Many of us get our protein from common muscle meats like steak tips, ground beef, chicken breast, and pork chops. What’s missing is something that our ancestors and many traditional cultures around the world eat: collagen-rich tissue, found in organ meats, entrails, skin, and bones. Unfortunately these nutrient dense foods have become something of lore …and Fear Factor. But what exactly are we missing out on? and what role does collagen play in the body (especially in someone with an autoimmune disease)?
1. Skin, Hair, and Nail Health
Today, collagen is most widely known for its role in hair, skin, and nail health; and rightly so. Though it’s important for your entire body, collagen’s effects are most noticeable on the skin.
The firmer your dermis (the bottom layer of your skin), the less apparent wrinkles, cellulite, and fine lines will be.
Can I get an Amen!?
For people with an autoimmune disease, celiac and type 1 diabetes in particular, collagen is extra beneficial because it helps to keep skin well hydrated. Anyone living with either one (or both) of these disease knows how persistent dry, crack, skin can be. The struggle is real. Really real.
In order to heal, the body uses collagen to build new tissue . Collagen is so instrumental in the healing process that some doctors even pack collagen directly into the wound when dressing it. 
When talking about wound healing it’s hard not to mention type 1 diabetes. So I’m going to mention type 1 diabetes…
People with T1D can use all the help they can get when it comes to wound healing. Not only has collagen been proven to speed up the healing process but it also helps to fight infection.
Hair & Nails
I lumped these two together because hair and nails grow in very similar ways. If you have an issue with thinning (or breaking hair) I bet you also have an issue with flaking nails.
Collagen contains glycine, proline, alanine, and arginine – proteins and amino acids that are essential for hair growth. The amino acid, arginine, is especially important for hair growth because it’s job is to make sure the scalp has good circulation and that the hair follicles are able to access key nutrients – and unfortunately these two are common issues amongst those living with autoimmune disease.
Nails too rely heavily on the amino acid arginine for circulation and a healthy supply of nutrients to the root of the nail.
Add collagen to your diet and I bet you’ll see a major improvement in both hair and nail quality.
2. Improved Digestion
The amino acids in collagen aren’t only a powerhouse for the hair, skin, and nails, but they also play a crucial role in digestion. This role is a reparative one. It helps heal the digestive tract and repair the mucous lining. This is super important for anyone living with an autoimmune disease because, I think it’s safe to say that, autoimmunity and “leaky gut” go hand-in-hand.
In fact, collagen is so helpful in repairing leaky gut and helping with digestion that it’s recommended on the GAPS and SCD diet (both are gut healing diets). Another digestive benefit of collagen is that the high concentration of glycine (an amino acid found in collagen) supports the production of HCL acid in the stomach. HCL (hydrochloric) acid helps us break down fat and protein – making them more easily digestible and helping with nutrient assimilation. Most of us suffer from low stomach acid, especially those of us with autoimmune disease.
3. Bone Health & Joint Pain
Just like all other tissue in the body, bones are in a constant state of flux. Their mineral level and density are constantly changing due to a dynamic process called bone turnover, which is when the body breaks down bone tissue and dumps its minerals into the bloodstream. This process isn’t an issue if your rate of regeneration can keep up with the rate of turnover. However, the older we get the slower our regeneration rate is and the the faster our turnover rate is – go figure.
Clinical studies conducted by Moskowitz, demonstrated a positive effect on joint pain with a dose of 10g collagen peptides per day. Specifically, the amino acids, glycine and proline, reduce inflammation, repair tissue, and relieve joint pain, acting as nature’s ibuprofen.
How do I get more collagen in my life?!
Since diving right into a cow tongue is a bit too aggressive for my taste I like to get my collagen from homemade bone broth and this brand of collagen peptides which I mix into smoothies like my chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie and my low carb gluten free pancake mix.