Collagen – Another Whole Food Benefit

You may have grown up hearing the wisdom of using gelatin to improve your hair and nail quality and growth.  It seemed that this wisdom was fading (at least in the USA) away.  Over the last couple of years, there has been a resurgence in understanding that should cause many to reconsider their dietary habits. 

North American diets are typically low in bone and gristle, also referred to as tendon or cartilage. Unfortunately, many discard this part of their meat dish into the trash.  However, in much of the rest of the world, it is understood that people should include non-flesh animal products to help maintain a youthful energy and appearance. These products can be used as a soup or stew ingredient, as a thickener for broths or eaten seasoned on its own.

These non-flesh products are rich in collagen, glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and elastin, as well as many other important nutrients.  Perhaps, the underlying assumption in the West is that since there are relatively few “essential” amino acids in the bone and gristle, that our bodies can make what it needs by just eating the flesh of the meat.  This approach fails to appreciate the current scientific literature on the subject.  There are now dozens of peer-reviewed papers on collagen supplementation and bioavailability, the majority of these supporting a beneficial effect.  These effects include improved body composition,  collagen deposition,  bone density, and, of course, cosmetic effects.

Early work involved radiolabelling studies in mice.  They showed that the oral collagen peptide supplementation can be directly incorporated into cartilage and joint tissue, not broken down and remade. Joint collagen peptide incorporation is reported here:   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10498764.

A more recent paper supporting oral supplementation is:  Oral Ingestion of Collagen Hydrolysate Leads to the Transportation of Highly Concentrated Gly-Pro-Hyp and Its Hydrolyzed Form of Pro-Hyp into the Bloodstream and Skin.

How the peptides end up in the joint and incorporated into the matrix is open to debate but digested collagen also likely acts as functional peptides, stimulating maintenance and repair.

Fibroblasts are found throughout the body and help maintain tissue strength and integrity.  They produce many types of collagen, with types I and III predominating.   And while the production is sufficient for our needs for decades, our machinery starts to diminish about 1.5% annually after age 25. By age 45, collagen levels may have dropped by as much as 30%.  So if you are over age 40, the odds are that your ability to maintain your joints is poor.  This is about the same time you will note a loss of skin tone, turgor, and more wrinkles.

While looking good is usually not far away from most people’s minds, many of our readers are more interested in “deeper” issues like pain, regeneration, and wellness.  Well, gelatin, or dietary undenatured (non-hydrolyzed) collagen, has already been shown to reduce knee pain and stiffness and improve function in a multicenter randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. 

Click here for a more recent paper on hydrolyzed collagen.  Daily oral consumption of hydrolyzed type 1 collagen is chondroprotective and anti-inflammatory in murine posttraumatic osteoarthritis.

While admittedly, there needs to be more research on the subject, it is worth noting reports of negative effects are rare.

chicken broth with vegetables and spices in a saucepanSo what if you are interested in putting this good stuff back in your diet?  Well, of course, start using and eating the whole animal.  Make bone broth and include the tendons and cartilage when you can.  If you find this too hard to do, then consider supplementation.

If want to supplement, there are a number of issues to consider.  Hydrolyzed collagen, now widely available, is broken down, enzymatically or chemically.  It is much easier to digest and more efficiently enters the body for transport.  Collagen comes in many forms, typically classified by their “type.”

  • Type I collagen is the most abundant collagen of the human body. It is present in scar tissue, the end product when tissue heals by repair, as well as tendons, ligaments,  the organic part of bone, and the dermis among others. 
  • Type II collagen is predominant in articular cartilage and hyaline (joint) cartilage.  It makes up approximately half of all protein in cartilage and 85-90% of collagen of joint cartilage.
  • Type-III collagen is a fibrous scleroprotein in bone, cartilage, dentin, tendon, bone marrow stroma and other connective tissue; it yields gelatin on boiling.

So what does this mean? 

collagen protein powder

Most supplements available provide types I and III.  This will likely be helpful, but if you are supplementing for joint or other orthopedic pains, you probably want to include Type II collagen.    There are some products that contain a mix of collagen types beyond the “standard” types I and III.  Alternatively, you could get both products and use them together. 

Type II is frequently derived from chicken sternum and so this another way to find this type of collagen (but not unequivocally as some chicken collagen preparation are still mostly types I and III.)

Looking at the data on whole,  peptides of 2.5-15kD are allowed passage through the intestinal wall.  So the collagen is not absorbed in whole units, it is in chunks, of a few percent, as large as 10% of the polymer unit.  So your supplement should probably have an average digestion level around the 5000 kD range.  The data on collagen dose is harder to come by, but you probably want around 5 grams per day.

So, in summary, collagen:

  • Supports joint function by strengthening cartilage and joint structure
  • Helps promote joint lubrication by replenishing the synovial fluid
  • Promotes joint comfort and mobility
  • Helps rebuild cartilage
  • Protects tendon and ligaments during intense exercise
  • Promotes tendon and ligament connective tissue recovery following intense exercise
  • Bonus counteracting both natural and photoaging of your skin

If you have a favorite supplement please post and tell us the particulars.

Food is most certainly Medicine,

Dr Miller


One thought on “Collagen – Another Whole Food Benefit

  1. The one I use and seems to be the most popular in the paleo/ancestral health community is by Great Lakes Collagen. The Unflavored Gelatan is good for hot liquids (tea, coffee, etc.) or very slowly pouring and stiring to minimizing clumping. The Hydrolysate Collagen is best for stiring into cold drinks. Since there is no flavor, you can add it to food and beverages without noticing it (unless it clumps).

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