Collagen is the cool new kid on the block and with good reason! Let’s look at why this is the supplement on everybody’s lips.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein. It is the main component of the different connective tissues (ligaments, muscles, skin, nails and tendons) found in our bodies. Collagen makes up about 30% of our body’s protein count. It can be found in our blood vessels, gastrointestinal tract, corneas, intervertebral discs and even the dentin in teeth. Muscle tissue consists of 1 – 6% of collagen, depending on how strong and tendinous the muscle is.
Collagen can’t be absorbed in its whole form, so it gets broken down into amino acids, which the body then uses to make its own proteins and collagen. There are 19 types of different amino acids found in collagen. Collagen contains high levels of hydroxyproline, proline and glycine. Hydroxyproline is not found in any other form of protein which makes collagen quite special. However, collagen does lack one of the nine essential amino acids, tryptophan.
The different types of collagen?
There have been 29 different types of collagen identified. The main ones found in the body are type 1, 2 or 3.
Type 1 is the most prevalent one and can be found in our bones, tendons and ligaments. It also helps with the skin’s elasticity and strength.
Type 2 is mainly present in cartilage. Collagen aids in the repair and growth of the cartilage tissue. Type 3 goes hand in hand with type 1 and is thus also found in skin, internal organs and blood vessels.
Dietary sources and supplements of collagen
Food sources that are rich in collagen include any meat that contains muscle or connective tissue of sorts. Egg whites, milk and fish are also a good animal source. Bone broth, not stock, is quickly becoming a very popular food source. Bone broth is simmered over 24 hours and contains lots of minerals and nutrients. Spirulina adds to the list as an algal source of collagen. Gelatine used in foods is irreversibly hydrolysed collagen.
Collagen supplements are made from different connective tissues, such as cartilage and tendons from animals – mostly pigs, cows and fish. As explained by Jayne Seijin Joo (Director of Cosmetic Dermatology at UC Davis Health) the connective tissues are heat-treated, which turns the collagen into gelatine.
The gelatine gets degraded to hydrolysates, which can then further be broken down into peptides. The peptides can easily be absorbed through our gut. This increases the bioavailability of the collagen.
As stated by Nutritional Solutions SA, your body can’t tell if you ate lentils, a chicken breast or a hydrolysed collagen supplement. To the body they are all sources of protein – once broken down into amino acids, they are indistinguishable.
Other co-factors that aid in the production of collagen in the body are vitamin C, zinc and sulphur. Vitamin C proves to be the most important one, as it not only helps with collagen production but also adds the antioxidant benefit. So, vitamin C fights off the oxidative stressors that can harm existing collagen. Foods rich in the powerhouse vitamin include strawberries, citrus fruits, peppers and tomatoes. Sulphur is found in garlic, onions, broccoli and zinc-rich foods include nuts, red meats, beans, dairy, whole grains and some seafoods.
Some health claims include:
- Bones and joints: May improve pain levels in osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis (therapeutic dose-dependent)
- Skin: Can improve hydration and some signs of ageing
- Improved energy levels
- Improved circulation
- Can reduce the appearance of cellulite
- Better health nail and hair