Today’s post is a PSA (public service announcement) about collagen. Collagen is the main structural protein found in skin and other tissues (cartilage, for one). It’s what gives your skin its elasticity. We tend to lose collagen as we age, which is why we get wrinkles. Collagen isn’t just a cosmetic nutrient, though—it’s vital for healing injured joints and connective tissues. There are many health issues suffered by this blog’s audience that are made worse by a lack of collagen—especially arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
I’m writing about collagen because I just suffered much longer than I should have from an injured knee, because I wasn’t getting collagen. Most people get their collagen from eating meat. I’ve been a vegan for 18 months.
My knee improved in physical therapy, but it plateaued at a pretty low point. My therapist thought it might just not get any better. I refused to accept that. I talked to my Nurse Practitioner and she asked about my collagen intake. I didn’t want to take animal-sourced supplements, but she asked me what I’d do if she diagnosed me type 1 diabetic and prescribed insulin; would I object to that? I started taking unvegan supplements to help my knee heal.
I’m not qualified to address the bioavailability of powdered collagen supplements vs food sources; all I can tell you is that the supplements were marginally, if at all, effective. My friend urged me to drink bone broth. As a vegan, I refused at first. Renee told me not to get the cheap store-bought stuff, but if I couldn’t make my own, to make sure whatever I buy turns to a gel-like texture in the fridge—even better if it gels at room temperature. That’s how you know it’s loaded with collagen. My co-op has locally made bone broth in jars that gels on the shelf. I bought some and gacked a cup down every night for a week.
The transformation was almost immediate. My knee started to tolerate weight for a longer time, then it started doing its share of the work pedaling my bike. I had my leg back! It’s still not completely healed, but it’s at the point where I know it will get there.
My Nurse Practitioner says many of her vegetarian and vegan patients suffer needlessly for lack of collagen. Almost all inflammation-related conditions, like arthritis, improve with collagen. Supplements may work for some; for others, food sources are necessary.
I think of my bone broth treatment as no different from a diabetic who needs insulin. My body, with my medical history, needs a lot of collagen. I knit 15 fractures and healed extensive soft tissue damage. I have severe nerve damage, and recently, an injury to the cartilage in my left knee. I’ve started adding a small amount of meat back into my diet in addition to the bone broth. I choose lean, healthy meat sources like Vietnamese noodle soup (phǫ), and I make a healthy Jello alternative by gelling fruit juice with unflavored gelatin. I went vegan for my health, and my blood pressure went from high-normal to low-normal in a few months. I want to keep the health benefits and reincorporate animal products in a moderate, healthy way.
It is possible for vegans to get collagen without violating their principles. I went online and found several sources of information on how to do this. All of them involved eating foods that predispose the body to produce its own collagen, followed by foods that contain the building blocks. If you can do this, more power to you. I have a busy life and often eat on the fly. My body’s collagen demands are such that I can’t leave it to chance. I have to have high-quality dietary collagen every day.
If you’re not getting collagen in your diet, talk to your doctor. It may be a game changer for you. I know that because of it, I’m writing this column in my new tiny house tonight instead of watching TV in my old condo with an ice pack on my knee.
Doctors are becoming more aware of the role collagen plays in healing and pain control. Have you had experience with it?