Collagen is the foundation of our skin, connective tissues, cartilage, and bones.
It is the scaffolding, so to speak, that gives strength and youthful vigor to these important tissues.
With age, smoking, drinking, or chronic inflammation – collagen can break down and lead to signs of premature aging, osteoporosis, joint degeneration, arthritis, and more.
Peptides of collagen are high in amino acids, which promote mucosal health – such as in the eyes, mouth, and gut.
Collagen is also high in the amino acid glycine – which promotes calming neurotransmitters in the body, and plays a role in detoxification.
One theory behind why red meat consumption may be correlated with some health problems is that humans are not getting as much of the glycine residues that are rich in the skin, collagen, and cartilage of animals, as they do when most parts of the animal are used – not just the meat.
Some of this deficiency can be replaced with collagen supplementation – and collagen peptides and related amino acids are some of the most popular products in the store as evidenced by the likes of MegaMucosa, Collagen Peptides: Youthful Skin, Collagen Peptides: Skin, Joint, and Muscle, and Whole Body Collagen in increasing “potency” of collagen support.
Collagen is high in peptides such as proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline – which are the raw materials used in the body’s production of collagen (1). Collagen is like elastic rebar that can cross-link and give structure, function, vigor, hydration, stability and more to hair, skin, nails, bone, organs and more.
Collagen on its own can be tough to digest and free up its individual peptides. Collagen hydroxylates (hydrolyzed collagen) will break down collagen into easy-to-digest peptides that serve as structural building blocks and communication messengers in the body.
It’s been shown in an analysis of human blood that a marker of skin and joint support do increase and peak over a 2 hour period following the ingestion of collagen peptides (2). The same marker is correlated with a boost in tissue-building activity and hyaluronic acid levels (3).
The research supports a general “proof-of-concept” that supplemental intake of collagen peptides triggers tissue-building activities and repair and the peptides are not just being used up as energy by the body.
Some collagen peptides will add more rigidity to tissues, others more elasticity.
I pay less attention to the collagen subtypes as I tend to use the Whole Body Collagen which contains all subtypes – with the idea that the body will choose to incorporate them in the ratios it wants.
As skin appearance is a strong motivator, many formulas focus on skin-focused collagen peptides – but generally, a need for skin support likely indicates a need for collagen support across the entire body
While not intended to be a full protein supplement, collagen contains an array of amino acids that serve as important building blocks to body tissues, including the mucosal layer of the gut and the relaxing neurotransmitter GABA.
I will add collagen powder to smoothies or in addition to prebiotic or other supplement powders – especially after workouts.
If using as part of post-workout recovery, remember that not all essential amino acids are provided by collagen powders and dietary protein or other supplemental protein may be needed to meet intended recovery needs.
The collagen powders I use will generally have a neutral taste and smooth texture. Some bone broth powders that boast high collagen content will have a soup-like taste to them that may not be preferred.
In my opinion, you do not run into such a taste concern with the neutral-taste of Whole Body Collagen.
Benefits of Collagen Peptides
Anti-Aging Benefits – Skin and Hair Structure and Quality
- Aging mice supplemented with collagen improved skin appearance and structure – including objective improvements in collagen levels, the ratio of collagen subtypes, and antioxidant functions of superoxide dismutase and glutathione.
The authors reported that hair quality, color, and “luster” were also visibly improved in the mice receiving supplemental collagen when compared to the control mice (4).
- A human, double-blind, randomized controlled trial was conducted with 64 individuals. The treatment group was given a collagen peptide with high glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline amino acid content. The findings were published in a 2018 issue of Nutrients.
- Results of the trial showed significant improvements in skin hydration, wrinkling, and elasticity over 6 and 12 weeks of supplementation (5)
- A 2019 article in Nutrients further supported the findings with a randomized trial involving 72 women over 35 years of age. The treatment group received a drink that contained collagen peptides, vitamins and botanicals.
- Results of the 12-week study demonstrated improvements in hydration and elasticity, and expanded analysis also revealed improvements in skin roughness and density (6)
Collagen – Bone, Joint, and Muscle Health and Recovery
- A larger, 120-person trial examined results of fish collagen peptides taken alongside, vitamins, minerals, and chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine.
- Results demonstrated a 40% improvement in skin elasticity, a 39% increase in joint mobility, and a 43% decrease in joint pain after 90 days of supplementation.
- Microscopic evaluation of skin biopsy showed improvements in collagen organization and elastin health (7).
- A randomized, clinical trial of 102 post-menopausal women taking 5 grams of a collagen peptide supplement per day over 12-months had significant increases in bone mineral density of the femur and spine, as well as improved blood markers of bone formation and bone degradation when compared to placebo (8)
- A small randomized controlled trial was recently published in Amino Acids that reported moderate improvements in 48-hour muscle soreness and quicker recovery of muscle performance when collagen peptides were taken after a strenuous workout (9)
- A larger randomized controlled study of 139 athletic individuals with knee pain also reported significant improvements in knee pain for the treatment group when compared to placebo. The study used 5 grams of a collagen peptide supplement over 12 weeks (10).
Whole Body Benefits of Collagen
- Proline peptides like those in collagen can have effects beyond the structure of skin, hair, bone and cartiliage. They can support the health and repair of the gut mucosa, immune function, and cardiovascular system (11).
- Collagen peptides may also help with cell activities such as growth and the ability of specialized cells to migrate to their target areas of the body (12). The connective tissue of the body was though of just as structural “filler” – but it is increasingly recognized as biologically important.The connective tissue scaffolding offers support and elasticity, but may also serve as a web-like highway system for cells and their byproducts to move around the body.
Collagen and Tryptophan
Thousands of people take collagen peptides with no issue. It is a safe supplement used widely and available in most health shops and major grocery chains.
Collagen peptides are not a complete protein source and do not contain the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin. Serotonin imbalances (both high and low) can cause mood disturbances.
When you take a bunch of a amino acids – your body uses them to build things in the body. When you take collagen peptides you increase the amino acids available to make things – and this helps with everything mentioned above – bone health, mucosal health, and more.
But if your protein source lacks key amino acids, over time, you might promote a relative deficiency in those missing amino acids.
Because collagen peptides do not contain tryptophan – if you over-depend on it as a source of protein in your diet as a supplement, in smoothies, and more, your relative need for tryptophan may increase when taking collagen peptides.
Some individuals may be more susceptible to this than others based on genetic differences in their amino acid and neurotransmitter metabolism.
If collagen supplementation seems to be associated with excitation, insomnia, or anxiety (when collagen’s high glycine content should preferentially promote relaxation), it may indicate an extra need for tryptophan – not necessarily a poor tolerance to the collagen itself.
If one suspects that collagen may be contributing to anxiety – one might start with 500mg of L-tryptophan and see if it helps. A tryptophan powder can also help you get specific with intake – and be added directly to smoothies or drinks with collagen.
You should know within 30 minutes -2 hours if it’s helping or and the tryptophan need is related to your symptoms. You may need to take 1000mg or more initially but I wouldn’t play too high with L-tryptophan if you’re unsure of what you’re doing.
If you are on serotonin medication (ex/ SSRI’s) – check with your health professional before experimenting. I find it amusing that medical purists will decry supplements as useless – but on the same breath voice concern over potential synergistic reactions once you’re on a medication. Nevertheless, it shows that you want to be mindful with your self-administration of new supplements.
Also, once you resupply your tryptophan levels – it is possible that you may only need to cycle it in occasionally.
You may also make sure that you’re including whole protein food sources (eggs, beef, turkey, chicken, fish, quinoa, etc) during the day, or simultaneously supplementing with a complete protein powder.
Remember, anxiety can be caused by lots of things, so a night of insomnia doesn’t always have to relate back to the collagen you took earlier that day – but it is something to keep in mind if you choose to take collagen supplements routinely and anxiousness or insomnia seem to correlate with the intake. If one is prone to serotonin excess genetically – collagen peptides might also be used strategically daily to help promote normal levels.
Bone broth contains collagen residues, but also contains glutamine and is a dietary source of histamine.
Glutamine can be relaxing in some – and excitatory in others – yet otherwise is amazing for mucosal lining, immune support and to help stave off muscle wasting with age or illness.
Histamine can also be excitatory – and is associated with a wide range of symptoms including anxiousness, diarrhea, and insomnia.
If bone broth is your source of collagen – keep glutamine and histamine issues in mind as issues may not be related to the collagen content.
A functional medicine provider can help you navigate and personalize these guidelines if you suspect a collagen-related tryptophan issue.
Collagen, Oxidative Stress, and Vitamin C
The degree of oxidative stress on the body from inflammatory disease can be measured, in part, by looking at the amount of collagen damage.
Skin health is an important sign of deeper issues smoldering under the surface that should be addressed before other signs and symptoms of disease develop.
The easiest way to describe free radicals is to visualize them as ricocheting bullets bouncing around causing damage to cell membranes and the vulnerable DNA and organelles. Collagen fibers inevitably take the brunt of the collateral damage.
Smoking, high stress, sun damage, immune compromise, and poor diet (high sugar, high intake of unstable fats) are associated with oxidative stress, loss of protective antioxidants, and ultimate damage to the body, including collagen.
Inability to keep up with collagen production and repair leads to the physical and cellular signs of aging.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that humans are unable to make on their own. It is involved in the production of collagen and lack of vitamin C levels may inhibit collagen production. It also can be used up faster when under higher amounts of stress.
Vitamin C also promotes repair of mucosal tissues like those in the mouth and gut, acts as a general antioxidant, and serves valuable immune functions.
It’s one of the most researched vitamins in existence and just because it’s not the newest compound in the anti-aging conversation – doesn’t mean the decades of research on vitamin C just were voided either.
- You may optimize the ability of your body to utilize the collagen peptides by combining a whole body collagen supplement with vitamin C.
- We use C-1000 plus by Progressive Labs, which is combined with buffering and anti-inflammatory bioflavonoids.
- Megamucosa also contains bioflavonoids. Bioflavonoid content may also help support oxidative stress and inflammation, in addition to the natural support of stress response, mucosal health, and collagen synthesis and repair.
Collagen can be an effective anti-aging supplement, the biological functions show the benefits can extend far beyond just skin, bone, and joint health.