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What is Collagen and does it really work?

Definition

collagen (n.)

also collogen, a structural protein of connective tissue, 1843, from French collagène, from Latinized form of Greek kolla "glue" + -gen "giving birth to" (see -gen).



Collagen. The craze over the importance of collagen supplements has been a world wide phenomenon. But. Does it really work?


Collagen Basics

Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, accounting for about one-third of our protein composition. It makes up your bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and even ligaments. Collagen is also found in many other body parts, including blood vessels, corneas, and teeth. You can think of it as the “glue” of life in which holds everything together. In fact, the word comes from the Greek word “kólla,” which means glue.


There are 28 types of collagen. The four main types are type I, II, III, and IV. Here’s a closer look at the four main types of collagen and their roles in your body:


  • Type I. This type accounts for 90% of your body’s collagen and is made of densely packed fibres. It provides structure to skin, bones, tendons, fibrous cartilage, connective tissue, and teeth. (Found in fish. Smaller amounts can be found in Porcine (pig) Collagen and some forms of Bovine (cattle) Collagen.
  • Type II. This type is made of more loosely packed fibres and found in elastic cartilage, which cushions your joints. (Found in Chicken Collagen and Bovine Collagen if from cartilage).
  • Type III. This type supports the structure of muscles, organs, and arteries. (Found with Type I in Porcine (pig) Collagen and Bovine (cattle) Collagen if from bovine hide).
  • Type IV. This type helps with filtration and is found in the layers of your skin.


Now that we know different types of collagen. Let’s look at the positives and the negatives of collagen.


The Positives

A study done in 2014 showed 69 women aged between 35 to 55 found that those who took 2.5 or 5 grams of collagen daily for 8 weeks showed a lot of improvement in skin elasticity, compared with those who didn’t take it.


Another study found that women who took 1 gram per day of a chicken-derived collagen supplement for 12 weeks had 76% less dryness, 12% fewer visible wrinkles, better blood flow in the skin, and a 6% higher collagen content.


Lastly, a 2019 review of eight studies including 805 patients concluded that “preliminary results are promising for the short and long-term use of oral collagen supplements for wound healing and skin aging.”


Collagen as a protein source alone is an excellent choice, packing in more protein per calorie than other sources while containing less sodium and sugar. There is also evidence suggesting it may improve body composition, joint health, and healing rates of the body.


One recent study of 53 elderly men with sarcopenia (a loss of muscle caused by aging), found that those who took 15 grams of collagen daily, in addition to lifting weights three times per week for 3 months, gained significantly more muscle and lost more fat than those who only lifted weights.


Collagen has also been shown to act as a powerful wound healer, able to stop bleeding, recruit immune and skin cells, and stimulate new blood vessel formation. One study of 89 long-term care residents with pressure ulcers found that those who took collagen supplements three times daily for 8 weeks saw their wounds heal twice as fast. Another, of eight patients who had a small surgical skin biopsy, found that daily topical collagen healed their wounds at least as well as sutures.


While research is mixed, a few studies have also shown that collagen supplements help with arthritis pain and sports-related joint pain.



The Negatives

We must remember to take information regarding collagen with caution as many of the studies done so far on collagen are small and are at least partially funded by the collagen industry. The science is truly in its infancy and there is a lot of conflicts of interest to conclude that these studies represent 100% truth.


Augusta, GA-based dermatologist Lauren Eckert Ploch says stomach acids break down collagen proteins you eat before they reach the skin intact, so she’s not convinced it helps at all. We are talking about ground-up fish, chicken, pig, and cow parts. This can be hooves, bones, hides - literally, any part of an animal you can think of that are not sold of value in a supermarket. These parts tend to act as sponges for contaminants and heavy metals.


In one recent test of 14 popular collagen supplements, by the supplement testing company consumerlab.com, all products contained the levels of collagen they said they did, but one also contained high levels of cadmium, a toxic heavy metal.


Meanwhile, dermatologists and consumer groups have also expressed concerns that those ground-up hooves, hides, bones, and nerve tissues -- particularly if they come from cows -- could carry diseases like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.



Summary

Collagen has been around for a long time and there is a large body of evidence supporting its safe use. If you are eating well with a diet consisting of a broad range of food, you don’t necessarily need to consume collagen supplements. However, consuming collagen can be beneficial and does show promising results when it comes to health. So overall, it may be worthwhile taking it.


If you have decided to take collagen supplements, it is important to choose the right source and right type of collagen. Also, always remember to check whether it has been tested for contaminants and heavy metals.



In terms of what collagen type to take, for skin and beauty applications Type I Collagen is considered to be the best. Dermatology research with oral supplementation of collagen has shown that when Type I (overall body) Collagen is increased, there are visible results in the appearance of skin.


In terms of a source of collagen, Marine Collagen peptides from fish are considered to be superior at increasing overall body collagen (Type 1) and supporting skin, hair, nail, and bone quality. Marine Collagen is absorbed up to 1.5 times more efficiently into the body, meaning it has superior bioavailability over bovine or porcine collagen. Because of it's low molecular weight it’s absorbed more easily and enters the bloodstream more rapidly.




Written by 

Ron

Founder of Kōrure


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