Many of us have heard the word collagen and seen advertisements espousing all the health benefits it promotes, from muscle growth to hair, skin, and nail health. But what is it? And is it worth adding into the daily list of supplements we take?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, comprising approximately a third of the total protein content in the body based on mass. Its amino acid profile is made up of 19 different amino acids, being uniquely rich in proline (33%), hydroxyproline and glycine (22%), forming a unique helical structure, known as a triple helix. The helical structure is made up of 3 chains in each, with each chain containing over 1000 amino acids (Kadler, K. 1996).
Collagen in its natural form is known as native, or undenatured collagen, whereas it is known as collagen peptides, or hydrolysed collagen when the long chains of amino acids have been cleaved into smaller, faster absorbing segments. The hydrolysis is made to make the collagen more water soluble and have a greater bioavailability (Leon-Lopez, A. 2019).
Helping to form the connective tissue which helps form our structures, such as skin, ligaments and tendons, and there are currently 30 known types of collagen, although there are 5 types which make up the majority found in the body.
Type 1 makes up approximately 90% of the collagen found in the body and helps form skin, bone, tendons and organs. It is also found in the eyes, muscles and teeth. It is commonly used in supplements used to improve skin appearance.
Type 2 is mostly found in cartilage, forming hyaline and articular cartilage. It helps offer tensile strength and create durability on the joint capsule.
Type 3 is often found together with type 1 and it is also involved in many inflammation related pathologies.
Type 4 collagen helps form the basement membrane, the lining which separates cells from proximal connective tissue.
Type 5 helps form the fibrils (basically the crystalline scaffolding)
in type 1 and 3 collagen and helps form the interstitial make up of muscle, bone and placenta (Kadler, K. 1996).
How are collagen supplements made?
Commercial collagen supplements are mostly sourced from cow, which is primarily type 3 collagen, or pig, which is primarily type 1 collagen and is generally sourced from hides, hoofs and other parts usually not used for human consumption.
The high collagen content, low cost of raw materials, relative stability when heated and neutral flavour make collagen powder a useful addition to boost the protein content in recipes and is now being found in everything from protein bars, cookies and instant coffee mixes.
Collagen supplements are also commercially sourced from fish scales, containing primarily type 1 collagen, and despite the belief that the absorption rate is better than bovine or porcine sources, the question of sustainability and health ramifications of commercial fish farms arises. Despite this there are many brands currently producing fish, or marine as it is commonly referred to, collagen supplements.
The bulk of commercial collagen supplements from cow, pig and fish are types 1 and 3, beneficial for skin, muscles, teeth and bone health. However, for those who are more interested in joint support then type 2 collagen is the one to choose from.
Type 2 collagen supplements are often sourced from chicken, mostly sternal cartilage, as it is a cost effective way to obtain for commercial use and is used in studies to test as a viable treatment for osteoarthritis and other inflammatory joint conditions.
Does collagen work?
Collagen supplements have been trialled heavily over the past 2 decades with varying levels of effectiveness being shown, so ongoing trials are continuing in the hopes of finding more conclusive evidence to the overall benefit in skin and joint health.
In the review by de Almagro in 2020, type 2 collagen, in the form of native and hydrolysates, is being trialled in studies to show its effectiveness in the treatment of symptoms of osteoarthritis symptoms and the results are promising.
A study by Bolke, L. et al. in 2019 on type 1 collagen for skin appearance showed favourable results over a placebo in terms of reducing skin roughness, fine lines and elasticity.
Another study by Dar, QA. et al. in 2017 on the effects of hydrolysed type 1 collagen on post traumatic osteoarthritis symptoms showed a positive correlation between the use of collagen and the reduction in inflammatory markers and subsequent pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Finally, a study by Oertzen-Hagemann. et al. in 2019 showed a positive correlation between collagen peptide intake and skeletal muscle growth in conjunction with resistance training.
So, in conclusion the use of a collagen supplement is a beneficial addition to support overall health and particularly for those who are battling joint pain or would like to improve the health and appearance of their skin.
For any more questions and information on collagen products we are always here to offer our advice and guidance.
Kadler, K. Holmes, D. Trotter, J. Chapman, J. Collagen fibril formation. Portland Press Biochemical Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1217307/
Leon-Lopez, A. Morales-Penaloza, A. Martinez-Juarez, V. Vargas-Torres, A. Zeugolis, D. Aguirre-Alvarez, G. (2019) Hydrolyzed Collagen – Sources and Applications. Molecules. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6891674/
de Almagro, M. (2020) The use of Collagen Hydrolysates and Native Collagen in Osteoarthritis. American Journal of Biomedical Science and Research. https://biomedgrid.com/pdf/AJBSR.MS.ID.001217.pdf
Bolke, L. Schlippe, G. Gerß, J. Voss, W. (2019) A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness and Density: Results of a Randomized Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6835901/
Dar, QA. Schott, E. Catheline, S. Maynard, R. Liu, Z. Kamal, F. Farnsworth, C. Ketz, J. Mooney, R. Hilton, M. Jonason, J. Prawitt, J. Zuscik, M. (2017) Daily oral consumption of hydrolyzed type 1 collagen is chondroprotective and anti-inflammatory in murine posttraumatic osteoarthritis. Plos. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5383229/
Oertzen-Hagemann, V. Kirmse, M. Eggers, B. Pfeiffer, K. Marcus, K. de Marees, M. Platen, P. (2019) Effects of 12 Weeks of Hypertrophy Resistance Exercise Training Combined with Collagen Peptide Supplementation on the Skeletal Muscle Proteome in Recreationally Active Men. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566884/