Do you use collagen as a supplement? I do. It's one supplement that hasn't ended up in my “supplement graveyard”. I've been taking it for several years.
A year ago, WebMD stated that Americans are expected to spend $122 million on collagen products in 2018.
Indeed, collagen has gained popularity, in part with the alternative medicine crowd, the functional medicine doctors, the Bulletproof followers who add collagen to their coffee, which is the way I was introduced to the concept (as Dave Asprey “biohacks” his way to… whatever his health goal is).
This post was supposed to be a review of two collagen supplements that I've recently used, but as the introduction got longer, I realized that the opening was a post of its own. The review follows (also linked at the bottom of this post).
Are you blindly following the trends?
I couldn't talk about collagen products without talking about what collagen and collagen peptides are and why everyone needs a healthy amount of collagen in their body. My decision to provide that background wasn't because I'm writing for search engines (though part way through I realized that I was reflexively doing so because I've been a content writer for two decades), it's because you might need that information.
I believe that if you add or remove nutrients from your diet, you should know about those nutrients, their function, and their potential effect on your body. One of my pet peeves is people who cut gluten from their diet but don't know what gluten is. Many people don't know what a “calorie” is but associate it negatively and so assume that calories are bad when they're neither good nor bad.
Whether you're adding or removing “carbs” (carbohydrates), increasing or decreasing your fat intake or adding zinc or any other mineral, you should know why. All of these actions are part of a health strategy.
Goal + Action = Result*
(*or lack of result, which means that the plan needs to change.)
“I want to [lose 10 lbs/have more energy/have more focus/have clearer skin] so I will [eat more fish/consume protein powder/drink more water/cut out sugar]”. You can also state HOW you'll do it.
If you don't know why you're changing your intake, don't do it. “Because someone told me I should” or because “it's worked for other people” are not a good enough reasons, IMO, although the latter is a step in the right direction. If it's worked for a lot of other people, find out what.
Trying different things to see what makes you feel better is valid. “Feeling better” is a legitimate goal.
It reminds me that for years I told my mother that if she wants her business to be on particular social media channels, she needs to have a reason other than, “I heard I should.”
Few “shoulds” are universal, and it's dangerous to follow advice blindly.
So, that's my introduction to what initially began as an introduction to something else and took an entire day to write Let's move on.
What Is Collagen?
We are all made from collagen. Collagen is us. Collagen is the most abundant protein in mammals and is the main structural protein in the space outside of the cells in the various connective tissues in the body. These connective tissues and body parts include tendons, ligaments, skin and muscles.
The word collagen itself originated in 1843, from French collagène, from Latinized form of Greek kolla “glue” + –gen “giving birth to”.
It makes sense, then, that collagen is often described collagen as, “the glue that holds the body together.”
There are over 15 types of collagen in the body, but most of the collagen in our body consists of three types, with Type 1 being the most abundant. It would be too much for me to explain all the types right now, but here's an explanation of the most abundant types of collagen in the body.
How Collagen is Made
Collagen is made up of around 20 long chains of linked amino acids.
Different cells in our body tissues are responsible for the production of collagen. Cells use specific amino acids and peptides – little proteins – to form collagen.
Collagen peptides – aka hydrolyzed collagen or collagen hydrolysate – contain the same set of amino acids and nutrients as collagen but have undergone a process called hydrolysis to break them down into shorter chains of proteins.
Collagen powder, then, naturally contain those amino acids.
8+ Benefits of Collagen
1. “Anti-aging”: Collagen For Skin Health
As you may have gathered from ads for anti-ageing products, collagen plays an important part in skin health. In the 1980s it became a popular skincare product additive and injectable filler to plump lips and soften lines. Collagen makes up about 75% of the dry weight of your skin, providing that which keeps skin looking plump and helps delay those lines we call “wrinkles” or reduce their appearance.
Note that I've chosen my words carefully here based on summarizing and rewording my research in addition to the knowledge already in my memory. The term “anti-ageing” bothers me. We all age, and we all WILL wrinkle. What we put in our body and on our skin can help improve our skin's health and appearance but don't expect to look 30 forever.
As you age, your body produces less collagen, leading to dry skin and the formation of wrinkles. Skin dryness can make wrinkles look more pronounced, hence those “before and after moisturizer” photos. Collagen supplements stimulate your body to produce more collagen. Several studies have shown that collagen peptides or supplements containing collagen may help reduce wrinkles and dryness. Collagen contributes to the elasticity and strength of your skin.
I want to add that several factors result in individuals looking physically older or younger. This includes health (illness can age a person), race (you know how Asians and blacks seem to go from youthful-looking to “old”, which I probably wouldn't mention race if Shonda Rhimes hadn't acknowledged it in her book), physical fitness, diet (vegans often lack collagen), stress levels, and genetics (that's my family).
2. Collagen For Hair Health
There are 11 nonessential amino acids that your body can make and nine essential ones that you need to obtain from your diet. Collagen is primarily made up of 3 nonessential amino acids: proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline
Hair is mostly made up of the protein keratin. Proline is also the main component of keratin. So, consuming amino acid proline can help maintain hair health.
The anti-aging connection between collagen and hair
Because collagen contributes to the elasticity and strength of your skin and the body produces less collagen over time, a lack of collagen can be a contributing cause of thinning of hair. A lot of older women experience thinning hair. (Men too, but thin hair and baldness are also tied to testosterone.)
Collagen has antioxidant properties, which fight cell damage and slow graying. According to a study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, free radical damage to the cells that produce hair colour may also play a role in greying hair.
Amelanotic melanocytes at the outer root sheath (ORS) are somewhat less affected by these processes and survive for longer time [sic] even within the white, ageing hair follicles.
This statement suggests that the hair at the root might not be grey or white and that there's something going on at skin level.
How do we assess how old people look? Wrinkles and grey hair.
3. Collagen For Nail Health
Taking collagen could increase the strength of your nails. Brittle nail syndrome is a common problem among women and refers to nails that exhibit surface roughness and peeling. In a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, bioactive collagen peptides treatment promoted an increase of 12% nail growth rate and a decrease of 42% in the frequency of broken nails.
Additionally, 64% of participants achieved a global clinical improvement in brittle nails, and 88% of participants experienced an improvement four weeks post-treatment.
4. Collagen for Joint Health
Studies have shown collagen supplements to help with arthritis pain and sports-related joint pain. Not an athlete? You might still benefit. Because the amount of collagen in your body decreases as you age, your risk of developing degenerative joint disorders such as osteoarthritis increases as you get older.
Chicken-sourced collagen is best of joint health.
5. Collagen and Bone Health
90% of bone matrix proteins consist of collagen. As mentioned above, decreased collagen in the body can lead to osteoarthritis. It can also contribute to osteoporosis. A German study reported that supplementing with 5 g of collagen peptides significantly increased bone mineral density of the lumbar spine and the femoral neck, in postmenopausal women with age-related decline in bone mineral density.
Bone density would also affect athletic performance.
6. Collagen and Your Heart
Collagen affects cardiovascular health in several ways.
Collagen provides structure to your arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Collagen has been linked to the preventing arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Arteriosclerosis can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
The amino acid proline may help to obliterate fat deposits in the arteries and repair tissue within the arteries.
It reduces arterial stiffness, which is a marker of cardiovascular disease and provides anti-inflammatory and antioxidant support.
Collagen has also been shown to help control blood pressure.
7. Collagen and Gut Health
When you have a leaky gut, toxins, food particles, and infections can pass through your intestinal wall and into your bloodstream, causing inflammation, and over time this chronic inflammation can lead to autoimmunity. The gut houses nearly 60-80% of your immune system. Inflammation is an immune response.
Collagen has the potential to heal your gut. Here's where I think that the form of collagen matters. I suspect that a soup made from bones would be more beneficial than a collagen supplement because bones have so many gut healing properties. On my old website, I had a blog series about the healing properties of soup, and I discussed that chicken soup is scientifically proven to help a cold. (I also discussed ramen and pho.)
8. Collagen and the Brain
A lot of this information is new to me, but by now I've figured out that if collagen fights inflammation, it must be beneficial for the brain. Inflammation in the brain causes all sorts of symptoms, including those related to ADHD, depression, Alzheimer's and dementia.
According to Science Daily (thank you, validation), Scientists have discovered that a particular type of collagen protects brain cells against amyloid-beta proteins, which are widely thought to cause Alzheimer's disease.
While the functions of collagens in cartilage and muscle are well established, before this study it was unknown that collagen VI is made by neurons in the brain and that it can fulfill important neuroprotective functions.
I love the idea that collagen can be neuroprotective.
Other Benefits of Collagen
Collagen is a major component of muscle tissue. At least one study has shown that taking collagen while strength training can increase muscle mass and decrease fat mass. The evidence is lacking, but given collagen's other benefits, it can't hurt.
Glycine can help liver detoxification. I think that “detoxing” is oversimplified and an exercise that's often used incorrectly and unnecessarily. Not everyone needs liver detoxification – and detoxification is a multi-stage process. If you're already supporting your liver in ways that include ensuring adequate glycine, you're ahead.
Some preliminary studies suggest an anti-fatigue effect.
Downsides to collagen
If you tend to have low serotonin, take note:
I've only seen reference to this in one place, in a newsletter that I received last June. According to Trudy Scott, collagen can cause anxiety and disturb mood disorders. The solution, she says, isn't to stop taking collagen with all of its amazing benefits, but to add the amino acid tryptophan – the one that people claim is responsible for your post-turkey coma (the tiredness is probably because you overate, not because of the tryptophan).
Sources of collagen
There are four primary sources of collagen, all animal based. They all have amino acids but don't have the same amounts of each amino acid.
- Chicken collagen
- Bovine (cow) collagen
- Porcine (pig) collagen
- Fish collagen, aka marine collagen – the most bioavailable source.
There's also eggshell membrane collagen.
While there are no vegetarian or vegan sources of collagen, nutrients such as vitamin C can increase the bioavailability of collagen and can help support natural collagen production. It's not the same thing, but it's one of the compromises that one can choose to make.
In the past, I've had bovine and porcine collagen and think I'll try marine collagen next.
That's the end of this part. Studies linked below:
- Effects of a nutritional supplement containing collagen peptides on skin elasticity, hydration and wrinkles
- Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.
- Oral supplementation with specific bioactive collagen peptides improves nail growth and reduces symptoms of brittle nails
- Age-induced hair greying – the multiple effects of oxidative stress.
- Specific Collagen Peptides Improve Bone Mineral Density and Bone Markers in Postmenopausal Women—A Randomized Controlled Study
- Collagen May Help Protect Brain Against Alzheimer's Disease