Collagen Supplements…Helpful or Hype?

Collagen is all the rage these days. This week's blog looks at the emerging science behind its use as a dietary supplement to help us determine if it is a helpful addition to our health regimen or mostly hype! Let's dive in!


What is Collagen?

Collagen refers to a family of proteins that are the primary structural component of connective tissues in the body including tendons, ligaments, cartilage, skin, blood vessels, muscles, the gut and dentin. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body by mass, making up about 30 percent of our total protein mass.

There are 28 different types of collagen, they differ based on their amino acid (the building blocks of proteins) composition and where they are in the body. The most abundant are type I-III.

Type I: Found in the skin, tendons, ligaments, corneas of the eye, internal organs and bone.

Type II: Found in the cartilage.

Type III: Found together with Type I in skin and blood vessels as well as in the bone marrow and lymphoid tissues.

The human body continuously manufactures collagens to maintain the structural integrity of body tissues; however, as we age, there is a progressive decrease in protein synthesis and a reduced ability to make new collagen. For example, after the age of 18, skin collagen content decreases by about 1 percent per year.

In addition to this natural decline, excess sun exposure, smoking and poor diet can also inhibit collagen production making things worse. 

Collagens type I, II, and III are types typically hydrolyzed and used as oral supplements, which have demonstrated promise in improving skin health, decreasing joint pain due to arthritis or athletic injury, and improving hypertension and even insulin sensitivity. Hydrolyzed collagen, also referred to as collagen peptides or collagen hydrolysate, is made by breaking down collagen into smaller amino acid chains called peptides. The amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline are the main amino acids in hydrolyzed collagen. While oral hydrolyzed collagen supplementation has been shown to have some therapeutic effects, it should not be used as a sole protein replacement source as it lacks the essential amino acid tryptophan.

Research has shown that hydrolyzed collagen is absorbed better than whole collagen. There are is evidence that ingestion of hydrolyzed collagen may be directly fueling connective tissue building processes instead of being broken down and utilized as energy or used as building blocks for other proteins in the body. This was surprising to me as my inclination was that all ingested proteins regardless of the source or type would be broken down into amino acids and used wherever needed in the body versus being directly taken up and deposited into specific tissues such as the skin.

More studies are needed in humans to determine the extent to which peptides from hydrolyzed collagen are deposited in tissues, but the evidence that it does is there!

Skin:

One study showed that compared to the placebo, hydrolyzed collagen supplementation increased skin elasticity an average of 7 percent after four and eight weeks of intake. A subgroup analysis showed that an improvement in skin elasticity was more pronounced in women older than 50 years compared to women younger than 50 years.

Another study showed an average percent improvement from baseline for facial lines and wrinkles of 8.35 percent for those who supplemented with a collagen product versus 0.63 percent for those who supplemented with a placebo.

Arthritis and Activity Induced Joint Pain:

Arthritis is a degenerative disorder of joints that can cause pain and reduced mobility. Destruction of cartilage within the joints can lead to arthritic changes in the joints. There is some evidence that hydrolyzed collagen supplementation may reduce pain and disability in people with arthritis and in one study, type II collagen was more effective than glucosamine and chondroitin at improving quality of life in people with osteoarthritis of the knee. While there is no evidence that it can help reverse the disease process itself, help in managing symptoms can be important for the quality of life for people who live with arthritis.

Additionally, there are some studies that also suggest hydrolyzed collagen supplementation may be effective at reducing pain in joints from activity related discomfort.

Bone:

Preclinical studies have shown that hydrolyzed collagen can increase bone healing and prevent bone loss. To date, only a few clinical studies have investigated the use of hydrolyzed collagen on bone metabolism. Hydrolyzed collagen in combination with calcium and vitamin D may be beneficial in slowing bone loss in postmenopausal women, but more studies are needed to determine the role of hydrolyzed collagen in bone metabolism. 

High Blood Pressure:

High blood pressure, increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. An important enzyme for blood pressure regulation is Angiotensin-converting enzyme, or ACE. High ACE activity can increase blood pressure. In fact, a very common class of medication used to control blood pressure are called ACE inhibitors. Many studies have shown that hydrolyzed collagen (mainly from marine sources) can have blood pressure lowering effects. It seems that peptides containing the amino acid proline, which is abundant in collagen, has inhibitory effects on ACE. Clinical studies are needed to determine the extent to which hydrolyzed collagen can lower blood pressure in humans.


Blood Sugar:

A few clinical studies suggest that hydrolyzed collagen may be effective at improving insulin sensitivity as well as glucose and lipid metabolism in people with type 2 diabetes. These effects may be due to collagen’s signaling of certain hormones that are involved in many metabolic processes such as insulin secretion, glucose regulation, and fatty acid oxidation.

While all of this sounds very exciting, we need to remember that more studies are needed, especially to determine the extent of these effects, optimal dosing depending on the desired effect and if the source and type of the collagen matters.

Additionally, we must keep in mind that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate collagen supplements as strictly as it does medications. Manufacturers of collagen supplements do not have to prove that the supplements are effective or safe before putting them on the market. Look for companies that get their bones and tissues from cage-free, free-range, and antibiotic-free sources. Look for a trusted brand with a third-party label like NSF or USP. And check out the company’s website to see what it’s doing to keep heavy metals and other contaminants out of their products.

Do you use a collagen supplement? What are your favorite ways to take it?

Comment below for reference list if interested!

Special thanks to Dr. Rhonda Patrick for much of this information!

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