Posted by Bulk Nutrients in Health / Nutrition
Estimated reading time: 10mins
Aging is a process that we inevitably go through, and that scientists unfortunately still haven’t been able to reverse. Hair loss, thinning and prevalence of greys, joint aches and pains and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles are all associated with getting older.
While lifestyle and hereditary factors determine a large proportion of the ageing process and appearance, collagen is involved in all of these processes to some extent. Therefore, it seems logical that supplementing with collagen might minimise these effects, so let’s look at what the research suggests.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. Over one-third of the protein in the body is collagen, and its particularly concentrated in bones, muscles, skin and tendons. While several lifestyle factors may negatively impact collagen production (e.g. smoking and UV exposure), the body’s production of collagen naturally declines with age.
Collagen is the major component of the extracellular matrix and is the protein that ultimately determines skin physiology. The extracellular matrix retains water and supports smooth, firm, and strong skin. Collagen is responsible for maintaining the skin structure and it does so very well. The collagen molecules orient themselves into a triple helix, forming collagen fibrils of enormous strength and tensile force. Put in perspective, the properties of collagen are responsible for a wide spectrum of applications in the body from the soft, elastic skin, to the strong, rigid structure of bones.
Interestingly, collagen in its native form is a relatively large molecule – too large to be absorbed efficiently when applied to the skin, and poorly available when ingested. Through a process called enzymatic hydrolysis, collagen can be broken down into much smaller molecules – hydrolysed collagen peptides (HCP). Hydrolysed collagen consists of small peptides (0.3-8kDa), produced from native collagen which is found in bones, skin and connective tissue of animals (i.e. cattle, pigs and fish).
Due to its low molecular weight, hydrolysed collagen is easily digestible, absorbed and distributed in the human body. The high absorption of collagen peptides is the major reason why collagen consumed from natural sources as a part of a typical diet does not lead to the same results as supplementation with hydrolysed collagen peptides (HCP).
After ingestion, hydrolysed collagen peptides are further metabolised to bioactive di- and tri-peptides and free amino acids in the gastrointestinal tract, which are then released into the bloodstream. Through the network of blood vessels, these collagen peptides and free amino acids are then distributed in the human body, in particular, they accumulate in the skin, where it has been proven they can remain up to 14 days.
From this point, hydrolysed collagen has a dual-action mechanism:
So what does this all really mean? Let's talk through the potential benefits of HCP supplementation.
Likely, you were first alerted to collagen and its relationship to healthy skin through skincare advertisements for anti-wrinkle creams. Although beauty products may have overreached at times, there is certainly evidence to back the effectiveness of collagen peptide supplementation – be it orally or topically applied to the skin.
A significant level of research has investigated the potential benefits of hydrolysed collagen peptide supplementation on skin parameters. Most notably, these include markers of skin aging, elasticity and hydration – for all of which hydrolysed collagen has proven itself a worthy adversary. The physiological process of skin aging is directly associated with a decline in collagen formation with increasing age. As collagen production decreases, the skins collagen scaffold loses strength and stability, ultimately leading to the appearance of wrinkles. The good news is, the synthesis of collagen fibres primarily occurs in the deeper layers of the skin. Therefore, providing the right nutrients in the bloodstream via oral ingestion can improve markers of skin ageing.
If it sounds too good to be true, it must be, right? Well here’s something to keep in mind:
A systematic review and meta-analysis are some of the highest forms of data interpretation, condensing down sometimes thousands of scientific research papers systematically based on a strict set of criteria. Using only the studies that meet all of the criteria, the results of each study are standardized so that they can be compared on a like-for-like basis, and in this case of oral supplements, the collective effect of the supplementation for the desired outcome is assessed for significance.
In a recent systematic review and meta-analysis, the results showed a significant improvement in all of the aforementioned skin parameters with supplementation of between 2.5 – 10 g/day of hydrolysed collagen peptides. The results also indicate that consistency is key with hydrolysed collagen supplementation, with significant increases in all parameters typically present after 8 weeks of supplementation. On average, skin elasticity increased significantly (approximately 7%) across the included studies when hydrolysed collagen peptides were consumed.
So if it’s that “youthful radiant glow” that your searching for, oral hydrolysed collagen peptide supplements should be a staple in your beauty routine. Not only that, but maximizing and maintaining collagen production during and after times of rapid growth, such as bulking or pregnancy, may help minimize the formation and permanency of stretch marks.
But that’s not all it can do...
Collagen makes up around 70% of the dermis, which is the middle layer of your skin that contains the root of each hair.
A recent study has shown that collagen is strongly deposited in hair follicles, and the lack of collagen delays hair cycling and growth, suggesting that supplementation of collagen is likely to influence the condition of hair. A significant improvement in the dryness and dullness of hair was also noted in a recent study where collagen supplementation was undertaken for up to 14 months.
The same study showed significant repair of damaged, brittle nails, which was also confirmed in a six-month study looking at brittle nails. It was found that daily supplementation with collagen peptides resulted in increased nail growth and improved brittle nails in conjunction with a notable decrease in the frequency of broken nails.
Collagen peptides don’t only offer improvements on the surface though. Significant research efforts have investigated the relationship between collagen peptide supplementation and its effects on osteoarthritis symptoms (joint pain and range of motion). A recent systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that collagen peptide supplementation was effective in the reduction of osteoarthritis symptoms, particularly in reducing joint stiffness. This is great news for anyone training regularly and particularly for athletes who need to ensure joints remain healthy and pain-free.
Just when you thought collagen couldn’t possibly do any more, it also plays a role in bone formation. The role of collagen in bone is to provide viscoelastic strength, torsional stiffness and load-bearing capacity. Studies have shown that taking hydrolysed collagen peptides may inhibit the bone breakdown that leads to osteoporosis.
Overlooking all of the previous studies, the hydrolysed collagen peptide dose ranges from 2.5g – 20g/day to achieve the desired effects – from skin elasticity to joint repair. However, there is significant overlap for the 10g/day dosage with the vast majority of studies showing a significant positive result within 12 weeks. The combined results also show that continuous supplementation of hydrolysed collagen peptides had no adverse effects. Supplementing daily with hydrolysed collagen was shown to be safe over short to medium periods, with studies ranging from 6 weeks up to 14 months duration.
Few supplements have been studied to the level of detail that hydrolysed collagen peptides have – particularly for the range of applications. What’s interesting about hydrolysed collagen, however, is that significant positive effects have been demonstrated on a large number of the tested applications. The sheer diversity of positive health effects seen by supplementing with hydrolysed collagen peptides suggest that collagen is good for overall health, particularly as age increases and natural collagen production declines.
In our opinion though, the best part of hydrolysed collagen is consuming it. Unlike a whey protein, hydrolysed collagen doesn’t contain the full spectrum of amino acids and completely dissolves in water which makes it a great alternative to sugary soft drinks!