What the Heck is Collagen?
Collagen continues to be the star ingredient for 2018. From the Natural Products Expo West Show in Anaheim in March to the IFT18 in Chicago in July, collagen is a popular bioactive across all categories including bone health, joint health and heart health – not just the beauty-from-within space. What’s so special about this ingredient? Let’s explore what the heck is collagen!
A review article published in the Journal of Cosmetics and Dermatology in 2018 identifies collagen as the most abundant structural protein in the human body that gives support to various tissues such as tendons, skin, and teeth (1). The article suggests there are 26 different types of collagen with four main types, all differing in their structure and location in the human body. As we age there is a natural loss of collagen in the body.
Our body makes a precursor to collagen (i.e., procollagen) by combining two amino acids: glycine and proline. Glycine is most prominent in animal sources, mainly in bovine skin, porcine skin and scale fish/ fish skin. Proline is found in foods such as egg whites, dairy, and vegetables including asparagus. In addition, the process to make procollagen also uses vitamin C. Therefore, citrus fruits, bell peppers, and strawberries can naturally aid in collagen production. Another rich source of collagen is, unsurprisingly, bone broth.
Collagen is being sold in ingredient or supplement form. The most popular choices I’ve seen in the marketplace are gelatin based or hydrolyzed collagen.
Potential Health Benefits
In a recent study published in Nutrition Research, 120 adults (mainly women) received either a placebo or a collagen supplement with added bioactives for 90 days (2). When compared to the placebo, skin elasticity was observed at 30 days and improved 40% by day 90. Questionnaire data suggested reduced joint pain by 43% and improved joint mobility by 39% at the end of the study time.
An article published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2012 explored a collagen-based supplement’s effect on the treatment of osteoarthritis symptoms (3). Eighty patients who had progressive osteoarthritis in their hip and/or knee joint agreed to consume 2g of BioCell Collagen supplement or placebo daily for 70 days. VAS-reported for pain, and the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index scores were taken on days 1, 35, and 70. Results showed that the collagen group reported lower VAS for pain and experienced a significant improvement in physical activities compared to the placebo group.
A 2017 study suggests collagen could have an effect on atherosclerosis in healthy humans (4). Thirty-two healthy volunteers (16 males, 16 females) agreed to ingest collagen tripeptide, that was dissolved in beverages or soups (e.g., water, green tea, miso soup), twice daily (at breakfast and at dinner; 16g/ day) for six months. Results showed three areas of improvement: A) the LDL/ HDL ratio was significantly reduced; B) a significant reduction in toxic advanced glycation end-products (TAGE) which is associated with vascular inflammation and plaque progression and C) a significant reduction in cardio-ankle vascular index (CAVI).
People should be cautious when taking collagen supplements if they are allergic to a type of meat or fish. Also research is still emerging on the types of collagen and the specific dose – response relationship for the various health states. Pregnant or breastfeeding women, plus people with kidney or liver conditions should always consult their health professionals (dietitian or doctor) before adding supplements to their dietary plan.
Remember no single food or ingredient will instantaneously reverse the aging process in the skin, joints or heart. A lifestyle filled with healthy habits including a balanced dietary pattern, exercise and restful sleep is the best approach for long-term consistent health.
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- Rodriguez M, Barroso L, Sanchez M. Collagen: A review on its sources and potential cosmetic applications. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2018; 17: 20-26.
- Kaniaa M et al. Daily oral supplementation with collagen peptides combined with vitamins and other bioactive compounds improves skin elasticity and has a beneficial effect on joint and general wellbeing. Nutrition Research 2018; 57: 97-108.
- Schauss A, Stenehjem J, Park J, Endres J, Clewell A. Effect of the novel low molecular weight hydrolyzed chicken sternal cartilage extract, biocell collagen, on improving osteoarthritis-related symptoms: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2012;60:4096-4101.
- Tomosugi N, Yamamoto S, Takeuchi M, Yonekura H, Ishigaki Y, Numata N, Katsuda S, Sakai Y. Effect of collagen tripeptide on atherosclerosis in healthy humans. J Atheroscler Thromb. 2017; 24: 530-538.
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