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Collagen: Everything You Need To Know

You've been asking about this topic for a while, and I'm so glad to discuss it today and get to share this information with you about collagen.

And this topic, it's going to be comprehensive. We're going to talk about what is collagen.

Collagen peptides?

How is it made?

How do you take it?

What's the difference between the different forms like powder, liquid, capsule, and topical, which ones work, which ones don't, and what should you do?

How is it absorbed?

How much should you take? How long should you take it? Is it safe?

What are some good brands?

So really thorough. And I hope you find a lot of value.

I'm Ashley Oswald. I'm a registered dietitian, and founder of Oswald Digestive Clinic, where we help people improve and eliminate bothersome gut issues. So things like gas, bloat, diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, and so much more.

So let's go ahead and dive right in.

What is Collagen?

So an easy way to think about collagen is that its protein. It has certain amino acids like glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and hydroxyproline is not in normal protein.

So that's kind of unique to collagen. And it's that glue that kind of holds the body together. So a quarter of our body is made up of collagen. So it's in our bones, it's in our skin and our tendons and ligaments and connective tissue, the cornea of our eyes and more so a quarter of the proteins in the body is collagen.

And it comes from the hide on animals or like the skin on animals is what we take to then produce the supplemental form of collagen.

And we're going to talk later on about how you can get it from food as well. And what are some of the differences?

And so the collagen production in the body starts to decline when people enter their thirties like age, and that's why starting in the thirties or forties, people might start to notice more wrinkles because it's that collagen that helps to keep skin nice and smooth and wrinkle-free.

So like a baby's skin is smooth, right? Wrinkle-free. It's because they have a high supply of collagen. And then as we age, we start to lose collagen in the body just naturally.

So collagen is made from mostly animal hides like cow, pig, chicken, and fish are the most common for making supplemental collagen. Some are made out of egg shells too, but there's no such thing as vegan collagen for that reason. And how the collagen peptides are made is the hide of say, maybe a cow is first boiled.

So heat is used to help break it down into gelatin. And then enzymes are used to break down that gelatin into collagen peptides.

We have that protein that's coming from the animal hide and then the heat and those enzymes are breaking it down into smaller versions, which are called peptides. So then collagen peptides.

What are Collagen Peptides?

Peptides are little sequences of amino acids. So say you're eating a hamburger, that protein, your stomach acid, and your intestines break that protein down to amino acids in your body. And that's what gets absorbed into your body to be used. And so these peptides are like multiple amino acids together, but those can get broken down into single amino acids.

And that's what I mentioned, like the glycine, proline, or these amino acids coming from that bigger collagen protein. So it's just a bigger sort of molecule kind of being transported. So these peptides, the benefit of that is two parts. It's going to get absorbed into the body a bit better.

Gelatin versus Collagen

You might say, why don't we just eat the gelatin? Then there's some research saying that the absorption is about equal. So it's not that it's not necessarily that piece of it, but gelatin, if you've ever eaten it, doesn't dissolve very well in cold. So it's not as sort of user-friendly or practical.

So if we break it down to collagen peptides, you can mix it in cold. You can mix it into warm, hot, into everything. Whereas the gelatin, while you might get similar benefits, what we're going to talk about next, it's only going to dissolve into warmer, hotter liquids.

And so how does it get absorbed in the body then?

You eat those collagen peptides and it goes past your stomach and to your small intestine, and you have your enzymes coming from your pancreas and then enzymes on your brush border, which is the inside lining of your intestines, and these enzymes help to break down those peptides even further into those amino acids.

So there might be like three chains, two chains, one chain, a single amino acid that then is going to get absorbed into your bloodstream that can start to have those benefits on your body that we're going to talk about.

And there is some information going around online saying that we as humans absorb from certain animals, like cows better than other animals like fish.

And I just want to kind of bust this sort of myth because there's research also showing the opposite. So certainly you can like pick and choose your research, but you have to take a look at the big picture. And honestly, from a common sense standpoint, that doesn't even make sense because look at the Mediterranean diet and some of these diets and the blue zones around the world, where people are living long and healthfully, or they have a high amount of fish in their diet and they're getting collagen from the fish.

And so to say that we're more genetically aligned with these other animals, and that's why we can't absorb like the fish collagen is just not true. So I hope that's helpful.

And we checked this hydroxyproline in the urine, which gives an accurate marker of how much collagen you took in within six hours after taking the collagen. And the research also shows that there's some misinformation going around online.

And, it's certainly because certain companies are trying to distinguish themselves and want people to use their specific product, but just know that even the powdered collagen peptides, are going to get about 90% absorbed within 12 hours of you taking it.

Now, the reason somebody might not absorb is pretty rare, because think about it, we're breaking it down to peptides already. So it's like an easier form of protein for your body to tolerate. And if somebody is having trouble eating a hamburger or chicken, or just, beans or some sort of like whole protein, what we would do then is supplement with like a sort of peptide sort of protein in like a powder form.

So somebody can't absorb the collagen peptides in powder. I mean, that's probably a much more serious issue, pretty rare, and we'd have to start considering vein feeding, but I digress just trying to bust that myth that's going around there.

What does it even help with?

What can collagen peptides help with? And so the research is really around skin health and osteoarthritis.

1. Osteoarthritis inflammation of the joints, particularly knees is what you hear people complaining about.

2. Skin is mostly related to wrinkles. And so the collagen can help with hydration and elasticity. It's estimated that as adults, we lose about 1% of the collagen in our body every year. And supplementation with collagen, collagen peptides, could improve wrinkles by about 10 to 20%.

Women tend to have lower amounts of collagen naturally, so women might notice more benefits by taking supplemental collagen or focusing on food sources rich in collagen, which we'll get to.

3. Interestingly, it might have more benefits on skin that's had a lot of UV sunlight exposure, and that's because that UV light from the sun can activate enzymes that can break down the collagen in the skin quicker. And that's why you might hear to make sure to wear skin blocks so you don't get wrinkles. That would be the scientific reason for it.

And so I just want to add my 2-cents here because, in the culture of the United States, we see wrinkles as such a bad thing, right? And people are getting Botox even in their twenties, but why do we have to perceive it that way?

Other cultures, really celebrate aging and how the body changes with aging. And certainly, if somebody is getting a lot of wrinkles too early on symptoms like we could consider that information and maybe the collagen production is getting used up too fast, maybe a lot of sun exposure, that might lead to like joint issues down the road.

And that's where we would want to try to prevent some of those issues. But just for like cosmetic reasons maybe we can try to change our perspective as a society too, and, just embrace this aging process as well and try to let go of the stress that, we have to look a certain way.

I want this topic to be very health-focused and not superficial, like be Instagram perfect and take collagen sort of a thing.

And there's also some research showing promise with help with healing burns, healing pressure ulcers, and maybe some cognitive improvement, but we need more research in some of those other areas. So right now it's mostly skin health, hair, and osteoarthritis.

And so let's talk about how much you need to take for how long to start to show some benefits.

So for skin health, you want to take it for at least a month. And it might take up to six months to notice benefits.

And then

For joint health and joint pain, you'll want to try it for at least three months, probably up until six months before you stop.

So if you have osteoarthritis, give it at least half a year to see if you're noticing benefits. And the research does show that you just need between about one to nine grams a day to get the benefit.

And these are some more myths that I see floating around where you need at least seven grams or whatever, but one of the most well-researched types of collagen peptides, the research shows for that one versus all that 2.5 grams a day is effective.

Types of Collagen Peptides

There are mostly three main types. You're going to hear about type I, type II, and type III.

Type I and Type III are mostly helpful for skin. The most well-researched form or I guess a brand of this is Verisol. And I want to share the research stats with you here. And that's from pigs.

Type I - 2.5 grams a day was found to help with eye wrinkle reduction by 7.2% after four weeks and 20.1% at eight weeks. And after it stopped, it stayed decreased by about 11.5% more than the placebo.

Type II for joints.

And then I want to mention the vegetarian and vegan forms. So that vegetarian one, I briefly mentioned from the eggshells. It doesn't show to be super promising to tell you the truth. There might be a modest improvement in hair and like really modest in joint health.

But if you want to get the benefits from collagen peptides, you're going to have to, and want to use the animal forms and then vegan, there's no such thing you can support collagen production in the body by taking vegan sources elsewhere, like vitamin C to support your body's production of collagen.

But it's just not going to be as effective as getting the collagen from food or supplemental forms.

Different Forms of Collagen

And so let's dive into the different forms like the cream, is it worth the high price tag, liquid versus powder, which we kind of touched on already, and capsule.

Collagen powdered vs. Collagen capsules

So the different types of collagen or the different forms. So basically the powdered and the capsules are similar. It's just the capsules have a smaller amount because the powder you're taking a whole scoop, you're going to get more of the capsules.

You might just have a few grams, but that might be enough, right? I don't know why somebody would do the capsule over the powder outside of convenience for traveling because the powder, you can hardly taste it when you mix it into things. And capsules, I mean, who likes to take capsules? Some people do, and I don't.

Collagen Liquid

The liquid, then, there's some information online saying the liquid is better. It gets better absorbed. And then the analytical brain says, yeah, that makes sense. Right?

It's liquid, not powder. That would be better absorbed, but it doesn't matter. If you can't absorb the powder, there's something really serious going wrong with your gut because that's like proteins already broken down. So the liquid is not going to be better absorbed.

Collagen Creams

And then the creams that are all marketing, like they might have research saying, "Hey, look, this cream helps improve wrinkles" and they might not be lying, but it's probably, it's not the collagen in the product that's helping, it's the other ingredients in the product that's going to be helping. And so collagen can't get absorbed through the skin. So it's all marketing.

But those products might still give you benefits because they have things like vitamin A, vitamin C, glycolic acid and all of that helps to create collagen in the skin and then also can just help to protect the skin and in other ways, so if you want to notice the most benefit with your skin health, then you're going to want to just take some sort of supplemental or food-based form.

So that comes to the question, but are the supplements safe? They're pretty safe.

They're probably some of the safest supplements on the market. Research shows up to about 10 grams daily use for five months is safe. And it's just, cause we don't have that goes beyond that. Some of the reported adverse effects include nausea or diarrhea or headaches, but it's pretty rare.

But if you have a fish allergy, be super careful about buying a fish collagen product and avoid it. So any allergies like avoid what you have an allergen to, which you probably already know.

And then the other safety concern is for like all supplements. And that's just contamination, adulteration concerns. Which adulteration is just basically a product saying this is what's in it, but they maybe use a different ingredient as a filler to save money and whatever.

And so some third-party companies will test supplements that are on the shelves and look to see if there's heavy metal contamination, what's in there is actually what the label says, and a kind of price for value and things, too these companies are great.

And so with collagen supplements, one of them, was found to have high cadmium, which is a heavy metal and it was likely due to the cocoa in that product because cocoa's notorious for having high cadmium, but a lot of the other products reviewed it didn't have heavy metal contamination concerns. So that's good.

And then somebody asked me about fish versus cow versus pig.

Is there a better one to choose between those? And not honestly, to get really down to that, we'd have to do some investigative journalism and see exactly where are they getting the sources from down to when it gets onto the shelf.

I would personally probably steer more away from fish, just because of a lot of fish farming going on and fungal issues in the fish population. And for me, it just doesn't feel ethical. And when fish are being sold, they're usually being sold with the skin on.

So then I start to worry are they doing farming, fishing just to use the skin to get the collagen out of it, like to me, doing like a larger animal where the hide might get thrown away anyway, would be preferable because then at least we're using that whole animal and that hide again, it's being boiled down and that's, what's creating the collagen peptides.

I'm going to share a couple of companies that use grass-fed pasture-raised cow hides for their product, which seems to me what I would personally choose.

So then somebody also asked how you find quality collagen products.

So it's really about trusting the company and then using some of these third-party testing sites to make sure that this company is staying up to the standards that they're saying that they are, so I have names that I want to give you.

1. Verisol is a collagen peptide that has a lot of great research on it.

2. Collagen dynamic, Collagen Renew is a product that we like to use at our clinic. That one has a blend of different types of collagens. So it's good for the skin and joints.

And then there are two other companies that I respect when it comes to collagen. And these are the ones that are getting it from grass-fed pastured cows, so bovine.

1. Great Lakes Collagen