Collagen: Health Trend or Superpower for Joint Health?



With new health trends and fads constantly on the rise, it is hard to keep up with which ones are beneficial for your health and longevity! One supplement that has stolen the spotlight recently is ingestible collagen for supporting joint health. Aging is a natural process that results in wear and tear of our joints, leading to inflammation, pain, and loss of range of motion. Often, this wear and tear may lead to different musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoarthritis. While we cannot reverse aging, taking supplements such as oral collagen can help to replenish the production of collagen in our body for restoration of structural support and strength of our joints (Bonus: collagen is also restorative for our skin and may reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles).




What is collagen and why should we add ingestible collagen into our diet?

Collagen, also known as the body’s “scaffolding,” is a fibrous protein containing high amounts of amino acids that is found in connective tissue. Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the body, giving structure to our hair, skin, nails, bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. In fact, collagen makes up about ⅓ of all protein in the human body and collagen fibers make up nearly 70% of cartilage!1 As we age, our body’s ability to replenish collagen on its own decreases by about 1.5% each year, leading to loss of joint health.1 The number of chondrocytes also decreases over time, placing cartilage at risk for deformation during movement and osteoarthritic changes.2

While collagen as a whole cannot be broken down in the body, hydrolyzed collagen (or ingestible collagen), which is partially broken down, can be readily absorbed to stimulate the production of new collagen in joints and other tissues throughout the body. Researchers propose that this process happens through two mechanisms. One mechanism is that hydrolyzed collagen fragments activate fibroblasts (responsible for synthesizing collagen) and chondrocytes (responsible for cartilage formation) to increase their production of collagen. The second is that immune system cells recognize the hydrolyzed collagen fragments and activate fibroblasts to increase production of collagen.1 These mechanisms assist chondrocytes and fibroblasts in replacing and repairing the damaged collagen, leading to less pain and improvement in mobility.


Types of collagen

Collagen peptides (the product sold in stores, like Vital Proteins) are typically derived from bovine connective tissue or fish. There are at least 16 different types of collagen, but nearly 80-90% of collagen in the body consists of type I, II, or III. These are also the most common types that you will find in supplemental collagen.

  • Type I collagen is the most prevalent type of collagen in the body. Type I collagen helps to preserve levels of collagen in the skin, hair, and nails. It is also a major component in tendons, organs, and bones. After age 25, type I collagen begins to decline.3

  • Type II collagen is a major building block of cartilage. It is also beneficial for the skeletal system in general, so regularly active people may want to consider adding type II collagen into their diet.3

  • Type III collagen is found in reticular fibers such as bone marrow. It helps form arterial walls, making it important for cardiovascular health. Type III collagen is often found alongside type I collagen.3

What does the research say?

  • It has been shown that participants suffering from OA who took supplemental collagen had a significant reduction in pain, stiffness, and an increase in physical functioning and quality of life compared to the placebo group.1

  • A randomized, double blind pilot trial was conducted on participants with mild OA who took 10 g of hydrolyzed collagen daily for 24 weeks and 48 weeks. Imaging confirmed improvement in their cartilage, suggesting that orally administrated collagen peptides have potentially protective effects and may delay the progression of OA.2

  • In a series of preclinical studies, Osser et al found that collagen hydrolysate accumulates in cartilage tissue where it stimulates the production of type II collagen, which is a major protein found in articular cartilage.4

  • Another clinical study demonstrated that when patients diagnosed with OA ingested 7-10 grams of collagen hydrolysate per day for 3 months, participants had a “reduction in pain, decreased dependency on pain medications, and improvements in leg strength.”4

  • While many studies demonstrated that ingestible collagen is useful for those with OA, other investigators wanted to examine if athletes with joint pain could benefit from collagen hydrolysate as well. One hundred athletes at the Olympic training site in Essen, Germany with exercise related joint pain took 10 g/day of collagen hydrolysate for 12 weeks. Seventy-eight percent of these subjects reported decreased pain with movement after 12 weeks.4


Recommendations and conclusions

Not all hydrolyzed collagen is created equal. Make sure to look for pasture raised or grass fed, antibiotic free, and sustainably sourced to ensure good quality collagen (Vital Proteins is my favorite brand). Collagen peptides typically come in powdered form or in a capsule. Powdered collagen does not have a taste and can easily be added into your morning cup of coffee, smoothies, or baked goods! The recommended dosage of oral collagen varies but taking 10-20 grams per day appears to be standard.3 You can always check the packaging for the recommended dosage.

In conclusion, adding ingestible collagen into your diet alongside regular physical activity and healthy eating can help support joint health. Collagen helps to maintain the integrity of cartilage, fighting against degenerative joint diseases such as OA and exercise related joint pain. While collagen peptides are not the end all be all, it may be worth the hype when it comes to protecting your joints!



References

  1. Cooper J. Oral Collagen Improves Skin and Joint Health. Life Extension. 2020;26(12):44-48. Accessed November 29, 2020.

  2. Czajka A, Kania EM, Genovese L, et al. Daily oral supplementation with collagen peptides combined with vitamins and other bioactive compounds improves skin elasticity and has a beneficial effect on joint and general wellbeing. Nutrition Research. 2018;57:97-108.

  3. Gavilanes G. What Is Collagen? Vital Proteins. https://www.vitalproteins.com/blogs/stay-vital/what-is-collagen. Published November 28, 2019. Accessed November 29, 2020.

  4. Kristine L. Clark, Wayne Sebastianelli, Klaus R. Flechsenhar, et al. 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Current Medical Research & Opinion. 2008;24(5):1485-1496.