (jellied meat)
- Leafy green vegetables
- Gelatin desserts (Jell-O)
Various nutrients can enhance your body's ability to produce collagen, including proline, glycine, vitamin c, zinc, and copper.
Some experts recommend you set a goal of taking in 35 grams of collagen protein per day. Getting this amount of collagen from food can be a challenge. (You would need to drink around seven cups of bone broth a day to get this collagen intake.) That's why many health care providers recommend that if you want to increase collagen intake, you should consider collagen peptide protein supplements derived from grass-fed and organically raised animals. It's also recommended that you use the hydrolyzed form of collagen, as it's easier for your body to absorb.
Some collagen supplements do contain tryptophan, which, as noted, can cause sleepiness. It's recommended that thyroid patients avoid collagen supplements that contain this ingredient. The good news is that many popular brands of collagen peptide powder or capsules have expressly excluded tryptophan as an ingredient.
Collagen supplementation typically comes in powder, capsule, liquid, and "collagen water" forms.
Nearly flavorless collagen powder can be added to drinks, smoothies, soups, or sauces. One popular brand that integrative practitioners and nutritionists frequently recommend is Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides. Vital Proteins contain no tryptophan and are high in glycine. Vital Proteins Collagen powder includes 20 g of collagen and 18 g of protein in every 2-scoop serving.
Collagen capsules are a convenient way to take collagen on the go, and some experts anecdotally report that they may be more effective than powders in some patients. (Vital Proteins collagen is available in capsule form. A 6-capsule serving of Vital Proteins delivers 3 grams of protein and 3.3 grams of collagen peptides.)
One popular form of liquid collagen is HealthDirect's AminoSculpt Collagen, which comes in various flavors in both regular and sugar-free options. Every serving contains 18 grams of collagen peptides and 16 grams of protein, and AminoSculpt contains no tryptophan.
Collagen water is flavored water that includes collagen peptide powder mixed in. Vital Proteins has various flavors of low-sugar collagen water, with 10 grams of collagen per bottle. Voss has an unflavored, calorie-free electrolyte collagen water and 10 grams of collagen per bottle.
A note for vegetarians and vegans: Most collagen supplements and collagen waters are not vegan or vegetarian because they're primarily derived from animal bones and proteins. Amazon.com, however, has a good selection of vegan and vegetarian collagen supplement options.
In most people, collagen supplements don't pose any significant health risks.
There is a slight chance, of side effects with collagen supplementation, including:
- Reduction of appetite
- Mild headaches
- Difficulty sleeping
- Bloating, heavy feeling, or fullness in the stomach
- Hypercalcemia (abnormally high calcium levels)
- Irritability, anxiety, and depression
Rarely, collagen supplements can slightly increase the risk of developing kidney stones. Experts recommend that you always drink plenty of water and liquids to protect against this side effect. (Note: collagen supplementation is not recommended for people who have a high risk for or history of kidney stones.)
Collagen, as discussed earlier, is a protein found in the skin, ligaments, bones, joints, and other body parts. Biotin is another name for vitamin B and is one of the family of B vitamins.
Both collagen and biotin supplements are frequently recommended together to people to help improve the health and elasticity of hair, skin, and nails. Biotin is also a common ingredient in multivitamins and hair vitamins.
There's no evidence that collagen affects the results of your thyroid tests. Biotin, however, can interfere with your thyroid test results.
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), "biotin use can result in falsely high levels of T44 and T3 and falsely low levels of TSH, leading to either a wrong diagnosis of hyperthyroidism or that the thyroid hormone dose is too high."
Many multivitamins contain from 30 to 300 mcg of biotin, and supplements designated explicitly for hair, skin, and nails can include 5,000 to 10,000 mcg of biotin. Since even low doses of biotin can interfere with thyroid test results, the ATA recommends that patients stop taking biotin for at least two days before regular thyroid blood testing.
Important note: The Paloma Health Complete Thyroid Blood Test Kit processes your thyroid test using a specialized assay that is not affected by biotin. You don't need to stop taking any supplements that contain biotin before testing. (An additional benefit: You don't need to delay taking your medications or supplements on the day of testing either.)
You can conveniently take your test samples using your Paloma test kit from home, mail your kit back using the prepaid mailer, and get your results in days. The Paloma thyroid test kit measures thyroid hormone levels, including Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), Free Thyroxine (Free T4), Free Triiodothyronine (Free T3), and Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPOAb). You also have the option at checkout to add on Reverse T3 (RT3) and Vitamin D tests.
A note from Paloma Health
For most people, increasing your collagen intake can be a positive addition to your wellness program. It may help you finally get rid of continuing hypothyroidism symptoms that aren't fully resolved with thyroid medication. During a virtual consultation, your Paloma Health thyroid doctor or nutritionist can advise you to best incorporate collagen supplementation for optimal health and wellness.