The winter may seem like a time when many things are decomposing and losing life, but there’s actually plenty of healing that can happen during these colder months, although it may not be visible to the naked eye.

In many traditional systems of medicine, winter is considered a time of rest and conservation. It’s the part of the year when we usually have less energy to give, so we save that energy for repairing our bodies and building our defenses.

While we often think of wellness in terms of what we can see and apply on the outside, there’s a lot that can, and should, happen on the inside. During the holidays, it’s easy to pack our schedules, burn ourselves out, and get caught up in the external and superficial. It helps to pause and consider the deeper meaning of winter celebrations, no matter your spiritual orientation. Staying well through the winter is more than a matter of avoiding colds and flu—it’s also about strengthening all your systems. This way, we are more likely to experience renewed growth come spring.

One product you should consider adding to your winter routine is collagen. What is collagen exactly, and how can it be used to support your immune system, skin, joints and more?

What is collagen?

Collagen is something your body already makes a lot of. In fact, it’s the most abundant protein found in our bodies, helping to form our muscles, bones, skin, blood vessels, digestive system and tendons.

Collagen is also found in certain foods and beverages, such as bone broth and some cuts of meat, and it is available in supplement form, most often as powdered collagen protein.

Unfortunately for us, our natural production of collagen declines as we age, which means we can afford to get more from an outside source. This can help to fight “degenerative symptoms” associated with aging like joint pain because of decreased cartilage, skin wrinkles and sagging, and impaired digestion.

Benefits of collagen

Collagen has benefits to offer year-round. Here are some of the ways it supports you during the winter:

Promotes skin heath—Collagen is essential for keeping your largest organ, your skin, strong and elastic, plus it aids in hydration and helps to repair wounds and stretch marks. Certain studies have found that using collagen hydrolysate for about two months helps improve skin elasticity and skin moisture, and it also reduces transepidermal water loss (dryness) and skin roughness. In addition to fighting dry and irritated skin this winter, collagen protein can help your fingernails, hair and teeth to grow and stay strong.

Helps you stay active—You can think of collagen as the “glue” that helps hold the body together because it’s important for maintenance of cartilage and prevention of joint or tendon stiffness, swelling, instability and pain. Whether you head indoors this time of year to get some movement or brave the cold outside, collagen can aid in exercise recovery and muscle growth. Glycine and arginine, two of the most important amino acids found in collagen, play a role in helping to form and repair muscle tissue, healing injuries, sparing tissue wasting, boosting the metabolism, and aiding in proper growth and development. Additionally, collagen may even help combat uncomfortable symptoms of arthritis and improve functionality during everyday activities.

Supports gut health and immunity—Inside your digestive system collagen is used to form and repair connective tissues, keeping the protective lining of the gastrointestinal tract strong. Poor gut health, characterized by changes in microbiota and intestinal permeability, among other issues, can kick off inflammatory responses that affect the entire body. Because the amino acids in collagen build the tissues that line the colon and GI tract, collagen may help treat or prevent gastrointestinal disorders and related issues—like malabsorption of nutrients, autoimmunity, eczema, fatigue, brain fog and more. Considering that you’re more susceptible to illnesses like colds and the flu during the winter, especially if your immune system is already weakened, collagen can be valuable for making sure you absorb nutrients from your diet properly and keep inflammation under control.

Consuming and retaining collagen

Now that you know how collagen works to support you from the inside out, let’s talk about how you can get more collagen this winter.

  • Drink real bone broth, or save time by making bone broth from powdered concentrate. You can consume bone broth on its own as a beverage or use it in recipes like stews, soups and marinades.
  • Try a collagen peptide supplement, which contains the same exact set of amino acids and nutrients as collagen but has undergone a process called hydrolysis to break them down into shorter chains of proteins that are highly absorbable. Hydrolyzed collagen powder can be dissolved in hot or cold water and is usually odorless and tasteless. Try adding some to your morning smoothie, oatmeal, baked goods, sauces, etc.

In addition to adding collagen supplements and foods to your routine, it’s wise to take steps to hang on to the collagen that your body is already making. Here are habits you should avoid to keep your body’s natural collagen intact. All of the below can contribute to depleted collagen levels.

  • Overexercising/engaging in long-term repetitive movements
  • Eating a diet high in sugar
  • Smoking
  • Eliminating foods that provide necessary collagen and protein
  • High amounts of sun exposure

Photo credit: Natural Chef Carolyn Nicholas, Unsplash