There is so much talk these days about supplements like; vitamins, minerals, protein powders, etc., that you’re supposed to consume if you want to be considered healthy. But you hear very little about the health benefits of collagen and it’s role in proper health. As a naturopathic doctor, I feel that there isn’t enough being taught about this important nutrient’s role in our health and well-being. So…
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is a naturally occurring protein in our body and is the most abundant protein of connective tissue. Collagen is in our skin, bones and teeth, eyes (corneas) joint tissues (such as cartilage, spinal discs and ligaments), blood vessels and organ tissues.
Collagen can be supplemented through our diet; however, typical western meat-eater diets usually don’t contain these parts of an animal, so our dietary sources can actually be quite limited. Dietary collagen intake has been shown to have a number of health benefits.
Collagen is a rich source of the amino acids, mainly:
Non-essential amino acids
- Glycine – most abundant
- Glutamic acid
- Aspartic acid
Essential amino acids:
Healthy intake of these amino acids provide strength to our connective tissue and aid in tissue repair. As you can see, most of the amino acids that make up collagen are non-essential (meaning our bodies can make our own), so why is it important to have a dietary source? As our bodies age and wear down, the need for these amino acids can become greater than our bodies can produce.
There are a number of health benefits to supplementing collagen. Dietary collagen is absorbed by our digestive tract (small intestine), in to the bloodstream, and accumulated in to the skin for up to 96 hours.1 Collagen supplementation improves your body’s own production of collagen through stimulating the cells that make collagen (fibroblasts)1,2
- Skin hydration and elasticity: Collagen is a natural protein that is responsible for providing elasticity to our skin. Healthy collagen production will improve elasticity, flexibility, and firmness of the skin. Studies have found that supplementing with oral hydrolyzed collagen powder can improve skin elasticity within 8 weeks1 reduce the formation of fine lines and wrinkles after 8 weeks,2 and can reduce cellulite after 6 months use.3 Collagen supplementation has also been found to accelerate wound healing.4
- Joint strength and pain relief: The effect of collagen has been detailed by one significant study. The results of this study found that collagen supplementation in young active individual significantly improved joint pain at rest, walking, standing, running in a straight line and making quick directional changes while running, compared to those receiving placebo.This study also explains that collagen supplementation may help reduce joint deterioration in those who are at high risk.5 Collagen absorbed through the digestive tract accumulates in the cartilage and stimulate the production of type II collagen, the main protein of joint cartilage. Other studies have found dietary cartilage supplementation improves pain in those suffering from osteoarthritis6
- Other tissues: Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. Although there hasn’t been extensive research on collagen in other parts of the body, the positive effect it has on the skin and cartilage may also translate in to other connective tissues. Areas where collagen can play a positive role
- Building strength and durability in the hair and nails
- Improving the elasticity and repairing damage to our blood vessels – so helping those with cardiovascular disease
- Improving digestion by restoring the epithelial lining of our intestines (repairing inflammation and leaky gut!)
Also by having a good source of these amino acids, the liver can function more efficiently as the rich level of glycine of collagen provides support to phase 2 detoxification!
I have historically recommended that my patient get collagen naturally by making your own bone broth. Boiling the bones of organic chicken, beef or turkey bones to extract collagen after you’ve consumed the meat is an excellent way to use the whole animals for all the nutrients they have to offer. Also not only do you get collagen this way, you also extract many vitamins and minerals! However it isn’t always the most convenient way to get a daily dose of collagen, which is when supplementation is useful.
Hydrolyzed collagen peptides has been the form of choice by most research studies. This form is almost tasteless, can dissolve in any type of liquid (hot and cold), or snuck in to recipes to up protein content without anyone being the wiser. Make sure you get a form from a reputable company that practice ethical farming produces (such as grass-fed cows) to avoid any negative influences that can make the collagen sub par.
Gelatin is also a form of dietary collagen – this is best used when you want to make something “jelly-like” such as making jello, or marshmallows, because it gels up when added to liquid. This form has been touted the best for digestive problems as it has the ability to coat the digestive tract.
None of the studies cited reported any adverse or negative effects of collagen supplementation.
Also, collagen production by our bodies REQUIRES vitamin C so ensuring that your diet is also rich in this vitamin is very important to note when supplementing with collagen.
Though studies are limited, the pool of research out there has nothing but positive things to say about this dietary supplement. Considering the impact and abundance of collagen in our bodies, this is a great protein addition to our diet, and can help improve the quality, strength and health of our connective tissues.
- Proksch E et. al. Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.
- Proksch E et. al. Oral intake of specific bioactive collagen peptides reduces skin wrinkles and increases dermal matrix synthesis.Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(3):113-9
- Schunck M. et. al., Dietary Supplementation with Specific Collagen Peptides Has a Body Mass Index-Dependent Beneficial Effect on Cellulite Morphology.J Med Food. 2015 Dec;18(12):1340-8
- Lee SK et. al. Pressure ulcer healing with a concentrated, fortified, collagen protein hydrolysate supplement: a randomized controlled trial.Adv Skin Wound Care. 2006 Mar;19(2):92-6.
- Clark KL. et. al. 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain.Curr Med Res Opin. 2008 May;24(5):1485-96.
- Zuckley L. et al. Collagen hydrolysate improves joint function in adults with mild symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2004;36(Suppl):S153-S4
Yours in Health