Collagen Supplements, Worthwhile or Wasteful?

What is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, it is also one of the most important nutrients. It is found in muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, skin, and the digestive system.  

When broken down, collagen is made up of amino acids.  Essential Amino Acids (A.A.’s) cannot be produced by the body, while inessential amino acids are produced by our bodies. The primary A.A. in collagen is glycine, which is synthesized by serine, but not in sufficient quantities to meet daily requirements, especially in diseased states like arthritis or inflammation. Therefore some people recommend supplementing to meet daily requirements.  Proline, glutamine and arginine are the other main amino acids found within collagen, each has their own key benefits for keeping the body healthy. 

Collagen is also the protein that makes up around 75% of skin, and is key to its structure and elasticity.

Sagging Neck Skin

But after the age of 20 or so, we lose around 1.5% of our collagen every year. Collagen is also broken down by stressors such as too much sun exposure.  As our bodies age, we begin to see signs of sagging skin, wrinkles, and increasing joint pain.

Types of Collagen

While there are at least 16 different types of collagen within the human body, Types I,II, and III make up 80-90%.

Dr. Axe has a great article on What is Collagen and the 7 Ways Collagen Can Boost Your Health.  The three most important types of collagen are:

Type I: This is by far the most abundant, and almost considered to be the strongest, type of collagen found in the human body. It is sometimes referred to as the “glue” that holds our body together.

Tendons and Ligaments
  • Forms tendons, ligaments, organs and skin.
  • Forms bones and can be found within the GI tract. 
  • It’s very important for wound healing, giving skin its stretchy and elastic quality, and holding together tissue so it doesn’t tear.

Type II: Type 2 collagen primarily helps build cartilage, which is found in connective tissues.

Cartilage
  • The health of our joints relies on cartilage made of type 2 collagen.
  • It’s beneficial for preventing age-associated joint pain or various arthritis symptoms.

Type III: Type 3 collagen is made of reticular fibers and a major component of the extracellular matrix that makes up our organs and skin.

Collagen and Skin
  • It’s usually found with type 1 and helps give skin its elasticity and firmness.
  • It also forms blood vessels and tissue within the heart.

 

 

 

Benefits of Taking Collagen

The claimed benefits of taking supplemental collagen include:

  • Improves skin and hair.
  • Reduces joint pain.
  • Heals the lining of the digestive tract.
  • Improves wound healing.

Do I Need to Take a Collagen Supplement?

The first question to ask is whether you get enough collagen in your dietary intake?

  • If you readily drink bone broth and you simmer your soups with animal bones for 12+ hours, or regularly eat organ meats then you most likely don’t need to supplement.  
  • If you eat a typical American Diet, your collagen intake can fall short of recommendations.
  • If you are unhealthy, sick or under a lot of stress, you might be deficient in producing amino acids necessary for building collagen.
  • Or if you partake in one or more of the following which decreases collagen production:
    1. High sugar diet.
    2. Consume excessive alcohol.
    3. Have too much sun exposure.
    4. Smoke.

Scientific Validation of Collagen

While there are over 200,000 publications on collagen, including 6,000 clinical trials, various studies have various recommendations. Unfortunately some of our supplement and pharmaceutical businesses have been known to pay scholarly authors to support claims to financially benefit the business, not protect consumers like us looking to improve our health.  Discerning valid research from invalid research can be quite challenging.

A few good scholarly sites exist to help wade through the mounds of data.  According to Examine.com, a nonpartisan scientific research review company that refuses to take financial support from businesses, Type II collagen (CII) is a peptide and component of joint cartilage. It’s oral ingestion appears to reduce autoimmunity to the body’s own CII, resulting in less inflammation in instances of osteoarthritis and rheumatism and benefits to joint health. Other studies they reviewed showed increase in joint range of motion and both prolonged how long one could exercise before joint pain occurred while improving recovery speeds after exercise.

So while studies continue to be released, some showing the benefit(s) of supplemental collagen and others being inconclusive, we can take steps right now to improve our health.   The big ticket items that we have scientific validation for the positive influence on our health include:

Stop Smoking
  • Stop smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduce processed food intake and sugars.
  • Be active – move as much as you can every day.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Be mindful of sun exposure, both getting enough sunlight but not excessive amounts.

 

If you are interested in purchasing a collagen supplement, see my products page for recommended products that I use and have evaluated. Also see the product review on Sports Research Collagen peptides.

Remember, when you move better, you feel better.

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/sep/27/nutricosmetics-drink-make-skin-look-younger-science

https://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/wellbeing/7-autoimmune-diseases

https://examine.com/supplements/type-ii-collagen/

http://time.com/5034102/collagen-supplement-powder-benefits/