Likely you have walked the grocery store aisle and seen a row of collagen supplements or seen some social media ad that shouts, “Add me to your smoothie!”
Collagen is a major body constituent that comprises approximately 30 percent of the body’s protein as connective tissue, blood vessels, skin, ligaments and muscles. It is made from the amino acids glycine, proline, hydroxyproline and arginine.
The body naturally makes collagen. As we age, the ability to synthesize protein declines and our needs increase. We may also have less ability to absorb nutrients important for collagen production like we once did. This is one good reason to evaluate your daily protein intake.
Lifestyle factors such as smoking, high-sugar diets and excessive sun exposure can be additional reasons that collagen integrity can deteriorate.
Different names for collagen exist such as collagen peptides, hydrolyzed collagen and collagen hydrolysate. Unhydrolyzed collagen is gelatin. There are many types of collagen in the body. Below are the three main types we consider as related to supplementation, all categorized as peptides.
• Type I – seen in the thin matrix cover of bone and teeth and provides for skin elasticity, found in marine sources of collagen.
• Type II – seen mostly in cartilage, discs of the spine and in the eyes, found in bone broth.
• Type III – seen in the finely branching fibers in connective tissue, muscles and vessels, intestinal lining found in bovine collagen peptides.
Supplemented collagen does not go directly to building bone or improving wrinkles; it tells the body to increase production of collagen because it recognizes it is incomplete, not a full-length protein. Peptides are short units of proteins.
Including adequate dietary protein intake from chicken, fish and eggs as well as dark leafy greens is a great way to be sure you support collagen formation. The need to include vitamin C, copper and zinc for synthesis of collagen in the body is also important. Foods like strawberries, kiwi, red, yellow and green bell peppers, tomatoes, shellfish and pumpkin seeds are all sources of these necessary vitamins and minerals.
Unfortunately, the research on collagen supplementation is lacking and when we find it, oftentimes it has been funded by companies eager to sell their products. We can find studies that point to its benefit for bone and joint health, osteoarthritis and skin health. According to the Journal of Medicinal Food, a reduction in cellulite was seen in a small study of women age 24-50 with moderate cellulite. This study showed that collagen may affect dermal density and skin elasticity.
Collagen has also been advertised to be beneficial for maintaining muscle mass. This was a small study of 53 older men with sarcopenia by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. It demonstrated that when combined with resistance training, improved muscle mass was seen. It’s not always the case that results translate across gender lines.
Also limited in research is the benefit of collagen for osteoporosis. The Journal of Functional Foods reported that in lab studies, collagen peptides increased osteoblasts, cells that are responsible for building bone. These have been small trials and highlights that further research could prove beneficial.
If you decide to supplement with collagen peptides, be aware that heavy metals can often be found in these supplements. In animals, bone and connective tissue is often a place (along with fat cells) that heavy metals are deposited. Look for organic and grass-fed sources if this is your choice.
Take caution, though. If you don’t pay attention to a balanced diet rich in non-starchy vegetables, lower glycemic fruits, healthy mono-unsaturated fats and plant or animal proteins, and you live a sedentary life without adequate sleep, don’t expect collagen to improve your health. It’s easy to get caught up on the latest health craze and pop a pill or powder to fix imbalances. The human body is smarter than that.
Biochemistry always finds a workaround. Treat your body well with real food and it will love you back.