Collagen is the most abundant protein found in our bodies and the stuff that basically holds us together. Collagen is found in our bones, skin and connective tissue and provides structural support, elasticity and strength. The more obvious collagen-containing body parts are things like the ankle ligaments that get sprained each time you play soccer, rotator cuff tendons that can get overworked with lifting too repetitively, bony joint surfaces and of course the skin covering your whole body. But collagen also makes up a significant part of your corneas (eyes), teeth, blood vessels, gut and intervertebral discs - making it a very important substance indeed (and not just for aesthetic reasons!).
An eight week study on 69 women who took a daily dose of collagen hydrolysate showed improved skin elasticity which was maintained for 4 weeks after the 2014 study (1). Collagen hydrolysate has also been found to reduce joint pain in athletes when 10g was taken daily for 24 weeks - interestingly, athletes studied did not yet have joint/bone changes in their joints but still reported a reduction in pain levels during walking, lifting and at rest (2). Collagen hydrolysate was also found to be a safe and tolerable nutritional supplement that improved cartilage synthesis as well as significantly improving pain in older people with osteoarthritis (3, 4) (I'll be doing another post on other foods and supplements to help with osteoarthritis soon, so keep your eyes out for that).
Do skin products with collagen have the same effect?
Unfortunately not always, at least not in the miraculous way the big beauty companies and advertisements want you to think! And for the simple fact that collagen molecules are simply too big to be absorbed into the skin at a deeper level where it can be used effectively. Think about it: better skin cells need to be regenerated or produced right? Doesn't it make more sense that regenerating new cells needs to start from the inside out, which ultimately starts with providing the appropriate building blocks (in other foods food, or what we ingest) into you body so it can do this? These expensive products can definitely make your skin LOOK smoother and help hydrate your skin at a superficial level, but be wary of claims that collagen containing products will give you more youthful skin cells.
Where can I find it?
Bone broths are all the rage now but they've been around since your mum told you 'chicken soup was good for a cold'. Slowly cooking animal bones for extended periods of time releases the collagen, amino acids and proteins within them. This is why a good quality bone broth will become jelly-like or, appropriately, 'gelatinous' when cold. Bone broths are perhaps the most gentle way to ease into taking collagen and perfect for people with weak digestive systems as it is both soothing and easy to digest and absorb.
Not everyone has a slow or pressure cooker though so some other great ways to get collagen are:
Collagen hydrolysate is basically an easier to digest form of gelatin, which we all know as the setting agent used for jellies and panna cotta. The proteins have been hydrolysed or broken down so they're easier to digest. It usually comes in a white powder and can be dissolved in either hot or cold water so easier to include in your diet (I put a scoop in my coffee but my partner is happy to put it directly into his mouth!); it doesn't gel and the proteins in it are up to 95% bioavailable, higher than whey or pea protein, meaning your body absorbs more of what you take in. It's usually made from animal skin, hide and connective tissue so make sure you find a good, organic if possible, brand to ensure you're getting quality substances; after all you get what you put in! I use this brand: Great Lakes Collagen.
Collagen protein is what's usually referred to as gelatin. It needs to be dissolved in hot water and forms a gel. This form has been found to be most effective for bone and connective tissue but in large amounts can cause digestive issues, bloating and stomach aches if taken too quickly. This doesn't mean avoid it, it just means, as with anything, start small, see how it makes you feel, and build up slowly.
How to take it
Start with ½ -1 teaspoon a day, taken in the evening before bed or in the AM in your coffee
Slowly increase by 1 teaspoon every 2 weeks – some practitioners recommend that collagen can make up to about 30% total protein intake, so up to 3-6 tablespoons a day (1 tbs= 6g protein)
The studies looked at used 10g which is approximately 2 teaspoons or 2/3 of a tablespoon. I would always recommend using the minimum amount shown to have benefits - although shown to be safe and tolerated by most people, more is not necessarily always better.
As always, it is important to consult a health professional to ensure you're on the right track and to always, always listen to your body about whether this is something that works for you! Remember too, that nutrients obtained through food are metabolised and absorbed much differently than supplements and should always be your starting point when making any dietary changes.
Proksch, E., Segger, D., Degwert, J., Schunck, M., Zague, V., & Oesser, S. (2014). Oral Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides Has Beneficial Effects on Human Skin Physiology: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Skin Pharmacology And Physiology, 27(1), 47-55. http://dx.doi.org/10.1159/000351376
Clark, K., Sebastianelli, W., Flechsenhar, K., Aukermann, D., Meza, F., & Millard, R. et al. (2008). 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Current Medical Research And Opinion, 24(5), 1485-1496. http://dx.doi.org/10.1185/030079908x291967
Bello, A., & Oesser, S. (2006). Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders:a review of the literature. Current Medical Research And Opinion, 22(11), 2221-2232. http://dx.doi.org/10.1185/030079906x148373
Benito-Ruiz, P., Camacho-Zambrano, M., Carrillo-Arcentales, J., Mestanza-Peralta, M., Vallejo-Flores, C., & Vargas-López, S. et al. (2009). A randomized controlled trial on the efficacy and safety of a food ingredient, collagen hydrolysate, for improving joint comfort. International Journal Of Food Sciences And Nutrition, 60(sup2), 99-113. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09637480802498820