In the second part of his ground-breaking book, a bestselling nutritionist reveals the food formula for midlife women that boosts fitness (and sex drive too!)
When I began researching collagen, I found it hard to believe there was one nutrient we could add to our diet that would help us keep going (no matter what our age), feel calmer, maintain a strong and flexible body and reverse many of the physical issues that accompany ageing.
But as I explained in the first extract from my new book last week, collagen is an incredibly versatile substance. It has to be, as it is found in such disparate areas throughout the body.
Think about it. Structurally, your skin is very different from your bones, and cartilage is unlike muscles or ligaments or the lining of blood vessels. Yet collagen is woven into each one — and in some cases it makes up the bulk of the tissue.
Dr Josh Axe says the food formula for midlife women that boosts fitness (stock image)
Getting more collagen in your diet is increasingly essential as you age and your collagen-dense tissues begin to experience wear and tear. Adding 20 to 50 grams of the substance to your daily diet can improve the health of your gut, skin, joints, hair, nails, immune system, vertebral discs and blood vessels.
And for fitness, it is a crucial addition. As a nutrition expert and doctor, I have looked after plenty of top-performing athletes, not least the U.S. Olympic team at London 2012. Back then, what we knew about the benefits of collagen wasn’t as advanced as it is now.
Today, the studies are so persuasive that the International Olympic Committee’s 2018 statement on dietary supplements gave a thumbs-up to the use of collagen supplements to assist with training capacity and help athletes recover from injuries.
But maintaining a healthy level of collagen isn’t just for the professionals. It matters to us all — perhaps especially those midlife ‘weekend warriors’ who have made fitness part of their lives and want to participate in the activities they love for as long as they possibly can.
If you are a recreational gym-goer, runner, hiker or biker, you should start boosting your dietary collagen.
Dr Josh Axe (pictured) is convinced that a decade from now, the same will be true of dietary collagen
Remember, the best ways to do that are by eating bone broth (make it yourself by simmering chicken, beef or fish bones in a soup pot with other healthy ingredients such as carrots, onion, celery and bay leaves), adding bone broth protein powder to other dishes, or taking a supplement of hydrolysed collagen bought from a health food store.
There are plenty of other potentially beneficial side-effects beyond sustaining and improving fitness — better sex, for example, smoother skin and a calmer mood . . .
Joint health is a big deal for us all. In the UK, more than ten million people suffer from arthritis or some other joint-related problem. That’s a shocking number.
But collagen can help. Plenty of studies show its beneficial impact on joint pain and joint mobility.
In his new book, Dr Josh Axe explains how collagen can support weight loss
Last year, UK researchers assessed pain in a group of study subjects who were 51 to 70 years old, and found that those taking fish collagen supplements (plus other vitamins and minerals) saw their discomfort decrease by an average of 43 per cent and joint mobility rise by 39 per cent. Their skin became more elastic, too.
The researchers concluded that the supplement could be ‘an effective solution to slow down the hallmarks of ageing.’
Best of all for springy, flexible joints is bone broth. This contains not only collagen but other joint-healthy ingredients such as glucosamine and chondroitin, often taken for arthritis, as well as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and sulphur.
Healthy muscle tissue can keep your metabolism humming along at a high rate — which helps to control your weight — and contribute in myriad ways to your ability to stay happy and healthy with age.
It can give you the physical stamina and agility to continue to travel, for instance, or play in the park with your grandchildren; to bounce back more easily after illnesses and injuries; and help you maintain a high energy level so you can continue to meet the demands of your job, even as the years tick by.
Collagen seems to be particularly helpful when paired with exercise, boosting all the brilliant benefits you get from a regular session in the gym, such as keeping and strengthening muscle. That is down to two crucial collagen-related amino acids — the building blocks of proteins — called glycine and arginine, both found in high-protein foods, especially nuts, poultry and bone broth. Arginine improves blood flow, so your body can deliver more nutrients and oxygen to muscle tissue.
And feeding your muscle allows you not only to build more healthy tissue, but to exercise more efficiently, with less fatigue and pain. It’s a win-win.
Collagen can protect bones, boost your sex life, strengthen muscle and beat anxiety (stock image)
About 50 per cent of bone is made up of protein — and the majority of that protein is collagen. Indeed, people who consume too little protein have reduced bone density and increased rates of bone loss.
That is more important than it sounds. It is estimated that one woman in three and one man in five over 50 will fracture a bone because of osteoporosis.
And those fractures can be devastating.
Protein can be particularly beneficial for ageing people. For instance, a study of more than 140,000 postmenopausal women found that each 20 per cent increase in protein intake was associated with significantly higher bone-mineral density throughout their bodies, including in the fracture-prone hips.
Bone density in the spine and the top of the femur — the bit most likely to break when someone fractures a hip — was also increased when women took collagen supplements for a year.
HAVE BETTER SEX
Arginine doesn’t just improve circulation to the muscle. It improves it to intimate parts, too, making it an effective way to turn around sexual performance problems for both sexes.
Some research suggests that collagen can help balance hormones and restore normal sexual function in women with an oestrogen imbalance. But it is men who have been studied more, with scientists trying to work out whether arginine can resolve problems of erectile dysfunction. The somewhat obscure answer is, yes, if you take it combined with pycnogenol (you can buy supplements at Holland & Barrett), which is another name for the extract of French maritime pine bark.
Collagen can help with irritability, low mood and stress — and all the time we are learning more about how.
It is thought, for example, that the collagen-related amino acid glycine boosts serotonin, the brain chemical that is low in people with depression.
But collagen also helps to heal your gut. It can protect your stomach from ulcers, help with digestion and may even prevent irritable bowel disorders.
And since we now know that the health of our gut is intimately linked to the health of the brain and our mood — 90 per cent of our serotonin receptors are in the gut — we clearly need our digestive systems to be in the best shape possible for good mental health.
Collagen can help with irritability, low mood and stress — and all the time we are learning more about how. Stock image
LOSE TUMMY FAT
Collagen fills you up — and food that keeps you full for longer helps you eat less throughout the day.
I have experienced it myself. My wife, Chelsea, and I rely on a daily dose of collagen in our morning smoothies to help us feel satisfied and energetic throughout the morning.
But that’s just one of several interesting ways collagen can help you shed pounds.
Our friend glycine may be able to prevent the accumulation of abdominal fat, even in those who consume a high-sugar diet — a finding that has important implications extending beyond weight loss.
Deep abdominal fat is the toughest kind to shed and also the most dangerous for your health, putting you at heightened risk of both metabolic and cardiac problems.
By targeting the stubborn fat stored in your abdomen, glycine may help you lose weight and slash your risk of diseases that affect far too many overweight people around the world. It could be a game-changer for health.
THE BEST EXERCISE
Getting a sweat on, whether through aerobic exercise or strength training, increases the production of growth hormone — and growth hormone prompts your fibroblasts to churn out more collagen.
Although most forms of exercise seem to trigger growth hormone, the latest research indicates that strength training and interval training (also known as burst training) are the most effective.
Putting the two together may well offer the biggest bang for your buck — but don’t forget adaptive exercise, such as yoga.
It, too, can be great for keeping skin youthful and fresh because it lowers stress, a collagen killer.
The side-bending and downward poses in yoga deliver a healthy dose of healing blood and oxygen to your whole body, including your skin.
Moreover, levels of a powerful antioxidant called glutathione — often known as the body’s master antioxidant, in fact — are higher in people who do yoga regularly.
Glutathione heals the damage to cells’ DNA and mitochondria caused by free radicals: unstable molecules that, left unchecked, can wreak havoc and accelerate ageing and disease.
If you are not already a practitioner, I suggest you add yoga to your fitness routine at least one day a week.
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