You’ve probably heard all about collagen for its benefits for healthy hair, skin, and nails—and it’s true! But when it comes to your gut, collagen is all about “sealing and healing” a damaged or inflamed gut lining.
And since its production decreases naturally–starting as early as your 20s!–it’s important to get more collagen in your diet, and boost your body’s own production of it naturally.
What is Leaky Gut?
Today, we know that many of the most common illnesses affecting women’s health actually stem from inflammation traced back to an unhealthy gut. Poor gut health in women, including your microbiome and intestinal permeability, allows unwanted particles to pass into the bloodstream where they can trigger an inflammatory domino effect.
Leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability, occurs when the gaps in your intestinal walls (called tight junctions) loosen, allowing particles of undigested food, bacteria, or toxins to pass into your bloodstream.
This can trigger your immune response to become “always on” and cause a myriad of health problems and systemic inflammation. More about how this happens in a moment.
Health Problems Linked to a Leaky Gut
There are many health conditions women experience which are linked to or worsened by a leaky gut, for example (1):
- Acne, eczema, other skin problems
- Autoimmune conditions
- Allergies (food or seasonal)
- Depression, mood swings
Your gut is connected to other organs, tissues, and cells in your body through your enteric nervous system, and this is why it’s so important for the health of women of all ages to build a healthy gut.
Want a healthier gut fast? Get started with your own 3-day belly fix!
Collagen plays a big role in sealing and healing your gut lining, so let’s learn more about how this benefits your digestive system.
Collagen Benefits + Functions
Collagen is the most abundant type of protein in your body (2). Most people are familiar with its benefits for skin elasticity and its effect on skin aging, but it actually has dozens of other functions in your body.
Collagen is literally the “glue” that holds your body together, including muscles, bones, skin, blood vessels, tendons, and the lining of your digestive system.
Adequate collagen benefits your (2):
- Skin health
- Joint function (and may help relieve joint pain)
- Bone strength
- Lean muscle mass
- Heart health
Despite the critical role this protein plays for women’s health health, most women aren’t getting enough for two main reasons:
- Collagen production decreases with age (3). Your body naturally makes collagen protein, but production slows down as you age…starting in your 20s!
- We’re lacking collagen-rich foods. Our modern diets contain lots of muscle meats that are high in protein but low in collagen. Our ancestors ate foods that are higher in collagen, such as fish skin, cartilage and tendons, and organ meats such as heart and liver.
Other factors, including smoking, nutritional deficiencies, and digestive problems can also negatively impact collagen synthesis.
Collagen “Seals & Heals” a Leaky Gut
A healthy gut has a protective lining made up of protein cells which is mostly impermeable, or sealed. The amino acids found in collagen help to rebuild this lining.
Over time, things like a poor diet, stress, bacterial imbalance, inflammation, a high toxic load, excessive antibiotic use, and food sensitivities create small “gaps” in your intestinal lining.
These gaps normally allow only vitamins and water to pass through, but when your gut becomes leaky, these gaps don’t close the way they’re supposed to (4).
Once the cells of the intestines become leaky, they allow particles of proteins, bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms not ordinarily absorbed in the bloodstream to pass through a damaged, hyperpermeable gut lining, where they further trigger an inflammatory immune response once they leave the digestive system.
So after you remove inflammatory triggers like food sensitivities or gluten, it’s a crucial first step to repair your gut lining.
Collagen Provides the Building Blocks for a Healthy Gut
It contains the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline that are needed to repair and rebuild the hardworking endothelial tissue in your digestive system.
- First, collagen can help reduce intestinal inflammation by normalizing your gut-immune response because it contains glutamine, which can be depleted during times of stress–like trauma or inflammatory bowel conditions (5,6).
- Then, it helps tight junction proteins do their jobs, allowing nutrients and water in and keeping unwanted particles out (7).
- Next, special amino acids help rebuild the functional lining inside your intestine, allowing digestion and absorption of important vitamins and minerals.
- Last, collagen helps maintain a healthy gut by creating an environment that’s supportive of long-term gut health, as well as reducing inflammation.
In addition to helping heal leaky gut, collagen also promotes the absorption of water within the intestines, keeping things moving more freely out of the body.
Does Collagen Improve Microbiome Health?
It’s a protein, so it isn’t a prebiotic or a probiotic, but it does help your gut more effectively support the environment that a healthy and thriving microbiome needs..
At this point you’re probably wondering–how can I get more collagen? Let’s find out what the deal is with supplements, and which nutrients you should optimize for more collagen production.
How to Get More Collagen in Your Diet
Collagen is a complex protein, which means it’s made up of building blocks called amino acids. To help your body make more naturally, you can consume foods that are rich in these amino acid building blocks.
Good dietary sources include:
- Bone broth (get my easy bone broth recipe here!)
- Pork, salmon, or chicken skins
- Non-muscle meats like tendon, tripe, oxtail and knuckle
- Egg yolk
But unless you eat these foods regularly, you’re probably not getting enough in your diet—which means you’re missing out on a lot of those health benefits.
That’s where collagen supplements come in handy, but which one is best?
Hydrolyzed Collagen or Peptides, Which is Better?
When browsing collagen, you’ll see words like hydrolyzed, peptides, bovine, marine, and sometimes gelatin. It can get confusing fast, especially since there’s so many collagen products on the market. So let’s break down what some of these terms mean.
Hydrolyzed collagen, collagen peptides, and collagen hydrolysate are all 3 names for the same product. Full length collagen is broken down into collagen peptides through a process called hydrolysis, so collagen peptides are frequently also referred to as hydrolyzed peptides, or just hydrolyzed collagen.
Gelatin is collagen that has undergone partial hydrolysis, so it will gel when mixed with water. Gelatin is a great way to boost collagen levels and has many beneficial amino acids, including glycine(8).
Bovine collagen is sourced from cows, while marine collagen is sourced from fish.
Because it’s an animal product, purchase from reputable manufacturers and retails as much as possible, and be wary of big box warehouses that may lack quality and ingredient standards.
How to Boost Your Collagen Levels
You can also increase your body’s own production of this complex protein by eating more of the nutrients your body needs to build more of it.
- Zinc (shrimp, oysters, pumpkin seeds)
- Vitamin C (bell peppers, pineapple, citrus, kiwi)
- Proteins such as fish, chicken, eggs, grass-fed beef, pork
Women’s Wellness Begins with a Healthy Gut
We know that inflammation linked to an unhealthy gut triggers many modern day health problems. This means that for many women, building a healthy gut is the first step toward optimal wellness.
There are many factors that go into repairing a leaky gut, but collagen can help you heal and seal a damaged intestinal lining and allow your digestive system to get back to normal. Fortunately, there are many ways to consume more collagen-rich foods, and boost your body’s production naturally.
Want to build a better gut, but short on time? Check out the 3-day Belly Fix and get started on your own journey to a happier, healthier gut.