In his brilliant book “The Clot Thickens", author Dr Malcolm Kendrick writes, “Collagen is the single most important support molecule in the human body. Think of collagen like the steel bars in reinforced concrete. Without collagen, your body begins to disintegrate. One of the first things to disintegrate are your blood vessels. Without enough collagen they begin to crack and leak.”
Collagen is the lifeblood of the human body. It's the most abundant protein, omnipresent in our hair, skin, connective tissues, nails, joints, ligaments and cartilage. Maintaining healthy levels of collagen is crucial, particularly as we get older. As we age, our bodies produce less collagen, and this process begins as early as our 20s. So, let's not think of collagen as just an anti-aging strategy for over 50s.
Luckily, there's a simple solution. By consuming collagen peptides, we can naturally stimulate our body's collagen synthesis and keep those levels as high as possible. Sure, you could sip on some bone broth or chomp on animal skin and tendons, but let's face it, that's not for everyone. Opting for an easy-to-consume powder or liquid form of collagen is the way to go for the majority of us.
Here are just 10 of the many potential benefits of consuming collagen:
Improves skin health: Collagen is the major structural component of skin, comprising about 80 % of its dry weight. Collagen is therefore an essential component of the skin and increasing it can help improve skin elasticity, hydration, and overall appearance.
Reduces joint pain: Collagen can help reduce joint pain and stiffness by supporting joint health and reducing inflammation.
Boosts muscle mass: Collagen may help increase muscle mass and strength, particularly in combination with resistance training.
Promotes gut health: Collagen can help improve gut health by strengthening the intestinal lining and reducing inflammation in the gut.
Supports bone health: Collagen is a vital component of bones and can help improve bone density and strength.
Reduces the appearance of cellulite: Collagen can help improve the appearance of cellulite by strengthening the skin and reducing inflammation.
Supports hair and nail growth: Collagen may help improve hair and nail growth and strengthen them.
Improves heart health: Collagen may help improve heart health by reducing inflammation, improving cholesterol levels, and supporting healthy blood vessel function.
Supports brain health: Collagen may help improve brain health by reducing inflammation and improving overall brain function.
Helps with weight management: Collagen may help with weight management by promoting satiety, reducing appetite, and supporting healthy metabolism.
Collagen Types I, II and III
Type I collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies (making up about 90% of our collagen) and it’s found in skin, tendons, ligaments and bones.
Type II collagen is most abundant in cartilage and is known for cushioning joints.
Type III collagen provides structure to connective tissues such as blood vessels, intestinal walls and skin.
The collagen peptides used in the food supplement come from cattle (bovine), pigs (porcine), fish (marine) or chicken, and the benefits of each type vary slightly. Depending on the type of collagen in question, it is extracted from the skin, scales or bones of the animal in question.
Bovine collagen is extracted from the hide of cattle and is available in powder or pill form. It's mainly made up of Type I and Type III collagen, which are abundant in the human body. While bovine collagen can benefit the skin and connective tissues in the digestive system, the quality of the collagen depends on the source. The parts of the animal from which the collagen is extracted are often by-products of the meat industry, so the cattle may not be grass-fed and may have been given antibiotics and hormones, which can result in impure and contaminated collagen. This can limit its effectiveness and make it less desirable for those looking to avoid harmful substances.
On the other hand, marine collagen is extracted from the skin and scales of fish using a process called hydrolysis. This method breaks down the collagen, making it easier to digest and yielding maximum benefits as a supplement. Some companies use other methods involving solvents or heat, which can expose us to potentially harmful contaminants and make the collagen harder to absorb. It is recommended that you only take hydrolysed collagen supplements to ensure safety and efficacy.
Marine collagen, primarily composed of Type I collagen, is highly bioavailable, meaning our bodies can quickly absorb it and put it to use for synthesising collagen efficiently.
What about collagen supplements with other ingredients added?
Some collagen products are fortified with other nutrients like Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin B7 and Vitamin C. The reason for this is that research has shown these nutrients to work well with collagen peptides to maximise their benefits. It's important to remember that, as convenient as it is to have these additional nutrients in your supplements, they can all be obtained from a healthy, balanced diet as well. Some people prefer to take a pure collagen peptide supplement with no added ingredients so that they can consume their separate nutrients elsewhere.
It is also true that some collagen supplements add other ingredients to improve taste and addictability, but at the detriment to good health. ,Particularly collagen drinks, which often add unhealthy extras such as sugar or artificial sweeteners to boost flavour. But a high-quality product with carefully-selected ingredients can boost the collagen's effectiveness and enhance the benefits.
Another thing to consider is the dosage of the supplement. Many products have a very low dosage that is unlikely to have the desired effect when consumed. I would recommend a minimum of 2.5gramms per day, up to 10 grams (that’s what I always take).
So which is better - bovine collagen or marine collagen?
While bovine collagen peptides include collagen types I, II and III, they have a greater amount of type II than marine collagen because they’re coming from a larger animal, compared to marine collagen, which tends to come from fish skin. Bovine peptides benefits include decreasing bone loss and helping with skin elasticity, though marine collagen helps with skin elasticity, too.
Naturally, everyone's body is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Collagen is a powerful nutrient for health and cosmetics in any high-quality product, and there are other factors involved such as dietary preferences, intolerances/allergies, lifestyle and budget.
Bovine collagen pros:
There are grass-fed options available
It contains Type I and Type III collagen
It is often cheaper than marine collagen
It is free from the top 14 allergens
Bovine collagen cons
It is not suitable for pescatarians (or vegetarians, vegans, etc.)
The large molecule structure is harder to digest
The collagen is less similar to human collagen than marine alternatives
Marine collagen pros
Suitable for pescatarians (but not vegetarians, vegans, etc.)
Contains Type I collagen in high purity
Smaller molecules are potentially easier to digest
The size is very similar to human collagen
Marine collagen cons
- Not suitable for people with seafood allergies
Can I take both types together?
Many people choose to take both marine and bovine collagen together to maximise their benefits. With high-quality versions of both, you would potentially get the most benefit in terms of the types of collagens you are consuming. However, you would need to take care to ensure you are not taking too high a dosage of collagen - there have been reports of some mild side effects in people consuming more than 20 grams of collagen per day. Taking both supplements together is possible, but you should do so with care.
Let's delve a bit deeper into the technical details of collagen and its relationship with the skin.
The skin is affected by various factors, including aging, ultraviolet radiation, hormones, and nutrition. Collagen can help stimulate skin metabolism and counteract the loss of collagenous extracellular matrix from the inside. When ingested, especially when formulated to be optimised for beauty applications, collagen can lead to noticeably firmer and smoother skin with fewer wrinkles. Additionally, it can improve skin surface structure, reduce cellulite, and promote faster nail growth with less chipping of fingernails.
Fibroblast cells in the dermal layer of the skin recognize collagen fragments resulting from catabolic activities, and this stimulates them to increase their collagen metabolism to counteract the pretended collagen degradation in the dermis. As a result, there is a considerably higher production of dermal collagen and overall extracellular matrix, effectively replacing what is lost through aging and environmental influences.
So, if you're looking for ways to improve your skin health, collagen could be a valuable addition to your daily routine. Remember, the benefits of collagen supplements go beyond just improving the appearance of your skin - they can also benefit your joints, gut health, and overall well-being. Choose wisely and enjoy the incredible benefits of collagen!
If you read my previous blog about clinical trials, you will know that I am very strict on which pieces of research I take any notice of. They are not randomised, controlled, and interventional, I simply don’t listen to their findings. Here are some well conducted clinical trials that demonstrate the potential benefits of consuming collagen:
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that women who consumed a collagen supplement for 12 weeks experienced improved skin elasticity and hydration compared to the placebo group.
A randomised, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that participants who consumed collagen supplements experienced reduced joint pain and stiffness compared to the placebo group.
A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that participants who consumed collagen supplements experienced improved bone density and strength compared to the placebo group.
A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that participants who consumed collagen supplements experienced reduced cellulite and improved skin appearance compared to the placebo group.
A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that participants who consumed collagen supplements experienced improved muscle mass and strength compared to the placebo group.
It's worth noting that while these studies suggest potential benefits of consuming collagen, not all collagen supplements are created equal, so it's essential to choose a high-quality product from a reputable source.