July 08, 2021 7 min read

In this article

    What Is Collagen?

    Collagen supplements have exploded in popularity lately. Touting perks such as improved skin elasticity and reduced joint pain, people naturally wonder what it is, where it comes from, and how to best receive the benefits of collagen.

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    Collagen makes up about a third of the proteins in the human body. It is a fibrous protein found in bones, muscle, skin, and tendons. There are at least 16 different types of collagen, but most belong to type I, type II, and type III. These different types of collagen molecules have different structures and functions. But basically, they are like a good coach, therapist, attorney, or accountant: they keep us from falling apart!

    • Type I: skin, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues, also bone and teeth.
    • Type II: cartilage; it provides structure to the nose, ears, etc., and is the "padding" between the ends of the long bones at the joints and nerves.
    • Type III: skin, muscles, and blood vessels.

    Like all proteins, amino acids provide the molecular structure of collagen. Out of the hundreds of amino acids found in nature, only twenty are used by the human body. These twenty amino acids are arranged in various amounts and in different patterns to form distinct proteins. Collagen uses nineteen of these twenty amino acids (sorry cysteine!), the three most abundant of which are glycine, lysine, and hydroxyproline. The latter, hydroxyproline, or just "proline," is found only in collagen. (One has to wonder why cysteine was not invited to collagen’s party and why proline is a one-trick-pony? (Cue Homer Simpson, "Stupid evolution!")

    Essential Amino Acids

    The term "essential amino acid" is a bit of a misnomer as all twenty of them used by the human body are essential to our health and well being. Amazingly, we use these twenty amino acids to make more than 100,000 unique proteins. However, we can only produce thirteen of them ourselves, meaning nine of them must be consumed as food or beverage. For more information on amino acids, see this article from the National Institutes of Health on Biochemistry, Essential Amino Acids.

    Among these nine "essential" amino acids, exists lysine, mentioned above. This means that in order for collagen synthesis to occur, a person must consume foods and beverages that are high in lysine. Fortunately, this is not difficult! Meat, seafood, and dairy are all high in lysine. If you're a vegetarian or vegan, don't worry, many non-animal sources of lysine exist: beans, lentils, chickpeas, and soy products are high in lysine, as are many fruits and vegetables. Check out this article from Healthline: 40 sources of Lysine to Add to Your Plate.

    Can I Put Collagen In My Coffee?

    Hot coffee will not destroy collagen

    The short answer is yes. Hot coffee or any hot beverage will not destroy collagen protein. Degradation occurs at higher temperatures than that of boiling water. It is definitely safe to say that you can mix collagen powder in your coffee! Add a scoop of collagen powder first, coffee second, and milk or creamer third.

    During collagen production, the proteins are denatured, meaning that they are unfolded and/or changed slightly. This denaturation does not affect the health benefits of collagen. High temperatures, however, can definitely cause degradation. Gram per gram, collagen fibers are stronger than steel, but even steel melts! At higher temperatures, chemical reactions occur that reduce collagen's health benefits. Unfortunately, degradation begins at about 300 F/150 C, meaning that collagen is not heat stable enough to use in baking.

    But that doesn't mean you can't mix some into hot food. As long as you wait until the food is ready to be served, it will be cool enough to avoid degradation. A popular food to add collagen powder to is mashed potatoes. Since it doesn't have much flavor, you can add it to mostly anything. Think soup, oatmeal, mixed veggies, sauces, anything really.

    What Damages Our Collagen?

    Many things can deplete the levels of collagen within your body. Understanding them could help with your skin care and joint health. Some things that can reduce our collagen health are:

    What Damages Our Collagen?

    • High sugar consumption: A high-sugar diet increases the rate of glycation, a process where blood sugars attach to proteins. This process can damage the collagen structure making it dry, brittle, and weak.
    • Smoking: Many chemicals present in tobacco smoke damage collagen. Especially problematic for the skin, nicotine narrows the blood vessels in its outer layers. This reduces the delivery of nutrients and oxygen necessary to maintain elastin, the highly elastic collagen present in connective tissues, especially the skin.
    • Sunlight: Ultraviolet rays in sunlight cause collagen to break down more rapidly, damaging collagen fibers and causing abnormal elastin to build up. The UV rays in sunlight damage the skin's collagen leading to wrinkles.
    • Autoimmune disorders: Some autoimmune disorders such as Sjögren syndrome and lupus cause antibodies that target collagen. Consult your healthcare provider if you have an autoimmune disorder that may be affecting your skin or joint health.
    • Aging: Unfortunately, the aging process causes collagen levels to deplete over time. As of this writing, unfortunately, there is no way to prevent either this depletion nor aging. As we age, our bodies produce less collagen, resulting in a structural decline in skin, cartilage, and bone tissues. Loss of bone tissue can lead to fractures and loss of cartilage can lead to joint pain.

    Avoiding tobacco and excess sun exposure while following a healthful dietary and exercise regime can help protect collagen, keeping your skin, bones, muscles, and joints healthier longer.

    Bone Broth!

    Bone broth

    Earlier, we mentioned that only collagen contains lysine and that lysine is essential to making collagen. Can you see where this is going? By eating foods that contain collagen, you get all the building blocks needed for making collagen. The most famous of these is “bone broth.”

    Bone broth is a highly nutritious stock made by simmering animal bones and connective tissue. Using acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice, breaks down the collagen and connective tissue. This leaves you with a tasty, nutritious liquid commonly used in soups and sauces. According to a Healthline article, Bone Broth: How to Make It and 6 Reasons Why You Shouldthere is little research on the benefits of bone broth. However, it is "time tested" and there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence that suggests it has potent health benefits. Below is Healthline's recipe:


    • 1 gallon (4 liters) of water
    • 2 tbsp (30 mL) apple cider vinegar
    • 2–4 pounds (about 1–2 kg) of animal bones (it’s best to use a variety of bones such as marrow bones, oxtail, knuckles, and feet.)
    • Salt and pepper, to taste


    • Place all ingredients in a large pot or slow cooker.
    • Bring to a boil.
    • Reduce to a simmer and cook for 12–24 hours. The longer it cooks, the better it will taste and more nutritious it will be.
    • Allow the broth to cool. Strain it into a large container and discard the solids.

    You can also add vegetables, herbs, or spices to your broth to enhance the flavor. Common additions include garlic, onion, celery, carrot, parsley, and thyme. These can be added right away in step one.

    Make your own bone broth

    Other Nutritional Sources of Collagen

    A healthful diet can help the body produce collagen. Nutrients that may support collagen formation include:

    • Proline: In egg whites, meat, cheese, soy, and cabbage.
    • Anthocyanidins: In blackberries, blueberries, cherries, and raspberries.
    • Vitamin C: In oranges, strawberries, peppers, and broccoli.
    • Copper: In shellfish, nuts, red meat, and some drinking water.
    • Vitamin A: In animal-derived foods and in plant foods as beta-carotene.
    • Water: Like you need another reason to mind your hydration?
    • Jello: That's right, Jello! Gelatin may be a natural way to boost collagen and improve the skin's appearance. A 2016 study found that consuming collagen improved facial moisture and reduced wrinkles. The most common amino acids in gelatin include glycine, proline, lysine, and valine. We mentioned earlier that lysine is an essential amino acid, but so is valine! Unfortunately, the vibrant, ultra-sweet jellos of our childhood probably isn’t the healthiest (or cleanest) way to get more collagen in your diet. Opt for a high quality gelatin supplement and add in your own natural flavors instead!


    Collagen supplementation is another option for increasing your collagen intake. Collagen powder, collagen protein, and collagen peptides (hydrolyzed collagen) are all available over the counter or online. Even protein powders are generally good sources, but check the label and do a little research.

    Collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen are supplements that contain the building blocks of collagen. Basically, enzymes and hydrolysis are used to make the collagen more soluble and easier to digest. The US National Institutes of Health states in a report about collagen peptides that they are "a source of physiologically active peptides and conditionally indispensable amino acids that have the potential to optimize health and address physiological needs posed by aging and exercise."


    Some things to know about collagen:

    • It keeps us together
    • It protects the ends of our bones in our joints
    • It is responsible for the springiness of our skin
    • There are "essential" amino acids that our bodies need to make collagen
    • We can better maintain our skin and joint health with high collagen foods and diet
    • It's damaged by smoking, sugary foods, and strong sunlight
    • It may prevent bone loss
    • It may reduce joint pain
    • It might improve your skin complexion
    • Supplements are a convenient way to increase your collagen intake
    • It doesn't do well in baked goods
    • Jello!
    • And yes, you can put it in your coffee...

    If you found this blog interesting, please don't hesitate to share it on your favorite social media.

    Summary Points:

    Collagen makes up about a third of the proteins in the human body.

    Hot coffee or any hot beverage will not destroy collagen protein.

    A high-sugar diet increases the rate of glycation, a process where blood sugars attach to proteins.

    Many chemicals present in tobacco smoke damage collagen.

    By eating foods that contain collagen, you get all the building blocks needed for making collagen.

    Collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen are supplements that contain the building blocks of collagen.

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