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The Collagen Diet
A 28-Day Plan for Sustained Weight Loss, Glowing Skin, Great Gut Health, and a Younger You
By Dr. Josh Axe
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Today, interest in dietary collagen is growing at an astounding rate, and with good reason. The benefits of a collagen-rich diet are remarkable, ranging from better weight control to enhanced digestion, clearer skin, reduced inflammation, and improved immune function.
Dietary collagen provides a unique blend of amino acids and other compounds, making it critical for everyone, including infants, young children, the elderly, athletes, pregnant women, new mothers, and adult men and women. Simply put: When we don’t get enough of the beneficial compounds found in collagen-rich foods, we experience more injuries, chronic aches and pain, digestive issues, and other symptoms associated with aging. And most people don’t get enough. Collagen is the missing ingredient that can help all of us live longer, healthier, more vital lives.
In The Collagen Diet, Dr. Axe describes how collagen helps maintain the structure and integrity of almost every part of the body. You’ll learn how your skin, hair, nails, bones, disks, joints, ligaments, tendons, arterial walls, and gastrointestinal tract all depend on the consumption of collagen-rich foods.
Featuring a twenty-eight-day meal plan, seventy mouthwatering recipes, and specific advice for supporting your body’s collagen production with exercise and lifestyle interventions, The Collagen Diet provides everything you need to take advantage of this overlooked cornerstone of modern health.
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The Missing Link to Modern Health
There are personal crises that stop you in your tracks, and there are others that spur you to search for answers and strive to make your life—and the lives of others—better. My mom’s second cancer diagnosis was the latter.
Those of you who have read my books and follow my YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook videos know the story: I was in my mid-twenties and finishing up my training as a doctor when I received a tearful call from my mom. She had survived a tough bout of breast cancer when I was thirteen, and ever since her treatment, she’d struggled with her health. She was fatigued, depressed, and had hypothyroidism. The vibrant, athletic woman I’d known in my youth had become a shadow of her former self. In fact, her diminishment—a result of the medications she’d taken to fight off breast cancer—was the reason I had decided to go into the medical field. In the years following her diagnosis, I became determined to understand the causes of ill health and find better ways to address them—ones that didn’t leave you with long-term symptoms that undermine your ability to live a full and fulfilling life.
I was immersed in this quest when I picked up the phone and heard my mom’s tearful voice. She told me that her doctor had found a tumor in her lung. Her words broke my heart. Anyone who has heard a loved one utter the words “I have cancer” knows what a gut punch it is. It brings you to your knees. But as a health care practitioner, I was more prepared for it than I had been as a child. I’d been studying functional and integrative medicine and had learned a lot since my mom had faced her first cancer diagnosis. I recognized that this crisis was a call for me to step up and help. I knew that making some super-healthy tweaks to my mom’s diet and lifestyle could bolster her ability to fight the disease. But I also knew that if I wanted to give my mom the kind of guidance she’d need to beat this illness once and for all, I would have to learn a lot more—and quickly.
From that day on, I made it my mission to read everything I could about food and healing. I learned about the ketogenic diet and its ability to reduce the corrosive effects of high blood sugar, insulin, and inflammation, allowing the body’s innate healing mechanisms to step forward and take over. I investigated the healing properties of herbs and spices, which contain thousands of compounds that bolster the body’s ability to fight disease. Studying Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine led me to a trove of medical wisdom that is used successfully in many parts of the world but is sadly underutilized in modern American health care. And I learned about bone broth, which contains key amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) that are absent in the types of muscle-meat protein most of us consume today.
Together, my mom and I carefully crafted a diet and lifestyle that would allow her to tackle her new health challenge from every angle: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. She ate a nutrient-dense diet of whole foods rich in antioxidants—foods like wild-caught salmon, leafy greens, mushrooms, and berries—and healing spices like turmeric. She also drank lots and lots of bone broth, which contains beneficial compounds that improved her energy, sleep, and ability to properly digest the rest of the food she was eating. After nine months on the protocol we designed, she beat cancer—without the use of dangerous drugs or toxic radiation treatments. Today, not only is my mom cancer-free, she is truly thriving. Her chronic fatigue, her thyroid problems, and her depression are gone. She’s as healthy as she was before her first cancer diagnosis. She has, blessedly, returned to her old self.
My days and nights of intensive research paid off in a spectacular way that defied my mom’s doctors’ expectations—and they led me down promising new avenues of healing I’ve continued to explore as a functional medicine doctor to this day. One of the most exciting things I stumbled on during that time was bone broth and, more important, collagen, the powerhouse protein it contains. I’ve been studying this remarkable substance ever since.
Collagen is most famous for being a critical building block of healthy skin, so you may recognize it from the labels of beauty products. But its importance for health is far more than skin-deep. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It’s found in skin, nails, bone, cartilage, tendons, muscles, the gut lining, the disks that cushion your vertebrae, blood vessels, and the outer layer of your organs. Because it’s woven into so many tissues, it plays a vital role in countless aspects of your health. In fact, new research is demonstrating that collagen and the compounds it contains may help regenerate new tissue, aid in gut repair, boost your immune system, and even increase your life span.
Based on my research, I believe it’s the unsung hero of anti-aging medicine. It can help you
avoid the aches and pains of aging
stave off wrinkles and sagging skin
heal persistent gastrointestinal issues or food sensitivities
build your immune system, strengthening your resistance to cold and flu bugs
maintain healthy nails and hair
bolster the strength of your bones and muscles
I’ve scoured the scientific literature on this remarkable substance, uncovering study after study that confirms its benefits and points toward its untapped potential. At the same time, I’ve been blown away by the effects of collagen on the hundreds of patients, friends, and loved ones to whom I’ve recommended it. I’ve encouraged patients to consume collagen-rich smoothies and, in some cases, to follow a bone broth cleanse (during which they eat mostly bone broth), to help support healthy joints, ligaments, tendons, skin, and digestion. And just like my mom, these patients started feeling better.
But the thing that truly persuaded me of collagen’s immense healing power was experiencing it firsthand. I’ve always had lots of energy. But several years after my mom’s second battle with cancer, I found myself wiped out by fatigue and experiencing erratic bowel habits, alternating between constipation and loose stool. At first, I chalked up my symptoms to stress and overwork, the lifestyle conditions we tend to blame for all our inexplicable symptoms. And the theory made sense. I was putting in more than seventy hours each week treating patients and building DrAxe.com. I struggled to relieve my symptoms until I visited an acupuncturist who told me the root of the problem lay in my gut.
I’d already learned about leaky gut syndrome—a condition in which toxins, microbes, and undigested proteins like gluten are allowed to pass from the intestines into the bloodstream because the collagen-rich barrier designed to keep them inside the gut has become too permeable—and I knew that a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet was the best way to cure it.* But my diet was already chock-full of nutritious foods, with lots of inflammation-fighting veggies. The one thing I was missing, I realized, was collagen. I went from drinking bone broth only sporadically to consuming several cups on a daily basis. I focused on supporting my body’s overall collagen production by eating chicken and salmon skin and consuming more vitamin C and red veggies, like tomatoes and beets, which contain lycopene, a substance that shores up collagen. And I began putting heaping scoops of powdered collagen in my morning smoothies. Over the course of several months my symptoms diminished, then went away completely.
Now I’m here to share what I’ve learned with you. We’ve ignored collagen for too long—and at our own peril. I wrote The Collagen Diet to change that. My goal is to help you learn how to take advantage of this valuable yet overlooked protein so you, too, can reap its innumerable youth-preserving benefits. My approach is based on leading-edge science and offers a safe, effective way to restore your vitality, balance your hormones, and give your body the precise mix of key ingredients it needs to fortify collagen production for the long term. By the time you finish this book, you’ll have a complete understanding of what collagen is, why it’s so deeply critical for healthy aging, and how to use it to improve your health and well-being.
In Part I, we’ll cover the collagen basics—everything you need to know about this underappreciated substance. I’ll break down the science behind how collagen works and explain in clear, easy-to-understand language what collagen does for us, why it’s so important as we age, and the many ways we can keep our levels high, from practical approaches, like exercise and diet, to cutting-edge theories on supporting stem cell production.
In Part II, we delve into the specific ways that collagen benefits us, like improving our appearance and gut function, eliminating pain, and resetting hormones—just to name a few. By the time you’ve finished this section, you’ll see how diverse and important collagen is for your overall health and the dramatic impact it can have on everything from your daily functioning to your life span.
In Part III, I provide two step-by-step diet plans—a 3-day collagen cleanse and a 28-day collagen diet—that make it easy to apply what you’ve learned to your busy life. To help you make collagen a sustainable part of your diet, I’ve also included seventy-two delicious recipes designed to encourage your body’s collagen production and give your skin, bones, gut, muscles, tendons, and blood vessels optimal amounts of this rejuvenating ingredient, so they will continue to function effectively and efficiently.
I’m grateful you’ve picked up this book, and I’m eager to share with you everything I’ve learned about how collagen can help you look and feel your best by supporting your body from the inside out. I swear by my collagen-rich diet. It supports my joints, helps me recover faster from the wear and tear of exercise, protects my digestive system, and keeps my body strong, flexible, and fit. And if you read this book and follow its collagen-boosting plan, I know you’ll experience these benefits as well.
The Truth about Collagen
The Essential Nutrient That Disappeared from Our Diets
Why Embracing This Ancient Dietary Staple Can Restore Your Health
We live in an era of unprecedented abundance. The food supply in the United States contains about 3,750 calories per person, per day. That’s a thousand calories more than we consumed daily just two hundred years ago, according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, and far more than any of us needs. (Women require 2,000 calories, on average, and men 2,500.) Our ancient ancestors, who had to hunt wild game and gather berries to scrape together enough calories to feed their families, would undoubtedly be astonished by our effortless access to sustenance. And envious.
But here’s the paradox: Despite the availability of food, many of us are plagued by surprisingly poor health. Nearly half of the people in the United States suffer from chronic conditions like diabetes, joint pain, heart disease, osteoporosis, gastrointestinal problems, inflammation, and cancer, undermining their ability to participate fully in daily activities and often cutting short their lives. Odds are, at least a handful of people you care about are affected by one or more of these persistent health problems. And the situation is likely to get worse, since most of these conditions become more prevalent with age—and our population is rapidly graying. Ten thousand people in the United States will turn sixty-five every day from now through the end of 2029, according to the Pew Research Center. The scope of the looming problem is mind-boggling. And here’s what makes it even more tragic: Chronic health conditions can be traced, in large part, to our modern diet.
Food is called sustenance for a reason. It is meant to sustain us—not only to provide fuel for our bodies but also to heal them, to give us the nutrients we need to look and feel our best, and to provide us with ample energy to face the demands of our increasingly stressful lives. But here’s the catch: We need to eat the right foods. And that’s the problem we’re facing now. The two “staples” of the typical Western diet, sugar and refined carbs, fill our bellies but shortchange our health. By providing largely empty calories, they pack on pounds, undermine our bodies’ ability to function on a cellular level, fuel inflammation, and increase our risk of every single chronic condition that’s rampant today.
We no longer live with chronic hunger or the persistent threat of starvation, as our ancestors did. But we are starved for true nourishment. A variety of studies over the past decade have found that many of us don’t get enough calcium, potassium, fiber, folic acid, magnesium, iron, and vitamins A, C, and E—nutrients that are indispensable for building strong muscles, bones, blood vessels, skin, and immune systems. Other compounds that were plentiful in our ancestors’ diets, like phosphorus, silicon, glucosamine, and sulfur, are missing from our everyday meals as well.
But there’s a lesser-known substance that’s notably absent from the typical Western diet—one that I believe can help us reverse our spiraling health issues and give all of us the best shot at a long, robust, active life. It’s called collagen. It’s the most abundant protein in the body, and a growing database of research shows it is vital for the structural integrity and healthy, long-term functioning of our bodies.
Our ancestors’ diets were rich in collagen. Today, we consume almost none. But thanks to recent research showing that it can do everything from regenerating new tissue to bolstering your immune system, it’s finally getting its due. I’m a huge fan of collagen. And I believe that by the time you’ve finished this book, you’ll understand why—and you will be, too.
MEET THE INGREDIENT THAT JUST MIGHT CHANGE YOUR LIFE
Collagen is a strong, springy, fibrous substance that is woven into dozens of your body’s tissues. It’s responsible in large part for the firmness and elasticity of your skin, the strength of your nails and bones, and the pliability of your cartilage, tendons, muscles, gut lining, and blood vessels. It even encases your organs. On a functional level, collagen gives you flexibility and strength, allows your joints to move fluidly without aches and pains, and plays a role in everything from wound healing to gut health to cardiac health. It’s the glue that holds you together. Indeed, the word collagen is derived from the Greek word for glue, kolla.
There are sixteen different types of collagen, but about 90 percent of the collagen in your body is either type I, II, or III—or some combination of the three. (I’ll explain each type in the next chapter.) Those three predominant types share the same molecular structure—a woven rope–like shape known as a triple-stranded helix, which gives them their strength and flexibility.
Because it plays a vital role in so many diverse aspects of health, adding collagen to your diet is one of the best ways to fight off both the visible and invisible signs of aging and keep you feeling vibrant as the years tick by. For instance, a recent study published in the journal Nutrients looked at the effects of oral collagen supplementation on the skin of aging mice, a reasonable stand-in for human skin. (Studies that rely on taking widespread biopsies are often performed in mice instead of humans, for obvious reasons.) After eight weeks, not only did their skin have more collagen, but its ability to repair frayed collagen fibers had improved, its antioxidant enzymes were more active, and the skin itself was firmer.1 It changed the tissue quantitatively and qualitatively, according to the researchers, effectively turning back the clock and making the skin’s structure and appearance years younger.
As you get older, it becomes increasingly vital to get this substance from your diet. Here’s why: In your mid-twenties, your body’s natural collagen production begins to decline at a rate of about 1 percent per year—a drop-off that accelerates in your forties and fifties. By the time you reach your early fifties, you produce roughly 30 percent less natural collagen than you did in your twenties.
Waning collagen is a normal part of the aging process, but it is fueled by certain lifestyle habits, including sun exposure (ultraviolet radiation damages the skin’s collagen-building cells), smoking, stress, poor gut health, consuming too much sugar, and inflammation (which often stems from poor diet and lifestyle habits). Molecules of sugar, for instance, form what’s known as “advanced glycation end products,” or AGEs, which can attach to the collagen and elastin in your skin, causing wrinkles and loss of elasticity and putting you at risk for inflammation-related skin conditions like acne and rosacea.
As a result, it’s critical to replenish this diminishing source of youth and vitality, and the most important way to do that is with food. But the typical Western diet has been largely stripped of collagen. Every time you remove the skin from a chicken breast or put the tendinous gristle in the dog’s bowl, you’re throwing away an opportunity to bolster and sustain your body’s collagen. And, as you’ll learn in the coming pages, those are just two examples of the opportunities you’re almost surely missing to bolster your body’s collagen and take advantage of its regenerative effects.
There’s no medical test to gauge how much collagen you have, but, honestly, you don’t need one. It’s easy to recognize when this fundamental substance is becoming dangerously low. Collagen deficiency makes itself known through
Arthritis and joint pain. As you lose collagen-rich cartilage, achy joints become more common.
Wrinkles, cellulite, and sagging skin. Collagen makes up 75 to 80 percent of skin. Without collagen to provide structure, skin sags and dimples.
More frequent cuts and abrasions. Thinning skin is more vulnerable to daily wear and tear.
Slower wound healing. As a glue-like substance, collagen helps the skin knit together.
Hair loss. Collagen supports hair growth.
Brittle nails. Collagen plays a role in nail growth and strength.
Smaller, weaker muscles. Found in muscle tissue, collagen plays a role in muscle growth.
Decreased bone density. There’s actually more collagen than calcium in your bones!
Gastrointestinal problems, like loose stool, gas, and bloating. As the protective, collagen-rich lining in your digestive tract thins, these symptoms become more common.
Immune issues. Collagen supports your gut lining, and 70 percent of your immune system is housed in your gut.
Chronic inflammation. Collagen contains glycine, an essential amino acid that’s a powerful anti-inflammatory and helps protect the mucus lining of the gut.
Food sensitivities. As the gut lining deteriorates due to collagen depletion, you’re more likely to develop symptoms from eating foods that didn’t bother you before.
Heart problems. When the collagen in the lining of your arteries begins to degrade, your arteries, which carry blood from your heart to your tissues, become less supple—a serious risk factor for heart disease and high blood pressure.
By getting enough collagen in your diet, you can prevent—and treat—many of these problems. Here’s one example: In 2018, German researchers reported on the results of a study looking at collagen and bone loss. For the trial, they enrolled postmenopausal women whose bones were thinning. Some of the women consumed 5 grams of a collagen supplement every day for a year, while the others were given a placebo. After twelve months, the collagen group had significantly greater bone mineral density in their spines and the top of their femurs (the bone most associated with broken hips), while the placebo group’s bones had become more fragile.2
I’m always wary when someone tells me a single substance has such broad and diverse effects, and frankly, you should be, too. But there’s a simple explanation for why collagen can and does have an impact on so many different parts of your body: Like an invisible suit of protective armor, it’s woven into a multitude of tissues, from the outermost layer of your skin to the innermost layer of your blood vessels.
Everywhere it’s found, it serves to strengthen, fortify, build, and renew tissue at a cellular level. It’s one of our best defenses against the ravages of age—and a powerful weapon for strengthening whole-body health and wellness. I’ve been recommending collagen to patients, friends, and family for the past decade and have seen remarkable examples of improved health and healing.
For instance, in 2018, my dear friend and colleague Jordan Rubin and I debuted a program called the Multi Collagen Makeover, which contains many of the same components as the Collagen Diet plan. As the program took off, dozens of participants sent us revealing feedback. As Debbie Fong, one participant, said, “I’m on day 21, and I feel like I’m reversing in age. I’ll be sixty at the end of this year and I can see all the physical changes on the outside, so I can only imagine what it’s doing on the inside of my body. My face glows now, and my skin is getting firmer. The bags under my eyes are diminishing, and the drooping under my eyelids is disappearing. My jawline is starting to reappear. Totally amazing!”
A growing body of research supports that type of anecdotal experience. Indeed, a 2019 review of the literature published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology concluded that oral collagen supplements increase the elasticity, hydration, and density of aging skin’s collagen-rich dermis (the layer that determines, in large part, whether your skin is smooth or wrinkled)—all without any adverse side effects.3
New studies in this burgeoning field are revealing additional uses for collagen all the time. For instance, collagen is now being combined with stem cells to help regenerate knee and shoulder cartilage in those with injuries and arthritis. And resorbable forms of the substance are being used to dress oral wounds and promote dental healing.
In the coming chapters, I’ll explain in detail the exciting studies on collagen and their results, which show it can improve the health of your skin, gut, joints, and more. But first, it’s important for you to know a bit more about this substance so you’ll better understand why it can have such powerful effects.
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN
Although collagen is on its way to becoming the “it” dietary ingredient (especially in supplement form), it’s far from new. This humble protein formed the backbone of our ancient ancestors’ diets, which were made up of wild meats and bone broth as well as vegetables, berries, herbs, and spices. In the days when food was scarce, humans used every edible part of the animal. They brewed collagen-rich broth from the bones, tendons, and cartilage of fish, chicken, and beef, and they routinely ate organ meats, ligaments, and tendons, all of which are teeming with life-giving collagen. As it turns out, their thrifty approach to food use may have offered them protection against some of the most common ailments that plague many of us today.
Take arthritis. This public health menace affects an estimated 54 million to 91 million adults in the United States (the higher number includes people who haven’t received an official diagnosis), causing chronic pain and forcing nearly half of sufferers to limit their daily activity. However, when researchers from Harvard and several other universities recently compared skeletons from modern people to those of hunter-gatherers and early farmers—skeletons that were as many as six thousand years old—as well as bones from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they found that knee osteoarthritis is at least twice as common today as it was in prehistoric and early industrial times.4
All of the skeletons were from people who were fifty or older, and the researchers controlled for age, body mass index, and other confounding factors. Even so, osteoarthritis affected just 6 to 8 percent of the prehistoric samples and those from the 1800s and early 1900s, while skeletons from the 1900s to early 2000s showed a rate of 16 percent. And that’s lower than the 23 percent the Centers for Disease Control reports.5 Moreover, it is estimated that by 2040 nearly 26 percent of U.S. adults will be afflicted by the condition.
While the relatively recent rise in obesity has undoubtedly played a role in the uptick, weight only explains a fraction of the increase, according to the researchers’ calculations. Their conclusion: In order to prevent this debilitating condition, we should try to adhere more closely to the physical activity and dietary patterns of our early ancestors. And here’s what our ancestors ate: veggies, berries, herbs, and collagen, collagen, collagen.
Our forefathers’ high-collagen diets may also have protected them from common gastrointestinal conditions that afflict far too many people today. In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers analyzed the gut bacteria of the Hadza, a foraging tribe in western Tanzania.6 The Hadza, who still live entirely on wild game, roots, and berries, just as our ancient ancestors did, not only have radically different gut bacteria from the average modern urbanite but also have zero incidence of irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
Studies like these support the intriguing idea that collagen has historically played an important role in human health. Although our ancestors originally consumed the collagen-rich parts of animals for practical reasons—when food is scarce it makes sense to get every ounce of nutrition you can out of every food source—they undoubtedly benefited physically from the approach. And there’s ample evidence that a number of cultures around the world learned the value of this substance and began to utilize it as a cure for a variety of ailments. Indeed, collagen has featured heavily in traditional healing modalities around for world for centuries.
- "An essential read. The Collagen Diet tells us why collagen is important, why it is so lacking diet in our modern diet, and, most important, what we can do to bring collagen back in the fold in terms of being an amazing protein that we should all be getting more of."—David Perlmutter, MD, author of Grain Brain and Brain Wash
"The Collagen Diet holds key insights into the significance of collagen, an often overlooked protein. Dr. Axe brilliantly explains why collagen is foundational to lifelong health and how to incorporate it into our lives for healthy aging -- from our skin to our bones."
—Amy Myers, MD, author of The Autoimmune Solution
"I love The Collagen Diet. Dr. Axe is my go-to guru on all things health! In the book, he goes through the latest medical research and has a 28-day collagen-boosting plan to help your digestion, skin, hair, nails, and joints, and reduce inflammation. If you want to look and feel your best, you've got to read this book!"
—Shawn Johnson East, Olympic Gold Medalist
- "In The Collagen Diet, Dr. Axe offers a thorough explanation of the nutritional importance of collagen -- and how we can easily and affordably get more of it in our diets. A must-read for anyone dedicated to taking care of their body and aging well."—Jillian Michaels, author of The 6 Keys
- "Collagen shows up in nearly every part of the body, from your hair and skin to your arterial walls, gastrointestinal tract, and even your eyes. Dr. Axe presents the science behind this miraculous substance, and how you can use it to fight chronic pain, digestive issues, skin issues, and so much more."—Dr. Alejandro Junger, author of Clean
- On Sale
- Dec 31, 2019
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Little Brown Spark