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Collagen - properties and benefits

  • Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the human body.

  • It is a fibrous protein that makes up the body’s connective tissues.

  • It is responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of the skin, blood vessels and muscles. 

  • Collagen production slows for both men and women around age 30.

  • In studies, collagen supplementation is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as improvements in muscle recovery time after injury or workout. 

  • Collagen also appears to have a prebiotic effect in the gut, making it more hospitable to beneficial microbes that aid in digestion and weight loss.

Thirty percent of your overall weight and three-quarters of the dry weight of your skin comes from collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, comprising one-third of your total protein count.

Collagen is a versatile and hardworking protein: it gives your skin its firmness and elasticity,  keeps the walls of your blood vessels strong, and builds bone density. It is now gaining popularity as a supplement. 




Collagen, a brief history


The word collagen comes from the Greek words kolla, meaning “glue,” and gen, “producing.” In fact, animal collagen has been used since the dawn of human history as a glue or binder. 

It’s not only the most abundant protein in the human body, but in the animal kingdom. It is found most commonly in the connective tissues of mammals. 



Human use of animal collagen dates back thousands of years. In ancient China, collagen-rich gelatin made from boiling donkey skin was prized for its health benefits. 10th Century texts from Baghdad offer a recipe for “fish jelly” made from boiling down fish heads and bones.


The molecular structure of collagen


Despite its long use, little was understood about collagen scientifically until the 20th Century. 

In 1954, Indian physicist Gopalasamudram Narayanan Ramachandran proposed that collagen consisted of three intertwining chains of amino acids (polypeptides) spiraling around a common axis–the triple helix. The triple helix remains the accepted model of collagen’s molecular structure today. 

Insight into collagen’s importance in the human body expanded rapidly from this point. For several years, only one type of collagen was acknowledged. Then, in 1969, Type II collagen was identified. 

Today, nearly 30 different types of collagen have been identified. The different types of collagen are known as the “collagen family.”  


Molecular structure of collagen


What type of collagen is better?


We now know that collagen comprises most of the extra cellular matrix (ECM), a scaffolding that supports tissues and allows them to carry out their mechanical functions.

Collagen is no mere scaffolding, however. It also acts as a signaling molecule to regulate several key cellular regeneration processes. 

Type I collagen is the most abundant type of collagen in the body, making up 90% of our collagen stores. It is one of the five types of collagen prevalent in human tissues. Type I collagen is dense and tough. It is found in most of the body’s connective tissue

Each type of collagen has its own unique molecular structure, and each plays a special role in the body. Aside from Type I collagen, there are  four major collagen types in the body: 

  • Type II collagen is more elastic than Type I collagen and is found in cartilage.

  • Type III collagen is exceptionally strong, but also highly flexible. It is found along with Type I in organs, muscles, and arteries. It is also important in repairing damaged tissues.

  • Type IV collagen is found in your skin, most especially in the basement membrane. It forms a network-like structure that supports epithelial tissues, which cover every major organ in the body.
  • Type V collagen is found in the cornea as well as the bones and the membranes around vital organs. It keeps those membranes strong and stretchable. Like Type III collagen, it complements other types of collagen and is necessary to their formation. It’s also found in the placenta.


Which types of collagen are found in supplements? 


Most supplements contain either Type I or Type II collagen. Type I collagen supplements are usually bovine (from cows). Type II collagen is more abundant in marine collagen, which is derived from fish skins, bones and connective tissues. 

Each offers distinct benefits. Studies show that supplementation with bovine collagen increases types I and III collagen, which increases the skin’s firmness and elasticity while also reducing moisture loss. 

Marine collagen is rich in Type I collagen, but it also is rich in Type II. Some studies suggest that it promotes healthy cartilage and skin. 

Both marine and bovine collagen supplementation seem to support the strength of the joints and augment the building of muscle mass. Supplementation also appears to lead to faster joint healing and quicker muscle recovery. 


Hydrolyzed or peptides? 


Collagen supplements are usually labeled “hydrolyzed” or “collagen peptides.” They are the same thing. Whole collagen is difficult for the body to digest; hydrolyzation breaks it down into smaller peptides that are easily used by the body.. 


Liquid, powder, or capsule? 

Collagen supplements are usually found either as liquids, powders, or capsules. Each has its own strengths and drawbacks

  • Liquid collagen is sold as either a concentrate that can be mixed with water or as a ready-made liquid taken a few tablespoons at a time. It is easy to ingest. It must be taken several times throughout the day, though, as it does not deliver much collagen at once.

  • Powdered collagen is the most popular form. It can be purchased either flavored or unflavored and mixed into foods or drinks. Some find that it gives foods an unpalatable texture; clumping is a common complaint. Still, it is a versatile way to supplement.

  • Capsules deliver powdered collagen through capsules taken orally. Many people prefer them because they bypass taste or texture issues. Some find them more convenient. However, you cannot get as much collagen at once with capsules. You have to take more at once or space several capsules over the day. This may also make them more expensive in the long run.

In the long run, the best kind of supplement is the one that works for you. Choose based upon your preferences and lifestyle. 


Liquid, powder, capsule form of collagen


How does collagen improve bone density?


Collagen is the most prevalent molecule in the bone. Osteoblasts, the cells that regenerate bone after injury, secrete collagen, and collagen also recruits osteoblasts after injury.

The breakdown of collagen due to age and hormonal fluctuation contributes to loss of bone mass in older adults; studies show that collagen supplementation could help maintain  bone density. In one study, postmenopausal women who took a daily collagen supplement over four years experienced fewer fractures than those in a control group. 

Is taking collagen better than taking calcium?


Calcium gives our bones a more rigid structure, but collagen both supports that structure and keeps bones more tensile, meaning they’re less brittle and prone to fractures. Studies show that a combination of calcium and collagen supplementation is more effective than taking either alone. 

Can collagen be taken with vitamin D?


Vitamin D3 complements normal collagen synthesis in the ECM. Researchers in one study found that a combination of vitamin D, calcium, and collagen led to fewer markers of bone loss than supplementing with only one. 

Who should take collagen supplements?


It seems most people could benefit from collagen supplementation. A few groups in particular stand out, though:

  • Older adults who are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, and joint degeneration.

  • Menopausal and postmenopausal adults who are experiencing accelerated loss of collagen.

  • Those trying to build muscle.

  • Those trying to prevent or reverse age-related skin changes, such as sagging and wrinkles.


Individuals who should take collagen


 Is collagen good for men? 


Although men do not lose collagen as fast as women, they begin losing collagen earlier. Collagen supplementation can help prevent loss of muscle and bone for men.


Who should not take collagen?


While collagen supplementation is safe overall, a few people should think twice about taking it:

  • Those who follow halal or kosher dietary practices: collagen is made from animal proteins, and it may be derived from sources disallowed by religious practice.

  • Vegans–collagen is only found in animal products.

  • People with gout, phenylketonuria, kidney disease or other disorders requiring limited protein intake.

  • Those who may be allergic to the sources of collagen: if you are allergic to fish or shellfish, you should avoid taking marine collagen. Those with Alpha-Gal syndrome should avoid bovine collagen.

  • Those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or Crohn's.

How much collagen should one take on a daily basis?


Research finds that taking  2.5 to 15 grams  of hydrolyzed collagen daily is safe. A dose of 5 grams daily appeared to build bone mass. For those looking to improve joint and skin health, a smaller dose is probably sufficient. A greater amount may better facilitate building muscle mass.

What are the side effects of collagen taken in excess?


The stomach and intestinal tract experience most of the effects of excessive collagen intake: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping have all been reported by people taking an excess of 15 grams of collagen. 

Over time, excessive collagen intake could possibly lead to liver fibrosis, kidney stones, and hypercalcemia, a condition characterized by an unhealthy buildup of calcium in the body that can cause abnormal heart rhythms. 


Infographic explaining the properties and benefits of Collagen



In conclusion


Used for thousands of years as a food source, collagen appears to reduce loss of bone density, promote muscle growth, and alleviate joint inflammation and pain. 

Most people can take collagen safely. There are some groups who should not take it without their doctor’s guidance.

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