What is Collagen for? Why is it so popular? And, does it have any scientific support?

by Dr Suk Cho May 08, 2018

What is Collagen for?  Why is it so popular? And, does it have any scientific support?

(JoyNutritionals) - I had been formulating collagen products for several years when various clients asked me to develop collagen bone broth, collagen shakes, collagen bars, collagen capsules, collagen cream, etc.  I personally didn’t think much of it when I formulated for them since I felt that these products were trend based than science based.  

Proteins are made of amino acids and short chain peptides that can be utilized by our body as building blocks for regeneration of tissues and support other biological functions like our immune systems.  I used to think that nutritionally all proteins were the same-just a source of amino acids.  As collagen became a more common buzzword for many friends and even my own family, I decided to dig deeper into the science behind the claims.     

Does Collagen Help Me to Look Younger?

If you want to have younger looking skin and maintain skin elasticity, you should be taking collagen.  Collagen is an essential part of your skin, nails, hair, bone, joints, muscles and other vital tissues.  I will go into more detail in the next section.  Not surprisingly, skincare and beauty care products seem to be touting the benefits of collagen the most.  Benefits most often heard include:

  • Reducing appearance of wrinkles
  • Improving skin elasticity
  • Reducing skin roughness
  • Reducing cellulite appearance

What is collagen?

Collagen1

Collagen is one of the most abundant and important proteins in ligaments, tendons, muscles, all connective tissues including your vital organs.   It also makes up a large part of our skin, hair and nails.  This is the protein that give suppleness and elasticity to your skin, strength to your nails and hair, provides the structure and strength of connective tissues to hold your vital tissues in place. 

As we reach late 20s or early 30s age, we begin to lose about 1%-2% of collagen a year.   Collagen loss becomes more noticeable in skin.  The wrinkle effect seen in aging skin is due to a decrease in elastin and collagen in the dermal matrix that is damaged over time by smoke, sun and/or constant internal or external oxidative stress.  Skin firmness is collapsed due to less collagen and elastin.

The human body is a complex system with many different collagens and other proteins. Collagen provides an array of amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins.  Collagen’s amino acids include both essential and semi-essential amino acids.  

  • Essential amino acids cannot be manufactured by our body and therefore must be ingested
  • Semi-essential amino acids can be produced by our body under the right conditions, but only in lesser amounts

 

Collagen is a type of protein called a structural protein.  Collagen isn’t just one type of protein. Most collagen falls under type I, II, or III. Type I is the most significant and accounts for over 90% of human collagen. 

Type I collagen is found in connective tissues including tendons, ligaments, dermis and blood vessels.  It is the major component of the extracellular matrix and has the primary function of providing tensile strength. 

Type III collagen is the second most abundant collagen in tissues and is found most commonly in tissues exhibiting elastic properties such as skin, lungs, intestinal walls and walls of blood vessels because of its unique way of providing additional strength and structure.  Its important function is to strengthen, provide and fortify structure of body’s connective tissues.  

Why do you need it?

Collagen comes from connective tissues which are the very thing that it helps to rebuild and strengthen when it’s consumed.  It allows you to have mobility, flexibility as well as strengthening of our hair, nails and skin.  Since your body cannot produce the essential amino acids within collagen and can only produce limited amounts of the semi-essential amino acids, supplementation is needed.  It is vital to ingest or taken easily digestible collagen peptides to provide basic protein building blocks to support healthy skin, hair, nails, digestive tissues, muscles, and vital tissues.

 

Why is collagen good for me and where is the “data”?

It helps with the health of skin.  There are many studies to support skins firmness, moisturizing benefit and reduction of wrinkles. 

  1. Supplementation of collagen peptides (with their essential and semi-essential amino acids) showed statistically significant improvement of skin in women (age 35-55) in an 8-week study versus a placebo in a double blind clinical study. At the end of the study, skin elasticity in collagen dosage groups showed a statistically significant improvement in comparison to a placebo. [Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(1):47-55]
  2. Middle aged women on 12-week clinical test showed improvement in reduction of skin cracking (due to dryness) and collagen serum. [ Korean J Community Nutr. 2008 Dec;13(6):912-921]
  3. Collagen peptide improved UVB damages from loss of skin barrier functions and skin elasticity [Photodermatology, Photoimmunology and photomedicine, Volume 29, Issue 4, August 2013 , Pages 204–211]
  4. Collagen peptide improved wrinkles and support ECM [Skin Pharmacolo Physiol, 2014, 27: 113-119]

    Collagen Supports Joints and Ligaments.

    Numerous preclinical and clinical studies have been carried out to investigate the efficacy of oral collagen and both osteoarthritis (OA) and Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  It appears that collagen is reasonably efficacious in patients with OA.  

     

    It was also impressive to see that collagen had a huge impact on active athletes.  The clinical trial of 24-weeks duration showed improvement of joint pain in athletes who were treated with a collagen supplement. The results of this study have implications for the use of collagen to support joint health and possibly reduce the risk of joint deterioration in high-risk groups. Collagen supplementation did not have a negative impact on athletic performance. 

     

    Although it was limited to an animal study, the results of this study suggest that the ingestion of collagen peptide affects the collagen and composition of glycosaminoglycans in the Achilles tendon and thus may improve the mechanical properties of the Achilles tendon.  That’s cool.

    1. [Current medical Research and Opinion, Pages 1485-1496 15 Apr 2008]
    2. [International Journal of Food and Science, volume 60, 2009, pg 99-113]
    3. [Seminar in Arthritis and rheumatism, 2000, vol 30, 87-99]
    4. [Compliment therapies in Medicine, 2012, vol 20, 124-130]
    5. [J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2005 Jun;51(3):169-74]

       

      Collagen supports healthy bones.

      1. [ Critical Reviews in Food and Science, Volume 57, 2017, 1922-1937]
      2. [Seminar in Arthritis and rheumatism, 2000, vol 30, 87-99]
      3. [Bone, Volume 46, Issue 3, 2010, Pages 827-83]

          

        Impact of Collagen in Maintaining and Supporting Lean Muscle Mass as We Age. 

        Protein supplementation in combination with resistance training have shown to increase muscle mass and muscle strength.  Numerous studies support whey protein concentrates for muscle growth, sarcopenia and weight loss.   While collagen lacks branched chain amino acids, I was excited to see the benefit when clinical study assessing the influence of post-exercise

        protein supplementation with collagen peptides v. placebo on muscle mass and muscle function in elderly subjects with sarcopenia.  The study demonstrates that compared with a placebo, collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training further improved body composition by increasing fat free mass, muscle strength and the loss of fat mass.

        1. Br J Nutr. 2015 Oct 28; 114(8): 1237–1245.
        2. [American Dietic Association, Volume 109, Issue 6, June 2009, Pages 1082-1087]

         

        Conclusion.

        After reviewing several research papers, I realized that there is value in collagen supplementation since collagen production is extremely important to the health of my skin, hair, connective tissues, as well as joint related health.  As collagen production decreases with age, and we have diets that may not contain collagen, it makes scientific sense to supplement our collagen production.

        Dr Suk Cho
        Dr Suk Cho


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