There seems to be a little bit of a buzz in the natural health world the past few years about the use of collagen as an anti-aging compound both as a way of keeping our skin healthier by reducing wrinkles, and its use being linked to healthier joints, bones, hair, blood vessels, immune system, and organs.
Collagen, comes from the Greek word kola, meaning glue, and gen, meaning producing. Derived from the processing of animals, collagen contains all 20 essential amino acids with noticeably high amounts of glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. It is the most abundant protein in the body making up 70% of our skin, and 90% of our connective tissue and bones. Collagen acts like a type of scaffolding which nutrients attach to. In the skin it would allow antioxidants such as vitamins A and C to bind to it so that it gives protection to potentially harmful UV-rays. Its function is important in a vast array of circumstances including joint lubrication and regeneration of the lining of our intestinal tract.
Types of Collagens:
Type 1: Is the most prevalent and is found in the skin, tendons, vascular system, organs, cornea, and bone.
Type 2: Is in cartilage,
Type 3: Is in the reticular fibers in the spinal cord and most of the areas of type 1 and is helpful for muscle recovery.
*Type 4: Is in the basal lamina and basement membrane of the skin, bone matrix, and cornea. *Most sources don’t count this type. Most collage products list the other five.
Type 5: Is in cell surfaces, hair, and placenta. It is found to support type 2 collagen.
Type 10: A newer addition, found in eggshell membrane is involved in the process of endochondral ossification or “network-forming collagen”.
Our bodies produce collagen naturally, mostly in cells called fibroblasts, however after age 30 our collagen production drops about 1-2% per year. By age 60, we have less than half of our former youthful collagen output. Based on this knowledge it would make sense that increasing collagen would benefit us and there have been some studies showing this to be true.
For skin benefits a 2019 review of 11 studies on collagen supplementation in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology found that doses ranging from 2.5 to 10 grams per day did increase skin elasticity and hydration. However, Natasha Mesinkovska, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California, Irvine and author of the review study said that “there is evidence it is absorbed, and that there is an increase in certain amino acids, but no direct evidence that taking collagen supplement increases collagen in the skin”. Does applying collagen through a cream work? Suzan Obagi M.D., a dermatologist at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery president said, “It’s not actually building collagen.” While collagen may seem to help when topically applied, it is too large a molecule to be helpful beyond the surface.
Chris Masterjohn PhD says despite collagen containing all the essential amino acids, don’t rely upon collagen for supplying your total amino acid intake. While collagen contains some mega doses in certain amino acids like glycine which we need with higher amino acid intake from animal sources, you can’t get enough of all the other amino acids we need solely from collagen. His simple formula is taking 1-2 grams of collagen a day for every 10 grams of non-collagen protein. His more complex formula is based on whether the non-collagen protein is plant or animal derived. The formula is as follows: A 150 lb. person should probably consume about 75 grams of protein per day. (Half their body weight in grams). If the person consumed 75 grams from plant protein, then no collagen is needed to be added. If there are plant derived aminos exceeding 75 grams in a day, then you would need 1 gram of collagen for every 10 grams of plant protein consumed. However, with animal protein, you start counting immediately. If you consume 75 grams of animal protein, then you would add 1 gram of collagen for every 10 grams of animal protein which would in this case equal 7.5 grams of collagen. However, if you go above the 75 grams of animal protein, and for instance consume another 50 grams of animal protein, you will then add in 2 grams of collagen for every 10 grams of protein which would equal an additional 10 grams of collagen on top of the 7.5 grams for the first 75 grams of protein for a total of 12.5 grams of collagen.
There are many collagen powders on the market. Some are listed as Collagen Peptides and others are Collagen Gelatin and a third called UC II collagen or Undenatured Collagen. Collagen peptides are usually the better choice. Collagen Gelatin will not dissolve in cold water, only warm water. It is used mainly as a thickener and because of its larger molecular size it may be a better fit for those with intestinal problems. Collagen peptides will dissolve in cold or warm water because they have been hydrolyzed which means they have been broken down to a smaller size by hydrolysis (water) to have better absorption. Collagen hydrolysate and Hydrolyzed Collagen Peptides are the same thing. Most of the collagen sold is in these forms. UC II collagen uses a heat source to break down the animal collagen (usually chicken sternum cartilage) and might be a better choice with supporting joint health not skin health. There are some small research studies on PubMed on UC II being helpful for rheumatoid arthritis and general osteoarthritis symptoms and was shown to be more effective than glucosamine and chondroitin.
According to Consumer Reports there haven’t been many complaints about the use of collagen even though a recent analysis of 28 collagen supplements by the Clean Label Project found that 64 percent had detectable levels of arsenic, and about one third tested positive for lead, and 17 percent had cadmium. Bone broths also had small amounts of lead and cadmium in them too. Because collagen and bone broths are made from the skin, hide, tendons, bones and cartilage of cows, pigs, chicken, and fish and eggshells, the source of the animals and what type of diet they ate should be considered. The report from Consumer Reports did not state whether those findings about heavy metals were from non-organic sources which may have had something to do with the results.
People worldwide have traditionally boiled bones and used the broth as a part of their diet. Bone broth does contain collagen and has other nutrients too. However, since skin isn’t used in bone broth, it may be lacking in certain types of collagens we could benefit from. Interestingly, the hydrolyzation process of those collagen peptides may give us better absorption of those peptides even if we did boil skin with our bones to make bone broth. Because of this, I can see where collagen supplementation to traditional bone broth would be useful. There are a few companies that offer multi collagen peptide powders made from free range and grass-fed beef and chicken, and wild fish. Building collagen either by direct absorption or providing the amino acids needed to have your body do that for you should result in healthier skin, hair, joints that you may be looking for. Some people add a little bit to their coffee or smoothie for this reason or drink it plain for this extra benefit.