Collagen seems to be the latest big hype in the world of health, fitness and beauty. There’s collagen-everything these days… collagen protein, collagen bars, all sorts of collagen supplements and drinks and even a collagen coffee.
Is it just another fad or does it actually work? Is it better to put a collagen cream on your face or should you snack on a collagen bar instead?
The information out there can be confusing and misleading so we’ve saved you the hassle and summarised the main facts about 2018’s hottest supplement. Here it goes…
What is collagen?
Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in the human body and a key structural component of connective tissues such as muscles, bones, skin, blood vessels, digestive system and ligaments and tendons. It really sucks that our body produces less and less of it as we age.
Every year from 20 onwards, the collagen formation in our skin decreases by around 1 percent and breakdown pretty much skyrockets from the age of 40.
What does it mean? The less collagen you have, the wrinklier, less elasticated skin and weaker tendons you get.
So, is it really possible to slow down the ageing process and prevent joint injuries by including collagen in your diet? Let’s take a closer look…
Gelatin and collagen peptides
There’s no vegan friendly collagen supplement, as collagen can be only extracted from the connective tissues of animals. (Most supplements are made either from bovine or marine collagen).
However, the molecules found in animal tissues are too large to be digested and absorbed by the human body so they need to be broken down (by the hydrolysation process) into gelatin or collagen peptides.
Gelatin is partially hydrolysed collagen, which we can find for example in bone broth. Hydrolysation breaks collagen down into amino acid strands, making it easier to digest and more bioavailable.
The more gelatin in your broth, the more jelly-like the broth is when cooled. Broth that stays watery when cool doesn’t have much gelatin in it.
Don’t freak out – these are not some injectable bodybuilding supplements.
Collagen peptides are obtained when the amino acid strands are hydrolysed even further and broken into individual particles (peptides), which is what you find in collagen supplements. In this form, the collagen is easy to digest and highly bioavailable.
Unlike gelatin, collagen peptides do not gel and can be dissolved in both warm and cold water.
Gelatin has about 60 percent availability, while more than 90 percent of collagen peptides are digested and available in the blood stream within one hour.
The collagen peptides are then transported into the target tissues, e.g. skin, bones and cartilage, where they act as building blocks for local cells and help boost the production of new collagen fibres.
This, of course depends on the health of your gut, your diet and other contributing factors.
Factors affecting collagen in your body
Vitamin C is a key factor in collagen synthesis and new collagen fibres can’t form without it. Furthermore, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that protects our body against free radicals, which damage our collagen and cause premature ageing.
Sugar in the bloodstream attaches to collagen and elastin molecules via the glycation process, forming harmful new molecules called ‘advanced glycation end products’ (AGE’s).
The more sugar you eat, the more AGE’s you develop, and the more collagen and elastin fibres get damaged.
The glycation process also transforms the most stable and long-lasting collagen fibres to more fragile fibres. This is one of the main reasons sugar makes us age on both the inside and outside.
Too many AGE’s causes the skin to wrinkle, negatively impacts the biomechanical properties of tendons and leads to gut issues (due to damage caused to the intestinal lining resulting in inflammation).
If that wasn’t bad enough, sugar competes with vitamin C for space in cells due the similarities in their chemical structure.
Diets high in sugar leads to low levels of vitamin C, thus inhibiting formation of new collagen fibres.
For this reason, watch out for supplements that are high in sugar and don’t contain vitamin C because the likelihood is, they probably won’t work!
High levels of cortisol, the so-called ‘stress hormone’, stimulate degradation of collagen fibres and caffeine inhibits collagen synthesis in the body.
This means that if you’re drinking coffee while chronically stressed you’re almost guaranteed to be speeding up the ageing process.
Tobacco smoking and UV rays damage the collagen in your skin and autoimmune disorders can lead to collagen damage anywhere in your body.
Possible benefits of supplementation
– Improved joint health and mobility (via improving strength, elasticity and healing of the tendons and ligaments).
– Improved quality and growth of hair, skin and nails.
– Reduced symptoms and healing of gut issues such as leaky gut (gut permeability), colitis, Crohn’s disease, IBS, acid reflux and gut-related autoimmune disorders.
– Improved neurological conditions via brain-gut connection (hyperactivity, memory loss/brain-fog, and depression).
– Reduced systemic inflammation via improved gut health.
Collagen for injury prevention and rehabilitation
Recent research suggests that collagen could improve age-related joint issues as well as prevent injuries and aid post-injury recovery.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that supplementation with 15g of vitamin C enriched gelatin one hour prior to a specific tendon-training program has lead to a doubled collagen synthesis in the targeted tendons.
Other studies have found improved connective tissue structure and function and reduced pain with just 10g of gelatin ingested 30-60 minutes before a workout.
The collagen synthesis started to accelerate four hours post workout and maintained for up to 72 hours!
Based on the research findings, several top sports teams around the world have been trialling this protocol including some high-profile Aussie teams.
You don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from supplementation though.
Just keep in mind that a healthy diet and physical activity has to be addressed first. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle and your diet consists of processed foods, sugary treats, alcohol and cigarettes, there’s no amount of supplements that can save you from developing several health issues, including sore joints that are prone to injury.
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING
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