What is it and should I be taking it?
First let´s clear up the marketing surrounding collagen, as it is seen everywhere, promoted everywhere, and comes mixed with other supplements, or in its pure form.
As with most supplements, the word “vegan” is a huge selling point for many people and it´s important to know that collagen comes from the body and is an animal product. It is the connective tissue for animal tissue and structure. Collagen makes up 1/3 of the protein in the human body, and its role is to provide a structural framework for tissues throughout the body. It is the main insoluble, hard and fibrous protein in extracellular matrix and connective tissue. It is a protein essential to health and function of connective tissue.
We have endogenous collagen, which is what our body naturally produces. When we eat foods and/or take supplements that provide collagen, this is exogenous collagen.
There are many types of collagen and you will read different things on different products on the shelf such as Type I, Type II, Type III however our body is 80-90% Type I, II, III, IV, or V, and each of them have a different functionality within the body.
Type I is generally associated with the framework of bones, ligaments, tendons, and skin, and “stretchy”.
Type II type two that forms the fibres that are sort of “ hard and strewn” and more fibrous, and essential to cartilage.
Type III collagen is associated with skin, muscle, the blood vessels, and it’s very important for platelet and clotting.
Type IV is found in the basement membrane, that surrounds structural tissues or used for support and filtration.
Type V, found in hair and nails so a bit harder and fibrous.
So collagen is not vegan, but you can buy vegan “collagen boosters” which encourage the production of collagen in your body, such as Vitamin C, Zinc, Copper, Amino Acids, Silica and antioxidants. Scientists are currently experimenting with genetically modifying yeast or bacteria or create high quality vegan collagen, however this is not available on the market yet.
If you want to source collagen naturally, then include pork, chicken and meat sources in your diet that have connective tissue, such as a ribeye steak or chicken wings. Bone broth is another way to bring a good source of collagen as you boil the bones which then release the collagen into the broth. Fish with bones is very rich in collagen especially marine peptides which are easier to absorb and are more efficiently absorbed than lean meat sources. It is also known that oysters are high in zinc and zinc is also very important for developing collagen within the body and egg whites are a very good source of collagen as well.
It is important to note that taking collagen does not count towards your daily protein intake. It lacks EAAs (Essential Amino Acids) and as an athlete looking to repair or build muscle, you would be looking at the metabolic functions and muscle protein synthesis which need EAAs. Looking at the structural component of amino acids that come in from a whole protein compared to the amino acid structure of native collagen or collagen peptides, it is seen that collagen does not have the essential amino acids necessary to instigate that muscle protein synthesis and to support other metabolic functions. collagen is good for structural components, but it does not count for the metabolic influences and the metabolic needs of dietary protein.
When you buy collagen in a supplement, check out the contents to understand what the specific collagen you are buying will target. For example, if you buy Type II collagen it normally comes from chicken and it specific to cartilage. Type I and III are normally grouped together and sold as a supplement for hair, bone, tendons and ligaments.
Women who are suffering from early osteoarthritis or joint inflammatory conditions can benefit from taking native collagen (type II) instead of collagen peptides because you’re actually ingesting a full collagen molecule and you have an immune response. When you’re ingesting the intact undenatured, unbroken down collagen molecule, it binds to specific immune cells and causes an immune response in a positive manner to send signals for your body to stop attacking its own cartilage. So effectively what it does is to stop gap, to reduce the destruction of your own natural type two collagen, which is found in cartilage. You only need a small amount of type two collagen to reduce the inflammation that occurs within the joints and to reduce the collagen degradation, found in the joints.
With collagen peptides (or hydrolyzed collagen, it´s the same thing), there’s a different mechanism of action. It is known that hydrolyzed collagen are short chains of amino acids and can be absorbed well. When you’re absorbing these peptides through the intestinal wall, they are transported to different target tissues, which signals the cells to start building full-length collagen molecules to repair the skin, the bones, the joints, or the cells can use those amino acids directly for energy to enhance and produce more collagen structure.
How much Collagen should I take?
In a previous article, I spoke about supplements and the power of marketing. When you buy a supplement, they will always tell you to take the maximum dose so that you finish the product quickly and you have to buy more.
You need to consider why you are buying collagen, and what do you need it for. What are you treating or what outcome are you expecting? Once you have decided that, then also decide which type you need (for arthritis and joint issues, Type II, and for bone, ligament and tendons, Type I/II, and for hair, nails, skin then Type IV/V).
For Arthritis (degenerative conditions)
When collagen degenerates, this is known as arthritis, and you will need Type II collagen. Read below before you go out and buy:
- You will need a Type II collagen peptide + native collagen.
- The daily dose should be 1-10 grams of collagen peptides with 10mg of native collagen, for a 6 month period.
- After six months do a maintenance dose.
Tendons, Ligaments and Soft Tissue Injuries
It is known that Type I and Type III collagen peptides are really beneficial for tendons and ligaments, for bone structure, for blood vessel, blood vessel compliance, as well as skin and hair health. On the market you can commonly find these blends and because they are peptides check out the gram content on the label. You will need 2 ½ – 10 grams of peptides for eight to 12 weeks before you start to see any change.
Remind yourself constantly why you are taking supplements, and the outcomes you seek. If you are looking to improve your hair and nails too then add in the Type IV and V with the I-III combo.
What If I Am Vegan?
As mentioned earlier in this article, collagen is an animal product therefore there is no vegan collagen, as yet. According to Dr. Stacy Sims, the following technology is in process but has not hit the market formally yet.
According to researchers, vegan collagen brands use the bacteria P. Pastoris, as it is most effective and commonly used for genetically engineering high-quality collagen. Vegan collagen brands use four human genes that code for collagen are added to the genetic structure of the microbes.
The yeast or bacteria then start to produce building blocks of human collagen once the genes are in place. Pepsin, a digestive enzyme, is added by vegan collagen brands to help structure the building blocks into collagen molecules with the exact structure of human collagen. There is a website discussing this however I cannot verify if those products listed are bona fide “vegan collagen” or not.
You can use natural food sources to boost and to help your body to produce collagen.
Citrus fruit and leafy greens contain Vitamin C, which is essential for the basic structure of collagen. Eat ample vitamin C because vitamin C is necessary for a pro-collagen molecule development and have pre and probiotic fibres which will help our gut microbiome and the signalling for collagen production. Nuts and seeds provide sources of zinc and copper, and also spirulina. It should be blue spirulina because spirulina is rich in amino acids, as well as some of the other things like vitamin C, copper, zinc, and selenium.
Spirulina is an amazing food source because it has so many of the cofactors needed to boost our own natural collagen production. Zinc is important because it helps collagen production by acting as a cofactor and it´s an activator of essential amino acids and proteins. Copper is an interesting one as it is unique in the fact that it activates an enzyme called lysyl oxidase, which helps mature collagen.
What to Buy
I won´t recommend any particular brand here, but what you can do is the read the labels of the products you are looking at and understand the following pointers:
- What do you need (what are you treating, per say)
- Peptives or Native Collagen
- Which types of collagen do you need?
- How many grams per serving?
- And the source? (fish, chicken, meat)
- Do you need Vitamin C?
I will use one example as I´ve seen many women in my circle buying this product.
Vital Proteins – Original Collagen Peptides (grass fed label) or Collagen Peptides Advanced
with Hyaluronic Acid & Vitamin C
If you are looking for peptides, then this product does contain them. What kind of peptide are you looking for? Say I need a type I and III, which is collagen from bovine hide. This product contain hydrolysed collagen (peptides) 20g. If you are looking for a collagen to help with joint issues, this is not the one you need.
The product does contain Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid which is a good collagen booster.
It mentions a protein content, but if you remember from above, protein sourced from collagen is not part of your daily amino acid and protein requirement so do not include that in your grams of protein per day calculations.
For peptides, you need between 1-10 grams per day. If you read the label, it says the serving size is 3 tablespoons (20grams). So remember to have at most half of that, and save your money!
Know your collagen sources and why you need to take collagen. Study how much you need to take and read the labels on the products you buy. Understand the ingredients and their content. Go first to real food, natural food sources, instead of buying supplements including meat, bone broth, fish, (specifically from the bones), and egg whites, and eggshell membrane.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at email@example.com
Credit for this research and material: Dr Stacy Sims