In recent years, collagen has become one of the ultimate buzzwords in the anti-ageing and wellness arenas, with a plethora of products available in every supermarket and boutique beauty store. But that’s not all - collagen has even more health benefits than just looking after our skin.
From drinks to capsules to topical creams, there is a collagen product for every eventuality, but what makes it so special? This guide is going to delve into the mysteries of collagen, how it’s formed, and what it’s useful for, as well as looking at the different sources on offer.
If you’ve never used collagen before, or just don’t know where to start, this is the place to be!
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the whole body. It is the main component of our bones, skin, muscles and ligament structures, but it is also found in tendons, as well as our gums and eyes. It has a fibrous quality, which means that it can add strength, structure and resilience to every cell in our body. This is most obvious in our skin, where a lack of collagen can bring about the visible signs of premature ageing such as wrinkles and dryness, and it is essential for ensuring elasticity and plumpness in the skin.
The bodies of all animals, humans included, rely on collagen, and there are 28 different types which have been discovered, although it is type I collagen which makes up 90% of this incredible protein in the human body (Naomi, Ridzuan and Bahari, 2021).
Our ability to create collagen declines as we age, and by age we mean each year after we turn 20 or so! Not only do our bodies produce less collagen each year as we get older, the quality of the collagen we produce is lower too. This is because of our exposure over time to free radicals, (such as UV rays from the sun, cigarette smoke, and environmental pollution), which can deplete our ability to create collagen even faster (Knuutinen et al., 2002)
How is collagen made in the body?
The body makes its own collagen in a process called collagen synthesis. To achieve this, the body needs to have access to the amino acids glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. When we eat protein, it is broken down into amino acids which are then used to build collagen during collagen synthesis. The body also requires the presence of other nutrients, such as copper, zinc, and vitamin c during collagen synthesis, and these may or may not be included in your collagen supplements.
What does collagen do?
Collagen has many different functions within the body including maintaining cell stability and resilience, but it is also known to be useful in many other areas. Here are just five of the biggest benefits collagen has on the body:
- Prevents premature ageing: Our skin is the largest organ in the human body, and it is vital that it is kept healthy. Collagen fibres bond with skin cells to keep them firm, but over time this bond degrades and the fibres themselves don’t renew themselves as effectively as they do in younger skin (Marcos-Garcés et al., 2014). Using a collagen supplement can help to improve the appearance of skin and prevent the early signs of ageing.
- Maintains joint and bone health: The drop in collagen as we age can also have an impact on our joints. The joints in the human body are protected from wear and tear by our cartilage. Without collagen, our cartilage can begin to degrade which leads to joint pain and stiffness, as well as reduced mobility and flexibility in the joint over time. It is believed that ingesting collagen (as an oral supplement) can help stimulate the body to make more collagen and target problem areas such as joints, which in turn helps to prevent bone density loss (Bello and Oesser, 2006).
- May help maintain gut health: Collagen gives structure to each cell in the body, which includes the lining of the stomach and intestines, and can help the body to repair damage in these areas (Chen et al., 2017)
- May help with heart health: For much the same reason as collagen can help to repair tissues in the gut, it might also have the ability to reduce our risk factors for various heart conditions as it helps to maintain the structure and function of our arteries (Tomosugi et al., 2017)
- May help to keep our hair and nails healthy: Collagen can help to reinforce our nails to keep them strong and healthy, as well as keeping hair hydrated and shiny (Hexsel et al., 2017).
Where do collagen supplements come from?
Bovine collagen comes from the skin, hide and connective tissue of cows, boiled in water to extract the collagen. This is usually dried and powdered for use in tablet or capsule form. Bovine collagen is said to be beneficial for promoting skin elasticity, increasing skin hydration levels (Song et al., 2017).
Marine collagen is extracted from the scales, bones and skin of fish. It is known for having a very high collagen content which can help the skin repair itself after injury, and is well absorbed by the body. Marine collagen is sometimes hydrolysed for even easier absorption. Hydrolysed collagen is collagen which has been broken down into smaller molecules, via chemical or heat processes, to aid with absorption into the bloodstream (Silva et al., 2014).
Hydrolysed collagens (sometimes called collagen peptides) are not the same as the collagen that humans produce in their own bodies, and can come from multiple sources, including marine and bovine collagens. Collagen is the long chain of amino acids which helps to make up our skin and connective tissue, whilst collagen peptides are a derivation of that collagen and are formed of much shorter chains of amino acids. These are created by treating full collagen chains into smaller ones, which are more easily absorbed into the bloodstream. The treatment is usually achieved via heating or the addition of certain acids to the collagen to break it down. Hydrolysed collagen has a better bioavailability than its non-hydrolysed counterparts which may offer better results (León-López et al., 2019). Collagen peptides are more likely to be found in beauty and skincare products as these shorter chains are beneficial for skin elasticity, wrinkles, hydration and moisture. (Asserin et al., 2015)
Plant-based collagen is a fairly new development and whilst it is not considered to be ‘true’ collagen as it is not derived from animal sources, it stimulates collagen synthesis. Here at Vivo Life, our saying is “You don’t need to eat collagen to build collagen” - and there’s a reason for that. It’s because there’s a better way to build collagen. When you take animal-based collagen the body breaks it down into various amino acids and then uses those to create its own collagen, which seems somewhat inefficient. Plus, animal-based collagen supplements can contain ineffective amounts of key ingredients, and therefore don’t produce the same results as plant-based collagen builders. These provide your body with the right amino acids for promoting collagen synthesis and building collagen designed just for you.
Vivo Life’s plant-based Collagen Builder has a superior amino acid and nutrient profile to typical animal-based collagens with 25g of protein per serving, scientifically proven to support collagen production, hair, skin and nails. Our blend also contains 240mg of ultra-pure hyaluronic acid in a single dose, to deliver changes you can see and feel, and 600mg of Bamboo Extract Silica, to help bolster your skin’s natural ability to retain water.
Are there any downsides to collagen?
From a sustainability and environmental perspective, animal-based collagens often use animal tissues from factory farms which are not only devastating for the animals, but also for the environment.
Some collagen supplements contain ingredients to which some people can be highly allergic, such as fish, shellfish and eggs. This is another reason to choose plant-based collagen builders, which typically contain far fewer allergens than their animal-based counterparts.
Collagen supplements may also cause feelings of fullness but overall collagen supplements are considered to be generally safe (Moskowitz, 2000).
If you have any concerns about starting a collagen supplement, then you should seek the advice of your healthcare professional.
Knuutinen, A., Kokkonen, N., Risteli, J., Vähäkangas, K., Kallioinen, M., Salo, T., Sorsa, T. and Oikarinen, A. (2002). Smoking affects collagen synthesis and extracellular matrix turnover in human skin. The British Journal of Dermatology, [online] 146(4), pp.588–594. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2133.2002.04694.x.
Asserin, J., Lati, E., Shioya, T. and Prawitt, J. (2015). The effect of oral collagen peptide supplementation on skin moisture and the dermal collagen network: evidence from anex vivomodel and randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 14(4), pp.291–301. doi:10.1111/jocd.12174.
Marcos-Garcés, V., Molina Aguilar, P., Bea Serrano, C., García Bustos, V., Benavent Seguí, J., Ferrández Izquierdo, A. and Ruiz-Saurí, A. (2014). Age-related dermal collagen changes during development, maturation and ageing - a morphometric and comparative study. Journal of Anatomy, 225(1), pp.98–108. doi:10.1111/joa.12186.
Bello, A.E. and Oesser, S. (2006). Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders:a review of the literature. Current Medical Research and Opinion, 22(11), pp.2221–2232. doi:10.1185/030079906x148373.
Chen, Q., Chen, O., Martins, I.M., Hou, H., Zhao, X., Blumberg, J.B. and Li, B. (2017). Collagen peptides ameliorate intestinal epithelial barrier dysfunction in immunostimulatory Caco-2 cell monolayers via enhancing tight junctions. Food & Function, 8(3), pp.1144–1151. doi:10.1039/c6fo01347c.
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Song, H., Zhang, S., Zhang, L. and Li, B. (2017). Effect of Orally Administered Collagen Peptides from Bovine Bone on Skin Aging in Chronologically Aged Mice. Nutrients, 9(11), p.1209. doi:10.3390/nu9111209.
Aguirre-Cruz, G., León-López, A., Cruz-Gómez, V., Jiménez-Alvarado, R. and Aguirre-Álvarez, G. (2020). Collagen Hydrolysates for Skin Protection: Oral Administration and Topical Formulation. Antioxidants, 9(2), p.181. doi:10.3390/antiox9020181.
León-López, A., Morales-Peñaloza, A., Martínez-Juárez, V.M., Vargas-Torres, A., Zeugolis, D.I. and Aguirre-Álvarez, G. (2019). Hydrolyzed Collagen—Sources and Applications. Molecules, 24(22), p.4031. doi:10.3390/molecules24224031.
Tomosugi, N., Yamamoto, S., Takeuchi, M., Yonekura, H., Ishigaki, Y., Numata, N., Katsuda, S. and Sakai, Y. (2017). Effect of Collagen Tripeptide on Atherosclerosis in Healthy Humans. Journal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis, [online] 24(5), pp.530–538. doi:10.5551/jat.36293.
Hexsel, D., Zague, V., Schunck, M., Siega, C., Camozzato, F.O. and Oesser, S. (2017). Oral supplementation with specific bioactive collagen peptides improves nail growth and reduces symptoms of brittle nails. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 16(4), pp.520–526. doi:10.1111/jocd.12393.