Collagen: Is It All Sizzle & No Steak?
Collagen has taken the supplement world by storm. It's been highly touted by athletes and celebrities and thousands of consumers who have left raving online reviews after using it. Even the research community has paid a great deal of attention to collagen, and over the past ten years, we've seen a significant increase in the number of studies looking at the benefits of collagen. With all that said, is collagen the real deal or just another fad that is all sizzle and no steak?
Collagen – Not Just A Skin/Joint Supplement
Collagen has all too often been pigeon-holed as a beauty or joint supplement when it offers so many more benefits. Both collagen and its dominant amino acid glycine, have been researched for arthritis, osteoporosis, sarcopenia, muscle support, diabetes, sleep, heart disease, cystic fibrosis, wound healing, etc. Some of these benefits are from the collagen peptides themselves & others are from the remarkably high glycine content that collagen provides – more on this later in this post.
What is Collagen?
Collagen makes up 30% of the total protein in the human body1 ,2. Collagen is both a key structural protein and the most abundant protein in the human body. Structural proteins are defined as "a category of proteins responsible for functions ranging from cell shape and movement to providing support to major structures such as bones, cartilage, hair, and muscles. This group includes proteins such as collagen, actin, myosin, and keratin."3
Is There More Than One Type of Collagen?
To date, 28 types of collagen are known to exist in the body4. Of these 28, there are 3 types of collagen that are most noteworthy and the ones most often represented in hydrolyzed collagen supplements:
Type I Collagen
Most abundant collagen in the body (90% of total collagen)
Found in skin, tendons, ligaments, dentin (a component of teeth), vascular tissue, organs, bones
Gram for gram stronger than steel
Type II Collagen
Found in cartilage, vitreous humor (jellylike tissue of the eye)
Makes up 50% of all protein in cartilage
Type III Collagen
2nd most abundant form
Typically found alongside type I collagen
Found in skin, muscle, blood vessels, intestines, uterus
Where is Collagen Found?
Although most people associate collagen with skin and joints, collagen's function extends well beyond these two areas. This should be obvious in part by the fact that collagen can be found in so many tissues:
|• Skin||• Cartilage||• Ligaments||• Tendons|
|• Muscle||• Intestines||• Bones||• Teeth|
|• Nails||• Eyes||• Blood Vessels||• Hair|
Our Traditional Diets Were Rich in Collagen
With traditional diets very little of the animal goes to waste. In most parts of the world, collagen-rich meals are still a staple. Although this may be "gross" to some, people outside of North America regularly consume organ meats, skin, tendon, gristle (cartilage), bone, and gelatinous cuts of meat. Not so in North America. In our part of the world, the muscle protein portion of the animal is consumed, and the rest is typically not. That said, bone broth has seen a surge in popularity, and those individuals consuming it are getting more collagen than those who do not. For a simple bone broth recipe, scroll to the bottom of this post.
Why Should We Eat More Collagen?
For non-vegans/vegetarians, meats and eggs are still the most commonly consumed sources of protein. I'll leave the importance of consuming more plant proteins and the health benefits they provide for a future post. Both meats and eggs provide a rich source of the essential amino acid methionine. So what, you might ask? Elevated methionine levels have been shown to increase homocysteine which has been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, etc.
By contrast, collagen is very low in methionine and very rich in the amino acid glycine. In fact, collagen is the richest food source of glycine known. Although glycine has been traditionally classified as a "non-essential" amino acid (i.e. an amino acid you can make), evidence suggests glycine is more "essential" than once thought. This understating has resulted in glycine being reclassified as a conditionally essential amino acid (i.e. an amino acid that under certain conditions we may need to consume through diet/supplementation). It's also worth noting that studies over the past 20 years have suggested that our present intake of glycine is woefully insufficient to meet our metabolic needs5. One study, in particular, stated that ones "…quality of life can be improved by taking glycine as a nutritional supplement…"6 Balancing the high intake of methionine (arguably from excessive meat and egg consumption) with glycine would be prudent.
Eat More Collagen = Get More Glycine
Glycine has many metabolic uses and is a precursor to:
- Synthesis of proteins, especially collagen and elastin
- Glutathione (critical for detox and immunity) glutathione production requires L-Cysteine, L-Glutamic acid, & Glycine.
- Porphyrins (needed for hemoglobin)
- Purines (needed for DNA, RNA, ATP, NADH..)
- Creatine (Arginine, Methionine, & Glycine)
- Bile salts (for digestion of fats and fat-soluble nutrients)
Based on current evidence, we should be consuming 10 g more glycine per day than we are presently consuming. Dietary glycine has been shown to: extend lifespan7, support the mitochondria (the "engines" that fuel our cells) in skin cells8, 9, and may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Given the growing epidemic of type 2 diabetes10, the role of glycine is noteworthy. There's evidence that ones "...glycine level may be a strong predictor of diabetes, even 7 years before disease onset."11
We Need A Methionine-Glycine Balance
Not only are we not consuming enough glycine, but we are also consuming things that deplete glycine. One such ingredient is benzoic acid aka sodium benzoate. Benzoic acid is used regularly in the food industry as a preservative. Sodium benzoate is a common preservative found in salad dressings, jams, fruit juices, pickles, some medicines & cosmetics. It is also found in some so¬ drinks.
The Research Proven Benefits of Collagen Are Remarkable
- Supports Muscle Mass 12, 13, 14, 15, 16
- Protects Against Sarcopenia (Age-Associated Muscle Loss) 17
- Reduces Appearance Of Cellulite 18
- Supports Your Skin 19, 20
- Improves Wound Healing 21
- Protects Your Joints 22, 23, 24, 25
- Supports Your Bones 26
- Supports Your Gut 27
- Glycine Improves Sleep Quality 28, 29, 30
What Is Hydrolyzed Collagen? 31, 32
When looking for collagen-based supplements, we often see the word "collagen" preceded by the word "hydrolyzed." When you hydrolyze collagen, you're breaking down the collagen protein into smaller fragments (known as peptides). Hydrolyzing collagen allows for it to be more readily absorbed and may enhance its solubility33. Most studies that have looked at collagen's benefits have used hydrolyzed collagen. The process of hydrolyzing collagen typically involves the use of proteolytic enzymes (i.e. enzymes that break down protein). These enzymes break down the bonds that hold proteins together and make the large protein molecule smaller and more readily absorbed.
Marine vs Bovine Collagen – What's The Difference?
One difference is obvious, marine collagen is sourced from fish, and bovine collagen is from cow. Marine contains Type I collagen, and bovine contains both Type I and Type III collagen. For some, fish-sourced collagen may be more appealing for religious or dietary reasons, while for others, the appeal of consuming two types of collagens provided for by bovine collagen may be more appealing. If you're looking for the biggest therapeutic bang for your buck, bovine sourced collagen takes the prize.
What Makes North Coast Naturals Boosted Bovine or Marine Collagens Special?
- 10 G of Premium Non-GMO Hydrolyzed Collagen
- Provides 10 g of premium hydrolyzed collagen sourced from either pasture-raised, grass-fed cattle or sustainably harvested fish. Free of added hormones or antibiotics. Dissolves easily in beverages.
- Supports Your Own Collagen Production
- Unlike most other collagen products on the market, the addition of glycine, lysine, vitamin C, and biotin support your body's ability to make its own collagen. These added nutrients make this one of the most balanced collagen products on the market today!
- Added L-Tryptophan
- Collagen lacks the amino acid L-Tryptophan. As a result, collagen is an incomplete protein. By adding tryptophan to this formula, it is now a complete protein.
Bone Broth Recipe
- 2 Onions
- 1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1 Bay Leaf
- Herbs (Rosemary, Oregano, Etc. - To Taste
- 10 - 12 Cups Water
- Set the slow cooker on low, cover and cook for 18 to 36 hours
- Let cool and pour broth into ice cup tray and freeze. This allows one to use a cube of broth when cooking
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Disclaimer: The information in this article has not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or Health Canada. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek competent medical advice before making any significant changes to your normal eating pattern.