Dear Mark: Mostly Questions About Collagen

Dear_Mark_Inline_PhotoFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m quickly answering a bunch of questions from readers. Most are from the comment section of last week’s collagen post, and others concern different topics. They’re all interesting and useful, including how I consume podcasts, gelatin loss during chicharrone production, adding collagen to hot coffee, how much vitamin C to take with collagen, collagen’s effect on ketosis, and why I include a processed food product like whey in the pantheon of Primal-friendly foods.

Let’s go:

Vince asked:

I love the concept of health podcasts (or podcasts in general) but I admit that I’ve never invested much time into them. I think it’s mostly just figuring out the balance of what you do at the same time. I don’t quite find them engaging enough to sit and listen to on their own. But, any other task makes it tough to pay attention.

How do others get around that balance?

I mainly listen to podcasts while driving, walking, hiking, or doing any “mindless” task like doing dishes. I can’t listen to a podcast while I’m reading or writing. I can sometimes make it work while training, though it depends on what I’m working that day.

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m supposed to be “present” at all times, to turn every mundane activity into a zen koan. Maybe that’d be great. But it’s not me.

I’d definitely suggest finding better podcasts that do engage you and not setting expectations too high of how many to fit into a week. There’s nothing wrong with cherry-picking specific episodes.

Karen wondered:

Chicarones? That’s pork rinds. Or does the good stuff get melted out?

There may be some gelatin loss, but the vast majority of the good stuff that gets melted out during the creation of a chicharrone is fat. Most of the gelatin remains. Just check the nutrient content of a bag of pork rinds and you’ll see that it’s quite high in protein, all of which is collagen.

Guy asked:

I add a tablespoon of Great Lakes collagen powder to my coffee every morning.
Does anyone know if adding it to near boiling water compromises it’s nutrient value?

You’re fine. Consider how bone broth—the health effects of which we’re trying to emulate with collagen—is created by subjecting collagenous animal tissues to boiling water for hours on end. And it still works.

Also consider that collagen is a protein composed of amino acids. Heating a protein merely increases its bioavailablity. Hot water isn’t going to damage or irrecoverably alter the amino acids.

Kate asked:

Thanks for a great post! Any recommendation as to how much vitamin C one should take per day to maximize the benefits of collagen?

A recent study gave a good hint.

Forty-eight mg of vitamin C with 15 grams of gelatin, taken an hour pre-workout (6 minutes of jump rope), boosted collagen synthesis in athletes. That’s a good contender. If 48 mg of vitamin C with 15 grams of gelatin increases connective tissue strength, start with 48 mg of vitamin C.

Adrian wondered:

Hi Mark, How does collagen supplementation effect protein/amino acid generated insulin levels significantly if you are wanting to to into and maintain ketosis?

My guess is that there is an insulinogenic effect, however slight, as insulin boosts collagen synthesis. Surprised? Remember that insulin isn’t a bad guy. It’s a necessary agent in the body, doing all sorts of helpful things like moving protein into muscle tissue, shifting glycogen into glycogen stores. Even its blunting of free fatty acid release is necessary when we need to get rid of glucose. It’s the excessive release of insulin that causes trouble. The constant elevation. The insulin resistance.

The good news is that collagen peptides derived from fish have been shown to make type 2 diabetic rats more insulin sensitive. If these results hold true in humans, that means you need less insulin to synthesize the same amount of collagen. I don’t see why other sources of collagen wouldn’t have a similar effect.

For what it’s worth, I’ve never noticed my collagen intake (and I intake quite a bit) interfering with the benefits I get from fat-adaptation and keto.

Timothy pointed out:

Biased towards what we see in the mirror, we obsess over our paint job and rarely look under the hood. If we did, the effect of collagen on wrinkles would be a footnote compared to its vastly larger role throughout the body literally keeping us from falling apart. Bone, tendon, and ligament is the foundation of strength, preventing every kind of crippling injury, and scurvy is not merely a cosmetic affliction.

Great stuff. I totally agree.

One thing to remember. The paint job can reveal the state of the engine.  There was even an interesting study some time back where “apparent age of face” was a better predictor of longevity than objective biomarkers of aging. That is, the younger you looked to others, the longer you’d live. Since dietary collagen reduces wrinkling, improves skin elasticity, and improves other qualities of facial appearance, we can safely assume that it also improves longevity and fights aging—primarily by buttressing the stuff under the hood.

You speak of.whey as a food that Primal people eat…Then talk about whey powder. How is this processed dairy byproduct Primal??! Personally, I avoid processed foods in general, and denatured protein powders in particular.
If I were going to eat whey, I would use FRESH whey, and preferably from cheese or yogurt, so that at least some of the lactose would have been reduced by lactobacillus fermentation.

Whey protein isn’t paleo, but it’s Primal.

“Orthodox” paleo rejects dairy because  it wasn’t available before agriculture. They begin with the assumption that humans aren’t adapted to eating grains, dairy, legumes, and other common foods that agriculture introduced to the human diet and work backward through the scientific literature to get the result they expected—that many agricultural foods cause problems in many people.

The Primal Blueprint is suspicious of post-agricultural foods and uses modern science to determine if those suspicions are warranted. We often change our mind as new evidence enters the picture, and we’re completely willing to “approve” of genuinely beneficial foods, even if that food is “processed” or post-agriculture.

I’ve written a ton of stuff about whey. It’s one of the best-studied dietary supplements in the world, and the vast majority of those studies report beneficial effects across multiple areas of health. Among other effects, it can:

  • Boost glutathione status.
  • Increase hypertrophy when paired with resistance training.
  • Stave off muscle wasting in the elderly and infirm.
  • Improve insulin sensitivity.
  • Reduce postprandial blood glucose.
  • Exert many different bioactive effects (PDF).

I see no convincing evidence that whey protein has any major downside.

Dairy intolerant? Don’t take whey powder. But make sure that’s actually the case, and whey is the dairy protein you can’t have. Casein intolerance is far more common than whey intolerance. And whey may even be downright anti-allergenic, as whey-based formulas have shown efficacy in the prevention of allergic diseases like asthma and eczema in susceptible children and infants.

Whey’s no slouch. That’s for sure.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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39 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Mostly Questions About Collagen”

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  1. Wait, are you saying there is no casein in whey? What about lactose? What even is in that stuff? The only dairy product without any casein or lactose that I can think of is ghee.

    1. You can buy Whey Protein Isolate, which is usually 99% Whey and <1% Soy Lecithin. Lactose and Casein are different molecules which are removed in the production process.

    2. Apparently, the casein protein is the protein in milk that tends to curdle and be removed for cheese-making. And the remaining watery-looking whey contains lactose and other proteins (according to the wiki article I read,whey proteins consist of ?-lactalbumin, ?-lactoglobulin, serum albumin, immunoglobulins, and proteose-peptones).
      But I also gather that the composition of the whey is going to depend on how it is prepared, and who they are trying to optimize the whey for. There is whey protein isolate, with almost no lactose, regular “sweet” whey, with all the lactose, and sour whey, produced in cheese or yogurt making.
      I make my own yogurt, and drink the whey that separates. But I suspect that (since the whey is just a component part) the benefits of whey are a bit less than the benefits of whole milk yogurt, which is my favorite dairy product. I make it from raw Jersey milk, and it is delicious.

  2. So much good stuff here on one of my favorite subjects….collagen! Thanks for the vitamin C info. I have always suggested starting the day with fresh lemon water, then having collagen blended into your coffee. Throw in some additional C from a green drink if you can (lots of greens, little to no fruit!) Not sure of exact amount of C you’re getting, but it’s been working really well for me. I’ve been doing this daily for years now.
    And big yes to the paint job revealing the state of the engine. I totally started taking collagen years ago for the cosmetic benefits. ..was in my mid 40’s at the time and didn’t want to look it!
    But I’ve noticed along the way that I almost never get sore from working out or other physical activity (my part time job involves moving cases of wine and kegs around!) and I think the collagen has a lot to do with it.
    And as far as the whey thing goes…I’m definitely sensitive to dairy, but I seem to be ok with some high quality whey from time to time. It’s not something I use on a regular basis but know there are some real benefits.

    1. For a while I was drinking hot water with lemon every morning. I got out of the habit, but obviously it is time to get back into it! Thanks for the reminder.

      1. Be careful with acidic drinks – they soften tooth enamel. Dentist Dr Ellie Phillips recommends rinsing after, and waiting before brushing. This goes for kombucha as well, which can be just as acidic as soda (my homebrew tested at pH of 4!). Don’t sip, drink, then rinse.

        1. I’ve been squeezing a large slice of lemon or lime into a glass of water almost daily for decades and my tooth enamel hasn’t softened at all. Lumping natural citrus into this theory is most likely a case of correlation, not causation.

  3. Great point! The tip of the iceberg is still part of the iceberg. Resilient facial collagen implies resilient internal collagen.

    Human aesthetic instincts, finely tuned to identify reproductive fitness in the opposite sex and status markers in one’s own, provide legitimate and unique insight into health. We analyze faces effortlessly with the resolution of the Hubble space telescope.

    The serious problem with aesthetic instincts, of course, is that they are so easily defeated by supernormal stimuli. Collagen injections, plastic surgery, even make-up distort the signals of health. Like the songbird who favors the cuckoo’s oversized egg over her own, humans show a distressing tendency to favor garishly enhanced appearances over authentic, natural beauty.

    And we are living in the golden age of supernormal stimuli!

    Someday I would love to learn Mark’s perspective on the “peacock tail” phenomenon in humans. An exquisite tail implies a healthy peacock free of parasites. But when peacocks start wearing prosthetic tails that are larger than life, how is a peahen to know whether her most deeply felt instincts lead her astray?

    Regarding whey, my experience is that we should not allow perfection to oppose progress.

    Several years ago, thanks to this web site, I broke my severe carb addiction with bacon, sausage, and half-gallon mixtures of whey and coconut milk. Those tasted better than chocolate milkshakes. The health benefits were profound.

    Now I won’t touch whey or coconut milk because raw liver and kefir are so much more effective. But raw liver shakes right out of the gate might have been a bridge too far.

    As with exercises, the best diets are those with which we actually comply!

    1. N=1 here, but I’ve had a torn meniscus, verified through MRI for the past 5 years. I’ve also supplemented pretty regularly with collagen for the past 4 of those years. At BEST, I’ve noticed a reduction in pain and swelling after significant activity like sprinting, playing soccer with my kids, etc. But for me, even that was worth taking the collagen. I’ve since had a scope, and had various pieces of free floating cartilage cleaned out which probably was that meniscal tear which just broke off.

      1. I saw the doctor a couple of months ago, he said he thought I had a torn miniscus (though I never felt any sharp pain it was gradual) he gave me nsaids and the pain went it still clicked every once in a while. Recently it started clicking on the other side and there seems to be something loose. Gonna see the doc tomorrow get a referral.
        Any advice in the mean time

  4. I ordered a 6-back of collagen from Great Lakes and it’s arriving today…buying in volume really dropped the price. Looking forward to adding this to my daily regimen. As I’m trying to stay very keto, I’ve been having a cup or two of Knorr Swiss beef broth daily to keep my sodium levels up. I was thinking of just putting in the broth to make it truly more like bone broth. Thoughts? Also wondering…once a day enough, or a dose in my morning coffee, and again in the afternoon/evening in the broth? I need to re-read last week’s post that inspired me to give this a try.

    1. I put it in my coffee as well as the bone broth. I love ordering from Great Lakes!

    2. Zint organic brand is available in bags, less expensive. Dissolves well in hot tea.

  5. On another blog it mentioned that protein will “heat you up” so I gave it a try with collagen, upping the 1 tablespoon in my coffee to two. That made a difference, I was warmer that morning. So now I try to concentrate on a bit more protein in each meal, and if I can’t get much I just heat up some bone broth and throw a couple of spoons of collagen in, viola, I’m warmer!!!
    I don’t like eating a LOT of food so getting a bit of protein in coffee or broth works well when I need it.

  6. The Great Lakes peptides that arrived today suggests two 2-tb servings per day. That’s about 13 grams per serving. I’ve read under 10g per day can be plenty. I was planning twice a day, morning and late evening before bed. Not sure if I need 26 grams per day though, maybe it won’t hurt but if it’s not bio-available or put to use at those amounts, why waste it.

    What are y’all doing, dosage-wise?

    1. I uaw just 2 TBS a day put in my coffee with coconut oil and cocoa butter . Makes the canister last atleast 30 days. Still improves my skin, hair etc

  7. I like podcasts for the most mundane of jobs or those that I have to talk myself into doing. Like weeding. I love gardening but weeding is tedious. However, if I plug in a good interview podcast or a good storytelling, then I can work away for a couple of hours. Podcasts help me get my chores done,

  8. About collagen, chiccarones are great snacks! In addition to the collagen benefit, they are amazingly filling and satisfying! And if you make them yourself, they are SO much more delicious than the bagged ones in the store! I do the final fry in olive oil, and my chiccarones blow up to huge size, white to pale gold, with the most amazing crunch of anything you will ever eat!!

  9. I wish I could have whey protein! But whey is definitely the one that always shows up high on my allergy tests – casein seems much less reactive for me.

    1. I’m a type 1 diabetic and have noticed that whey protein (and casein) shoot my blood sugars up. I’ve switched to egg protein with much better results. Not sure if it is “as good” as whey, but if you need to supplement, there are other options.

  10. You can listen to podcasts in the shower with a bluetooth speaker.

  11. Great post! Wondering, if you’re supplementing with a powdered collagen, what’s the recommended dosage? I’ve always just added a heaping tablespoon of the Great Lakes Collagen to my AM fat coffee, but would I benefit from adding more into my daily routine?

    1. I would like to have this clarified too. Since it isn’t cheap to purchase I want to take just enough, but not any extra!

  12. Hey Mark! I was hoping you’d answer my question about collagen causing excess growth of facial hair on me( a woman). My normal peach fuzz literally gets longer and darker after just a few days of one scoop a day of grass fed collagen. I’ve tried it several times and each time I get the same result. Thankfully, once I stop the hair returns to normal after a few weeks. Surly there are other female readers with the same issue? Does anyone have any idea as to why this is happening to me?

    1. I’m in menopause . I just shave that area of my face. I notice when I started taking collagen many years ago, I had hair regrow in areas that had stopped. But I never had it grow the facial peach fuzz longer or get darker.

      but in my opinion it sounds like it’s has somehow disrupted your estrogen and testosterone levels

  13. Hi, Collagen is a naturally-occurring chemical in our bodies that contributes to skin … for example,he protein and basement membrane collagen synthesis was increased in the untreated diabetic rats compared to non-diabetic controls. The synthesis was not…what’s the recommended dosage? My cold coffee has been added with some heaping tablespoon Lakes Collagen. Hopefully I’ll get something like this.

  14. The serious problem with aesthetic instincts, of course, is that they are so easily defeated by supernormal stimuli. Collagen injections, plastic surgery, even make-up distort the signals of health. Agreed- I would totally buy these!

  15. Usually when I end up with a ham (last bunch came still sealed from garbage cans because I try to limit my grocery bill and don’t want to pay for anything so saturated with sodium phosphate etc.) I mutilate it by eating the collagen wrapping first, then wish there was more. Can’t get enough of that stuff when it’s available.

  16. I have a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers Danlos. Basically I have faulty collagen production that causes me to have too much elasticity in my tissue. Since collagen is everywhere in your body my body doesn’t like me much. However I have found great relief in my symptoms adding both bone broth and collagen to my diet.

  17. Dear Mark,
    Could hair loss/thinning be a side effect of the Keto diet? This has happened to me and I read about this.
    If so, what can I do about this? I am currently taking KETO COLLAGEN chocolate shake daily.

    1. Keto dumps a lot of water out of the cells including electrolytes and fat. The water holds electrolytes, and some people experience muscle cramps. But what people don’t know is that ALL of the fat soluble vitamins are (besides the liver) in fat cells. Hairloss can be triggered by Vitamin D deficiency and this is usually the cause for Keto hairloss. You have to make sure you are eating foods rich in the fatsoluble vitamins DAILY which are A, D, E and K2.

  18. To Kate: Ascorbic Acid is NOT vitamin C. It is a fraction of a complex and doesn’t resemble anything other than the outer shell of the vitamin C complex as a whole. Ascorbic Acid is made of Corn and Sulphuric Acid to mimic Ascorbic Acid that’s part of a much bigger complex Vitamin.
    Freshly squeeze an organic lemon/lime daily. Also, Glucose competes with Vit. C in nature, so when you eat an orange with potatoes (just an example), the vitamin C from the orange won’t be absorbed.

  19. Mark, Why does your Primal Kitchen Collagen powder only contain types I and III, and not all V types?