COLLAGEN – EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
A beautiful body, radiant skin, strong muscles and joints – the feeling of being much younger and healthier than it can be according to the birth cohort: Who doesn’t dream of it? In recent times, collagen, a substance that is supposed to promote these properties, has been making a name for itself.
But what exactly is this “miracle substance” collagen? Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, and even the most abundant protein in the animal kingdom. Collagen accounts for 6% of the total body weight of humans, i.e. 3.6 kilograms in a 60 kilogram person, and about a quarter of the total protein.
Collagen determines the elasticity and tensile strength of tissue through its structure. Thus it promotes smooth skin, strong hair, tight body contours, brings strength and speed in sport, keeps bones fitter until old age. So really a true jack-of-all-trades for the body? Let’s take a closer look.
1. What is collagen, what does it consist of?
Collagen is a protein. More precisely, collagen is the body’s most important structural protein. It occurs mainly in connective tissue, acts like a flexible scaffold and gives tissues such as skin, lungs, blood vessels, cartilage, bones, tendons and ligaments their elasticity, tear resistance and pressure resistance. The international spelling is “Collagen”.
How is collagen structured?
Proteins are composed of amino acids – in collagen it is mainly the amino acids glycine, proline and hydroxyproline:
Glycine content: 33%.
Proline content: 12%.
Hydroxyproline content: 10%.
Collagen is formed by connective tissue cells, the fibroblasts. They string together over 1000 amino acids to form so-called alpha chains (polypeptides). If three such alpha chains are wound around each other, this is referred to as a tropocollagen unit.
The alpha chains are wound in the form of a helix and are held together by hydrogen bonds. The helix structure means that every third amino acid must be particularly small. This condition is fulfilled by glycine, the smallest of all amino acids. It therefore makes up one third of the amino acids in collagen. The amino acids proline and hydroxyproline also occur frequently because they enable the alpha chains to be stored closely together.
If several tropocollagen units are stored close to each other in the extracellular space, thin collagen fibrils are formed at first and thicker collagen fibres are formed by further storage together. The connections within the tropocollagene and between adjacent tropocollagenes in a collagen fibre make the fibres strong, flexible and tensile at the same time.
Why are there data on different collagen types?
Depending on the composition of the collagen, different collagen types are distinguished. In the meantime, 28 collagen types are known. Collagen type I occurs most frequently in mammals. The properties of the individual collagen types determine which function they assume in the cell or tissue, for example:
Collagen type I: in skin, tendons, bones, dentin, fascia, vessels, internal organs
Collagen type II: in cartilage, vitreous body of the eye
Collagen type III: in skin, uterus, blood vessels
collagen type IV: in renal glomeruli, eye lens, basal lamina of epithelial and endothelial cells
collagen type V: in basal lamina of smooth and striped muscle cells
What is the difference between collagen, gelatine and collagen hydrolysate?
When collagen is boiled, the connection between the three alpha chains dissolves. They are then present individually and can gel. Gelatine is “cooked collagen”. It can also be obtained from collagen with the aid of acids or bases.
The origin of the collagen (animal species and tissue) as well as the extraction process (temperature, time, pH value) determine the length of the polypeptide chains and the properties of the gelatine. Shark gelatine behaves differently from pig gelatine. Gelatine also forms after cooling a freshly boiled bone broth.
If gelatine is further enzymatically degraded, collagen hydrolysate is formed. It is a whitish powder that dissolves well in hot and cold liquids.
What promotes the formation of collagen?
Two components are required for the body’s own production of collagen: Amino acids and vitamin C. It acts as a cofactor for the enzymes that build collagen (Nabzdyk 2018).
You may know it from maritime history: Sailors lost their teeth and hair after a few months at sea. Gum bleeding was accompanied by skin problems, muscle atrophy and bone pain. These are the signs of scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency that leads to altered collagen formation. Only the consumption of vitamin C-rich sauerkraut stopped the dreaded maritime disease.
If vitamin C is missing, tropocollagen is formed without hydroxyproline. The helix structures formed from these unusual tropocollagens are unstable and disintegrate at temperatures above 20°C. The helix structures are then formed without hydroxyproline.
Therefore, it is still true today that amino acid-rich foods such as meat, fish, egg and bone broth should be combined with vitamin C-rich foods to enable optimal collagen formation.
Foods rich in zinc, silicon and antioxidants, such as rose hips, sea buckthorn, pumpkin seeds or millet, also have a supporting effect. They also promote the formation of collagen and delay its degradation.
What leads to the breakdown of collagen?
Various environmental influences and lifestyle factors attack the collagen depot: above all ageing processes, stress, strong sunlight, smoking and chronic diseases.
Collagen production slows with increasing age. As a result, the skin loses firmness, the bones become more unstable, the hair becomes thinner, vision less flexible and joint problems can occur. Collagen synthesis also decreases with decreasing estrogen levels. As a result, the skin becomes increasingly wrinkled and dry during the menopause. Chronic diseases and stress can lead to an increased breakdown of collagen.
How you can naturally counteract the loss of collagen is explained in the next sections.
2. Where does collagen occur – and how can you stimulate your collagen production?
If you would like to replenish your body’s collagen reserves, then you should specifically choose collagen-rich foods.
Which foods contain collagen – and what is collagen made of?
Collagen is found mainly in the bones, joints and skin of animals. Supposedly typical collagen sources are:
Marrow and sand bones, cartilage, tendons of cattle, pigs
Pig and chicken feet or ankles
pig skin (rind), salmon skin, chicken skin
gelatine from the skin and bones of pigs, cattle or poultry; it is used to thicken water-rich foods such as aspic, aspic, aspic, desserts, gummy bears
Bone broth of beef, chicken, fish
Rarely on the table in Europe, but popular as a dish in Asia: Jellyfish
Collagen is now available as powder, in capsules, tablets or drinking ampoules. The collagen is prepared in such a way that it is easily soluble in water. It is then called “collagen hydrolysate”, “collagen hydrolysate”, “hydrolyzed collagen”, “hydrolyzed gelatin”, “collagen peptides”, “collagen peptides” or “collagen peptides”.
Is there vegetable (vegetarian, vegan) collagen?
Collagen is only produced by animals, therefore there is no vegetable or vegan collagen. What alternatives do vegetarians and vegans have, but also for allergy sufferers who react to fish collagen, for example?
Jellyfish collagen: Since jellyfish do not have a nervous system and are therefore probably painless, they are regarded as an acceptable source of collagen in purely herbal natural cosmetics.
A collagen-like substance is obtained from the seed coat of white lupine (known as a “collageneer”), which is intended to increase collagen production in the skin and is used in natural cosmetic products.
Plants that contain many amino acids for collagen formation and vitamin C: Peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, hemp seeds, yeast flakes are rich in both glycine and proline. Combine them with foods particularly rich in vitamin C such as acerola powder, rose hip (powder), sea buckthorn (juice), nettle seed, baobab (powder) or guava, preferably in a breakfast bowl, muesli, porridge, smoothie, homemade muesli bars or in salads.
Are you a mushroom fan? Then vital mushrooms are another useful source to boost collagen production. Vital mushrooms such as shiitake, chaga, hedgehog beard and others are particularly rich in antioxidants.
How is collagen formation stimulated?
No matter how you take up collagen, as broth, gelatine, chicken with skin or as collagen hydrolysate: It is split into smaller pieces in the digestive tract, absorbed via the intestine into the bloodstream and from there distributed throughout the entire body and used for the formation of new collagen in all connective tissues. And this has noticeable and visible effects, for example smoother skin or less pain in the joints.
Why collagen formation works so well has not yet been clarified. It is being discussed that the fragments of collagen signal to the fibroblasts that an injury has occurred or that collagen is being broken down, thus stimulating them to regenerate collagen (Watanabe-Kamiyama 2010; Yazaki 2017).
3. What effect does collagen have on skin, hair and as an anti-aging agent?
A plump skin is characterized by a lot of collagen and a high water content. With increasing age and at low estrogen levels, the production of collagen decreases – and so does the elasticity and resilience of the face and scalp. Wrinkles, wrinkles, pronounced facial lines and thinner hair are the result.
The idea suggests itself of replacing skin-tightening collagen: from the outside with cosmetics or from the inside with food or dietary supplements – as an alternative to Botox, wrinkle treatment with one’s own fat, surgical lifting or ultrasound treatments.
Since the mid 1950s there have been anti-aging creams with bovine collagen, now also collagen-containing face masks, serums, hydrogels, hand creams, eye masks and eye pads against dark circles and bags under the eyes and much more. The effect is based essentially on the fact that the collagen forms a water-binding film on the skin and thus makes the skin look younger and firmer.
Vegetable collagen alternatives for skin firming are hyaluronic acid from wheat, a collagen-like active ingredient from the seed coat of lupine, soy protein, almond oil or amla oil. Marine collagen from jellyfish is also used in natural cosmetics. Due to its structure, it is said to bind even more water than collagen from vertebrates.
Cosmetic products are characterized by the fact that their active ingredients remain in the upper layers of the skin. Anything that penetrates deeper is considered a medicine. In this respect, collagen for skin care is rather a surface embellishment, which is primarily achieved by binding moisture to the skin. The greater anti-aging effect lies in the absorption of collagen and the stimulation of the body’s own collagen formation.
Clinical studies on the oral absorption of collagen hydrolysates with a daily dose of 2.5 to 10 grams per day over four to 24 weeks have demonstrated noticeable improvements in wound healing, collagen density, wrinkles, skin elasticity and moisture in the skin. Up to eight weeks after the last intake, a significantly higher amount of collagen can be found in the skin (Choi 2019; Proksch 2014).
Future studies should clarify whether collagen can also favourably influence skin barrier diseases such as neurodermatitis.
By the way: If you want to stimulate collagen formation with light therapy, you naturally need sufficient amino acids and vitamin C in your diet to ensure that the build-up is successful.
Collagen also plays an important role for the hair. Thinning hair or hair loss can have different reasons. If it is due to a reduced collagen formation of the scalp, then the increase in collagen synthesis can again provide for more powerful hair. Collagen from food probably leads to more beautiful hair than collagen shampoos, which only work on the surface and are quickly washed out again.
4. What effect does collagen have on joints, ligaments, tendons and bones?
Sometimes, when things get bad, they hurt, rupture or break: joints, ligaments, tendons and bones. In the meantime, word has spread that collagen makes the musculoskeletal system seem efficient, flexible and resilient.
Conversely, sportsmen and sportswomen with heavy joint loads, such as long-distance runners and weight lifters, or people with arthritis, arthrosis, rheumatism, knee pain, joint pain, torn ligaments, bone fractures, osteoporosis, back pain or herniated discs, therefore resort to collagen. The use of collagen is also known for the prevention or treatment of sore muscles, after meniscus operations, in rehabilitation after cruciate ligament operations or with implants.
But is there also evidence of effectiveness? Let’s take a look at some examples.
Arthrosis is a chronic degenerative joint alteration caused by cartilage degradation, usually associated with pain and functional limitations. A comparison of different dietary supplements shows that the use of collagen hydrolysate achieves a large and clinically significant reduction in pain in the short term. Intact type II collagen significantly reduces pain in the medium term (Liu 2018).
Bones and osteoporosis
If bone formation is disturbed or bone mass loss begins, diseases such as rickets or osteoporosis can occur.
Animal studies show that collagen from food is incorporated into bone tissue. It has also been shown that bone resorption can be reduced by collagen from food. Collagen hydrolysate also accelerates the healing of bone fractures.
Clinical studies also show positive effects in humans. However, the studies conducted so far have mostly been carried out in combination with collagen with calcium and/or vitamin D, so that the individual proportion of collagen in the positive effects cannot be determined exactly. Since the bone mass in old age also depends on the bone mass built up in childhood, the influence of collagen in child nutrition was investigated. Accordingly, the absorption of collagen improves the bone structure in children independently of calcium administration (Daneault 2017).
Overall, the study results suggest that the absorption of collagen or gelatine strengthens cartilage, joints, bones, tendons and ligaments, reducing the risk of injury and pain. Collagen also plays a role in good wound healing and thus faster regeneration of injuries.
5. What effect does collagen have on connective tissue, cellulite and during pregnancy?
The orange peel spectre cellulite plagues many women on the stomach, legs or bottom. Strong strain on the connective tissue due to weight fluctuations, rapid growth and weight gain during puberty or pregnancy also leave their mark on the skin as stretch marks.
In the case of hereditary connective tissue weakness or if the collagen fibres in the connective tissue are damaged by hormones or stretching, the characteristic waves, dents and streaks occur. Spider veins or varicose veins also join them. If oestrogen production decreases in women during menopause, apparently less collagen is formed in the subcutaneous connective tissue. As a result, the subcutaneous fatty tissue emerges and leads to a wavy skin surface.
Cellulite and stretch marks are not considered treatable. To prevent this, sufficient water absorption, physical training, alternating showers, avoiding vasoconstricting smoking, applying cream to stressed skin areas in pregnant women and maintaining the normal weight are recommended. But can a woman really do nothing if her skin has already suffered?
Study results on the intake of collagen in cellulite give rise to hope. Because with moderate cellulite, 2.5 grams of collagen hydrolysate per day, taken over six months, lead to an improvement in cellulite and skin density compared to a control group without collagen (Schunck 2015). In addition to activating massages, exercise and a balanced diet, the targeted absorption of collagen, for example as powder or broth, could perhaps improve the appearance of cellulite. It is worth a try.
6. What effect does collagen have in the intestine?
Currently, it is estimated that about a quarter of the population in industrialised countries have digestive disorders that affect them. They manifest themselves with flatulence, cramps, diarrhoea, constipation. This is caused, for example, by lifestyle-related intolerances to certain foods such as lactose or gluten protein from cereals, excess fructose, Leaky Gut Syndrome and changes in the intestinal flora. But also chronic inflammatory intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome, the cause of which has not yet been fully clarified, can cause massive intestinal complaints.
Many of these intestinal complaints have in common that the small intestine cells and the intestinal mucosa are damaged. Collagen and hyaluronic acid help to “seal” the intestine again and to advance the repair of the intestinal cells and the protective intestinal mucosa. Glycine in particular, the main component of collagen, appears to have a protective effect on the stomach and intestines (Samonina 2000; Razak 2017).
This is why a good bone broth is so beneficial for diarrhoea and abdominal pain: it provides a lot of collagen, relieves pain and cramps with heat and replenishes the fluid reserves for diarrhoea.
7. Where does collagen still play a role?
In mammals, collagen type I makes up the majority of collagen in the body and also occurs in the blood vessels. A good supply of collagen keeps the vessels elastic and thus prevents cardiovascular diseases.
Collagen is important for good wound healing. Therefore, a particularly good treatment after tooth removal or tooth surgery is useful. Occasionally the dentist also uses collagen cones for tooth extraction. They are inserted into the wound, support wound healing, help to stop bleeding and protect the wound from food remains and bacteria. Collagen cones resorb in a few weeks and are used for dental implants, wisdom tooth removal or after biopsies.
A good broth, which contains a lot of collagen, is a good meal especially after tooth operations: It is easy to eat, fills up fluid losses and promotes wound healing with the contained collagen.
And here’s a good sleeping tip: collagen is very rich in glycine. Glycine seems to improve the sleep quality, so that people fall asleep better and have more restful deep sleep phases. The next day you are better regenerated – so it is said – and thus more alert and concentrated. This also works if you take collagen for breakfast or during the day, as glycine does not lead to daytime fatigue. That’s why collagen or a good broth are real “biohacking” secret tips for top mental achievers and everyone who wants to sleep well again (Bannai 2012).
8. Collagen very practical: where to buy, how to absorb, how to dose, which recipes?
Now you want to get started and buy collagen? Depending on whether you use it as cosmetics or as part of your diet, you’ll find it in pharmacies, online shops, health food stores, drugstores or perfumeries. Don’t forget that collagen is in bones and that you can get bone for a bone broth at the butcher of your choice. It provides you with a lot of collagen. If you don’t want to cook your own broth, you can of course also buy it.
Pay attention with all products to a good quality: Origin, purity, organic quality, if possible from grazing animals and not from mass animal husbandry! Taste and effect make the difference.
If you want to ingest collagen internally, there are a variety of liquid products: Bone broth, collagen drinks, shots, drops, drinking ampoules. Powder (collagen hydrolysate), capsules, pills or tablets are available in solid form as dietary supplements.
The recommended daily intake is approx. 2 grams as the minimum and approx. 10 grams of collagen as the maximum daily portion.
Recipes in which collagen powder is mixed into drinks or food are currently popular. Since hydrolysed collagen is water-soluble and tasteless, one tablespoon can easily be mixed into coffee, soups, smoothies and mueslis, bowls or porridge. Collagen is also a good texturizer and gives hot liquids special creaminess. This goes well with Bulletproof Coffee and is suitable for sauces and some desserts. Also a collagen matcha latte, a turmeric collagen latte or a hot chocolate with one tablespoon collagen per serving are innovative ways to enjoy collagen. Classics are aspic, panna cotta or jelly with gelatine.
Did you know? – There is even a collagen sparkling wine. The Beauty Secco is supposed to be a wellness and beauty experience in one. Well then prosit, to your health!
How fast does collagen work? According to experience values from studies and communities you can expect a first noticeable effect on the skin after about two weeks and on the joints after about two months with daily intake of high-quality collagen.
When should you take collagen? That depends only on when it suits you best. Most people start breakfast with the addition of a hot drink, smoothies or muesli, some take collagen after a training session in the afternoon or evening.
Instead of or in addition to oral intake, you can use collagen externally. You will find many products, most of which are marked with “collagen”, as care products or cosmetics. There are ampoules, creams, gels, serum, but also face masks, rollers, eye pads that contain collagen. But the greater effect does not come from external care products, but from internal absorption.
9. Quality – or: What makes good collagen?
Collagen is an animal product and is treated differently in the manufacturing process. A high-quality collagen comes from animals that are kept and fed according to organic standards, even better is grazing with cattle, pigs and chickens.
If the collagen is not gently processed, an unpleasant taste or smell can occur. It is also likely that the effect is not as good as that of a high-quality processed collagen.
It is also important that no additives or fillers such as sugar are used.
On the basis of these criteria (organic, grazing, no additives, gentle processing) a suitable product can usually be found quickly.
Collagen, which is absorbed as powder or liquid collagen, should be hydrolyzed for better absorption. Combined with hyaluronic acid and vitamin C, collagen synthesis is additionally supported. If aromas are used, which rather speaks for a lower quality, natural aromas are better than synthetic ones.
For cosmetic products and tablet wrapping, collagen is usually prepared from edible gelatine. This is a problem for natural cosmetic products, which should be free of animal ingredients, because vegetable collagen does not exist. As “anti-aging from nature”, “green anti-aging” or “bio-tensor”, collagen from pain-resistant jellyfish is often used. The designation is then “marine collagen” or “oceanic collagen”.
10. Collagen: Are there side effects?
Collagen is a protein. In rare cases, proteins can trigger allergies. The more similar the collagen obtained from animals is to human collagen, the lower the risk. Therefore, chicken, beef or pig are better sources of collagen than collagen from fish or jellyfish. Good to know: Collagen hydrolysates are so comminuted that they hardly have any allergic potential when consumed.
Allergic reactions tend not to occur after consumption but after cosmetic or surgical treatments, such as the use of collagen as a skin filler or the use of materials containing bovine collagen during eye surgery (Mullins 1996). Collagen hydrolysates in hair conditioners can cause skin rashes, especially in people with neurodermatitis (Niinimäki 1998).
You may ask yourself whether collagen is healthy and whether it makes sense to take it. Collagen is a naturally occurring protein. If you like it particularly natural and original, then a bone broth, which contains a lot of collagen, is best suited for it. Our ancestors ate it before time and strengthened themselves with it.
In modern life we often shorten the preparation times (a good broth can simmer for up to 18 hours) or look for concentrated forms of absorption such as powder, tablets and capsules. In terms of effect and side effect, much depends here on the quality of the raw materials and the quality of the processing. In general, you should always stick to the recommended consumption quantities in order to avoid side effects.
Previous study results and experience with an intake of up to 10 grams of collagen per day show that this is safe and without side effects (Daneault 2017; Choi 2019).
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