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Should Collagen be on your supplement list?

Collagen has become a bit of a buzz product in the wellness industry over recent years but what is it and do we all need to be taking it?


As part of my studies with Dr Stacy Sims I recently completed her module on Collagen and found it incredibly informative. As a way of consolidating my learnings but also importantly making the information user friendly here is my summary and takeaways. I hope it's of value to you!


Collagen is a protein responsible for healthy joints and skin elasticity. It’s in your bones, muscles, and blood, [making up] three quarters of your skin and a third of the protein in your body.” (Health benefits of collagen, 2022). It is one of the primary building blocks of the skin, muscles and connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons and makes up ⅓ of the total protein in the body (Sims, 2022a)

While more research is needed to confirm with certainty, that collagen supplements do indeed improve collagen synthesis (integrity of your connective tissue) (Sims, 2022b), at this point it seems to me that it is a supplement well worth trying out for yourself especially if dealing with broken bones or soft tissue injuries.


While there are almost 30 types of collagen, around 90% of the collagen found in the human body comes from these five types (Lodish et al., 2000; Sims, 2022b).

  • Type 1 is associated with the framework of the body. Bones, ligaments, tendons and skin. It is very capable of being stretched

  • Type 2 forms the fibres that are less organised than type 1. It is essential to cartilage and is a little harder and more fibrous.

  • Type 3 is associated with skin, muscle, blood vessels. It is very important for platelets and clotting.

  • Type 4 is more of a sheet-like structure. It is the basement membrane that either surrounds structural tissues or is used for support and filtration.

  • Type 5 is found in hair and nails. It is harder and more fibrous.


As we age we start to lose collagen. This starts between 18-29 years of age but from age 40 it speeds up and we will start to lose around 1% of our total collagen per year. While at first glance this may not sound like much, to put it into context by the age of 80 we will have lost about 75% of our original collagen levels (Sims, 2022b). That's a lot.


So how do we get more collagen into our bodies if we are losing at a rate faster than we can produce it? Via food sources and supplements, with natural food sources being our first go to if you are one to consume animal products. More on this below, but it is worth noting early that collagen comes from animal sources and there is no such thing as natural vegan collagen.


So what foods are high in collagen?

  • Lean meat - particularly beef, pork, chicken.

  • Meat sources that contain connective tissue such as ribeye and chicken wings.

  • Bony fish

  • Egg whites

  • Oysters - very effectively absorbed by the body

  • Bone broth - Bone broth is such a good source of collagen you can alternate between a serve of bone broth and a serve of collagen supplement day by day or simply stick with a full serving of bone broth every day.


Collagen Supplements:

In addition to food sources there are a plethora of supplements on the market either offering pure collagen or containing collagen. Let's unpack that wild world….


There are two main types of collagen, native and hydrolysed and understanding the difference will help you choose the correct supplement for you.


Native Collagen is a full molecule of collagen, has the highest molecular weight, comes from animal sources and isn’t effectively absorbed by the body. It is made primarily of three very long chain amino acids being proline, hydroxyl proline and glycine which form a tightly twisted helix. While this gives the collagen strength, it makes the molecule too large to cross the intestinal wall and is thus unable to be absorbed by the body. Despite this, interestingly it does still provide benefit to the body by working with the immune system to reduce degradation of the tissue, particularly cartilage. What is believed to happen is that when ingesting the full collagen molecule you will have an immune response when the intact, undenatured collagen molecule binds to specific immune cells causing a positive signal to the body to stop attacking its own cartilage. Research to date suggests that only a small amount of type two collagen is required to reduce the inflammation that occurs within the joints and reduce the collagen degradation that is occurring particularly in cases suffering from early osteoarthritis and joint inflammatory conditions (García-Coronado et al., 2019; Narayanan and Gandhi, 2019)


Hydrolysed collagen, commonly known as collagen peptides are shorter chains of amino acids derived from whole/ native collagen. These smaller bits of amino acid are easily absorbed into the bloodstream and come from either bovine or marine sources. Consumption of collagen peptides will trigger the cells to build full length collagen molecules to start repairing the skin, bones, joints and cells. Basically they are building blocks that work to repair the body's tissue (León-López et al., 2019; Sims, 2022b).


So when looking to buy a supplement how do you choose the type?

  • For hair, bone, tendon and ligament support choose a supplement containing types 1 & 3 which are typically grouped together. These will come from either marine or bovine sources. Marine collagen is only ever type 1, not type 3.

  • To benefit your cartilage and help prevent cartilage destruction choose type 2, specifically sourced from chicken. In the case of significant inflammatory joint conditions or osteoarthritis it is worth pairing both types 1 & 3, as well as type 2 collagen sources. Purchasing a single supplement containing all of the above may be challenging so your best bet would be to get two types and mix them yourself.


But what if you are vegan or lacto-ovo vegetarian?

Collagen is part of a structural component of animal tissue that isn’t found in plants, meaning those wanting to avoid animal products but keen to increase their collagen must do this via ‘collagen boosters’ (Sims, 2022b). Boosters will stimulate our bodies to produce more collagen by supplying essential components to aid the body's natural production. For the non-vegans amongst us these are also worth considering as any boost is a good thing. First reach for your best food sources being citrus fruits and leafy greens (vitamin C), nuts and seeds (zinc and copper) and green or blue spirulina which is very rich in amino acids as well as some vitamin C, copper, zinc and selenium.


When looking at vegan collagen supplements consider pre and probiotic fibres as your first choice as they help support our gut microbiome as well as stimulate collagen production. Then add Vitamin C which is necessary for pro-collagen molecule development. This means it helps hook together the chain of amino acids which form the helix shape which will make it stronger. Zinc helps collagen production by acting as an activator of essential amino acids and proteins and copper helps to mature collagen by activating the enzyme ‘lysyl oxidase’ (Sims, 2022b). This helps collagen become strong but also elastic. Also when collagen starts to break down or get damaged copper helps with the repair. These supplements can be sourced individually or via a ‘collagen boosting supplement’ which should contain at a minimum vitamin c and zinc or copper. It is best to take zinc and copper separately (ie: at different times of the day) as they do compete for absorption sites. Also, it is worth noting that there are some products on the market labelled ‘vegan collagen’ but are actually a combination of collagen boosters. Lab produced vegan collagen is coming in the future but like faux meats are all genetically modified products.


So how much should you take?

Once you know why you are going to take the collagen and what outcomes you are after you can then determine your daily dose. Remember you are considering factors such as sore joints or soft tissue injuries like tendinopathies, ligament or muscle strains, etc.


If degenerative issues such as arthritis are your concern Dr Sims suggests taking both collagen peptides as well as native collagen. Daily dose would be between 1-10g collagen peptides and 10mg native collagen. She recommends taking a daily dosage for six months at the higher dose and then after this you could look to reduce the dose to be more of a maintenance level. For example 5-8g collagen peptides and 10mg native collagen (Sims, 2022b).


For skin, hair, tendons, ligaments, soft tissue, bone structure and blood vessel compliance Dr Sims suggests taking type one and type three collagen peptides. 2.5g-10g of peptides per day is the suggested dose. When taking peptides the dose can start at the minimum effective level of 2.5g for 8-12 weeks and if there is no change then increase to 5g and so on. It is important to note that it can take 8-12 months to see a significant change from the supplement (Sims, 2022b).


So which brand of collagen should you use?

This is where it can get challenging as how often does it feel like a degree is needed when it comes to navigating food labels?! Here is my attempt to make it easier for you to choose the right collagen supplement for your needs!

  1. Do you want to take collagen peptides or native collagen? This comes back to the question of why you are wanting to take collagen.

  2. Bovine or marine? Do you want a pescatarian source of collagen or are you ok with bovine? Marine collagen can be less reactive on a sensitive gut.

  3. How many grams do you get per serve? For peptides you should be looking for a max dose of 10g/ serve. If the product states a serving size of 30-40g there is no need to take it, you will just go through the product faster.

  4. Does it contain Vitamin C? Not essential but a nice addition

  5. If it contains hyaluronic acid (responsible for increasing the viscosity within the joints) what source is it coming from? Typically HA is sourced from rooster combs, but can also come from bone broth and some soy products. Are you ok with this?

  6. If choosing a vegan booster ensure it contains vitamin c, zinc, copper and preferably the amino acids lysine, proline, arginine and hydroxyproline.

  7. A side note - while supplement labels will list a protein content, collagen protein doesn’t count towards our daily protein requirement. While it is a protein, native collagen or collagen peptides don’t have the essential amino acids needed to instigate full muscle protein synthesis within the body and therefore shouldn’t be counted in the daily protein intake. It does however provide metabolic benefits within the body.


I would love to hear your take on this information and any personal experiences. Again, the above information is a summary of the learnings from Dr Stacy Sims ‘What is Collagen Course Module 2022’. Personally I have chosen to take Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides. It contains a single ingredient being collagen peptides from bovine sources and has a serving size of 10g per serve. I am happily consuming it most days typically in a shake or sometimes just mixed in with natural yogurt. Even though I have a sensitive digestive system I haven't had any adverse reactions to date! My reason for consuming collagen was for my age (I’m 43!) as well as ligament, tendon, bone and muscle support, oh and of course skin and hair! While I currently have a bit of an Achilles tendinopathy I am diligently taking it daily but on a typical week it would usually be on 4-5 occasions….sometimes I just forget! I also prioritise consuming collagen rich foods and collagen boosting foods as best I can. I would love to say I make my own bone broth but my attempts have been inedible so I settle for a purchased source!



References:


de Almagro, M.C. (2020). The use of collagen hydrolysates and native collagen in osteoarthritis. American Journal of Biomedical Science and Research, 7(6), 530-532. https://biomedgrid.com/pdf/AJBSR.MS.ID.001217.pdf


García-Coronado, J.M., Martínez-Olvera, L., Elizondo-Omaña, R.E., Acosta-Olivo, C.A., Vilchez-Cavazos, F., Simental-Mendia, L.E. & Simental-Mendia, M. (2019). Effect of collagen supplementation on osteoarthritis symptoms: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. International Orthopaedics, 43, 531–538. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00264-018-4211-5


Health benefits of collagen. (2022). https://www.webmd.com/diet/collagen-health-benefits


León-López A, Morales-Peñaloza A, Martínez-Juárez VM, Vargas-Torres A, Zeugolis DI & Aguirre-Álvarez G. (2019). Hydrolyzed collagen-Sources and applications. Molecules. 24(22), 1-16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6891674/


Lodish H, Berk A, Zipursky SL, et al. (2000). Molecular Cell Biology. 4th ed. New York: Macmillan.


Narayanan, V. & Gandhi, R. (2019). Understanding collagen supplements in arthritis – Immunomodulation with undenatured collagen II versus cartilage building with hydrolysed collagen II. Archives of Orthopedics and Rheumatology, 2(2), 04-11. http://www.sryahwapublications.com/archives-of-orthopedics-and-rheumatology/pdf/v2-i2/3.pdf


Sims, S. (2022a). Next Level. https://www.drstacysims.com/nextlevel


Sims, S. (2022b). Microlearning on Collagen Supplements. https://www.drstacysims.com/library





1 comment

1 Comment


melissa.desira
Mar 10, 2023

An extremely informative blog! Easy to follow and determine which to try and why!

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