Collagen Supplements

The popularity of collagen supplements has exploded in recent years. Collagen has also been added to processed foods such as protein bars, teas, and coffee creamers. Some foods are naturally rich in collagen, and bone broth is the most popular. Collagen is said to have a wide range of benefits, such as reducing joint pain, reducing wrinkles, promoting weight loss, and optimizing sports performance. Are these claims unfounded, or are they genuinely evidence-based? I invite you to read on to find out more!

Collagen is a protein found in various body structures such as skin, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, bone tissue, muscles, and connective tissue. It ensures the cohesion, elasticity, and regeneration of all these tissues. For example, collagen is mainly responsible for the elasticity and strength of the skin, and its degradation leads to skin aging and wrinkles. Collagen contains 19 different amino acids, with an exceptionally high content of hydroxyproline, glycine, and proline. However, collagen is not a complete protein, as it does not contain tryptophan, one of the nine essential amino acids.

Collagen is naturally present in many foods. Bone broth is made by simmering bones in a broth for at least 24 hours to dissolve the bones and release nutrients and minerals. In humans and animals, collagen is concentrated in connective tissue such as muscle. Thus, all meats (beef, pork, poultry, etc.) that contain muscle or other connective tissue (as opposed to organ meats) are rich in collagen. Other good sources of collagen are fish and egg whites. Spirulina (which comes from seaweed) is not a source of collagen. Still, it does contain nutrients that can support the body’s collagen production. In addition to amino acids, several other nutrients are essential for collagen production in the body. Vitamin C is a cofactor needed for collagen synthesis and functions as an antioxidant to fight oxidative stress. Vitamin C is found in various fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, peppers, strawberries, and kiwi. Zinc and sulfur are also essential co-factors in collagen production. Sulfur is commonly found in broccoli, onions, and garlic. Zinc is located in foods such as shiitake mushrooms, legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

Collagen in supplement form is derived from gelatin. Gelatin is made by subjecting the bones and skin of animals, most often cattle or pigs, to various treatments. Collagen supplements can also be made from fish processing by-products such as scales, skin, and bones. To facilitate their absorption, collagen supplements are hydrolyzed into peptides consisting of only two or three amino acids together.

Although it is possible to consume collagen directly through food or supplements, it is not necessary to do so to support collagen production in the body. This is because the body does not absorb collagen molecules in the whole form but instead breaks them down into their component amino acids, which it then uses to synthesize collagen and other proteins. In theory, the amino acids needed to produce collagen in the body can come from any protein source, such as bone broth, meat, cheese, legumes, or quinoa. Similarly, when consuming a supplement or food containing collagen, it is impossible to determine in advance where the collagen peptides will be used in the body and whether they will be used to produce collagen in the body. Consumers often take collagen to achieve a specific benefit, such as improving skin elasticity or joint function. However, if the body needs amino acids at that time for another role, that will be the body’s priority.

Almost all existing studies that have looked at the health effects of collagen have used collagen supplements, not collagen-containing foods.

Clinical studies show that continuous ingestion of collagen can help reduce and prevent joint pain and bone density loss. According to a meta-analysis of five randomized controlled clinical trials of at least two months duration, collagen supplements may be effective in improving symptoms of osteoarthritis by reducing joint pain and stiffness and increasing physical function. According to one study, collagen is more effective than glucosamine, one of the most commonly used supplements for OA. According to another meta-analysis, collagen supplements may effectively reduce joint pain in patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the hand, hip, or knee in the short and medium term but not in the long time. The quality of the evidence remains very low. Finally, although there is some evidence that collagen consumption is effective in treating osteoarthritis, at least in the short term, its clinical effectiveness in treating rheumatoid arthritis remains controversial.

A systematic review covering 11 randomized controlled clinical studies (a total of 805 subjects) looked at the effects of dietary collagen supplements on skin health. The studies were for 4 to 24 weeks and used doses of 2.5 to 3 g per day of collagen hydrolysate or tripeptide. The researchers concluded that collagen supplements could help increase skin elasticity and hydration, promote wound healing, and slow skin aging in the short term. As for the effects of collagen on bone and hair health, there is very little scientific evidence.

The health of musculoskeletal tissues such as tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bones depends partly on their collagen content. Vitamin C is required to promote collagen synthesis. Scientific evidence suggests that a collagen supplement with vitamin C can stimulate collagen synthesis and thus accelerate the healing of musculoskeletal injuries and post-training recovery. Still, more studies are needed to confirm this. Taking 10 to 15 g of collagen hydrolysate with 50 mg of vitamin C is recommended for 60 minutes before a training or rehabilitation session.

Claims that collagen can help regulate body weight are primarily based on the assumption that protein promotes satiety. Apart from the fact that the consumption of collagen may help to reduce hunger and thus reduce caloric intake, there is no evidence that it can contribute to weight loss. Collagen is also often touted as beneficial for muscle mass gain. Still, the proof of this comes from studies of older people, who often have low protein intake. The results may not be conclusive. Therefore, the results may not be generalizable to younger populations or athletes.

In conclusion, although collagen supplementation may benefit osteoarthritis, prevent skin aging, or promote wound healing, there is not enough data to make specific recommendations regarding appropriate intakes. In addition, although some studies show benefits from consuming collagen, it is unclear whether its consumption, in particular, is necessary or whether adequate protein intake, in general, would achieve the same results. It should be noted that the industry-funded many existing studies on collagen’s benefits.

Taking supplements is not without risks. Supplements from animal bones or connective tissue may contain toxins or heavy metals. Lifestyle improvements are generally the best way to improve health. For example, high sugar intake, smoking, and sun exposure can damage the body’s collagen. Finally, a varied and balanced diet provides all the nutrients necessary for good health. Therefore, it is always preferable to choose real food rather than supplements.

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