6 Science Based Benefits of Collagen

By Christine Hronec

 

What is Collagen?

 

Collagen is a structural protein that makes up your skin, hair, tendons, cartilage, muscle tissue, and even your gastrointestinal tract. As the most abundant protein in the human body, collagen is atypical due to its amino acid profile that is higher in glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and alanine. While all proteins consist of long chains of amino acids, what distinguishes one protein source from another is its amino acid profile. These specific amino acids in collagen are the building blocks of connective tissues.

 

The unique chemical structure of collagen is what gives it its strength. Each chain is approximately one thousand amino acids in length, where hydrogen bonds form between these coils. The molecules are then made even stronger by these coils (aka amino acid chains with a helix-like structure) forming covalent bonds with other coils. This results in very strong fibrous proteins that provide structure to the human body.

 

Are there different types of collagen?

 

Yes! There are approximately of 16 different types of collagen. The type of collagen is related to the chemical structure and the degree of complexity of the chains. Most collagen naturally found in the body are types I, II, and III. Since collagen is a long chain amino acid known for its structural properties, it’s best to consume it in the peptide form. Collagen peptides are the most bioavailable form of collagen as a dietary supplement. This ingredient is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. While there are differing “types” of collagen out there, they are all still the same protein and they ALL help the body generate more of its own collagen.

 

Collagen

Type

Chemical Composition

Representative

Tissues

Most Common Source

I

[α1(I)]2[α2(I)]

Skin, tendon, ligaments, dentin, interstitial tissues

Marine Collagen

II

[α1(II)]3

Cartilage, vitreous humor

Bone Broth Collagen

III

[α1(III)]3

Skin, muscle, blood vessels

Bovine Collagen

 

 

Where is it found?

 

Collagen is commonly derived from animal protein sources such as beef and fish. However there are some up and coming vegan collagen sources that have been man made from genetically modified yeast and bacteria. Most collagen products found on the market consist of a hydrolyzed style collagen (type 1), which is derived from bovine hide, bone, or fish scales.  When it comes to collagen products, you always want to be aware of the exact source of the ingredients. This is because some collagen sources are in fact major allergens such as shellfish, fish, and eggs. Always go for a reputable high quality brand that CLEARLY lists the collagen source on the label. It’s not worth the risk of the collagen benefits if there is potential for an anaphylactic reaction.

 

Keep in mind that whenever you introduce large quantities of a new food to the body, the body may need to acclimate to build up the digestive enzymes needed to process the food. While it is rare, if you experience any digestive issues with collagen supplementation, simply scale back the dosage and build it up slowly. The last thing you want to look out for is your dosage level if you or anyone in your family has a history of kidney stones. If this is the case you will not want to consume high levels of ANY type of protein.

 

 

Does collagen actually do anything?

 

  • Boosts Gut Health- Poor diet, stress, and bacterial imbalances can cause intestinal permeability aka leaky gut syndrome. This results in inflammation, improper absorption of vital nutrients, and is the root cause in a wide array of health conditions. Collagen supplementation helps seal the gastrointestinal tract and prevents gut leakage. This will minimize inflammation, bloating, gas, and digestive issues as a result.

 

  • Supports Muscle Growth & Recovery- Growing lean muscle mass is all about repairing torn muscle fibers after a workout. Proper recovery involves supplementation of easily absorbed amino acids within 30-60 minutes after a workout. Muscle recovery is a relatively simple and straight forward problem to solve, however the wear and tear on ones joints, tendons, and ligaments is something that heals at a significantly slower rate. Collagen supplementation boosts not only muscle recovery but overall recovery to keep you fresh for your next workout.

 

  • Minimizes Hair Loss- Collagen provides the amino acids that support the growth of keratin, which is the main structural protein found in hair. It also fights free radicals and boosts antioxidant activity that protects hair follicles. Hair tends to thin out with age because the body becomes less efficient at turning over cells in the dermis.

 

  • Promotes Tissue Repair- The benefit of collagen supplementation is that it attracts new cells to wounded skin cells. This makes it an excellent substrate for growing new tissue. Collagen promotes the survival of cells under stressful environments and promotes cell adhesion at wound sites. If you have damaged skin cells, tears, or wounds collagen supplementation is proven to boost healing.

 

  • Joint Health Support- Collagen supplementation actually minimizes inflammation while stimulating the growth of more connective tissues in the body. This results in pain relief for those with worn cartilage and those with joint mobility issues. Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of stiff painful joints, which is common in age and for those who partake in physical activities that are particularly hard on the joints.

 

  • Improves Skin Elasticity- Collagen is the major structural protein of skin. Supplementation of collagen in the peptide form boosts absorption of amino acids that will support collagen synthesis in the dermis. With age, the body’s natural ability to produce collagen declines causing skin to have a dry and wrinkled appearance. The structural integrity of the skin can be improved with supplementation by supplying the body with sufficient amino acids to synthesize more collagen in the skin.

 

 

Lodish H, Berk A, Zipursky SL, et al. Molecular Cell Biology. 4th edition. New York: W. H. Freeman; 2000. Section 22.3, Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix.

Kuhn, 1987, in R. Mayne and R. Burgeson, eds., Structure and Function of Collagen Types,Academic Press, p. 2; M. van der Rest and R. Garrone, 1991, FASEB J.5:2814.

 

Somaiah C, Kumar A, Mawrie D, Sharma A, Patil SD, Bhattacharyya J, et al. (2015) Collagen Promotes Higher Adhesion, Survival and Proliferation of Mesenchymal Stem Cells. PLoS ONE 10(12): e0145068. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0145068