One of the core principles of functional medicine is to nourish the body and ensure it is getting the appropriate balance of nutrients to stay healthy. Traditionally, this was achieved in a hunter-gather diet by eating colourful whole foods and by practicing “nose-to-tail” eating of meat, which included the consumption of skin, cartilage, marrow, tendons/ligaments, and other parts of the animal that are now typically discarded. Unfortunately, much of this practice has been lost as a result of prepared meats, microwaves, and canned soups over homemade stocks. As a result, our diets have become deprived of an important protein, known as collagen. There is a lot of noise in the health industry lately about collagen supplementation. The concept of supplementing collagen attempts to regain what we’ve lost from our primitive diet, but the question becomes if supplementation has any benefit.
Benefits of Collagen I’ll admit that when I first heard about the trend of supplementing collagen, I wasn't on board. It made no sense to me. Collagen is a tissue found in our bodies made from amino acids, vitamin C, etc. So how could supplementing the end product collagen benefit us? But as it turns out, research in mice shows that hydrolyzed collagen peptides (from gelatin) have a 95% absorption rate at 12 hours after intake, and it distributes in the body similar to that of raw amino acids, with the exception of cartilage (1). Collagen was seen to concentrate more than twice as high in cartilaginous tissue than raw amino acids (1), giving collagen some unique benefits. So, I jumped on the bandwagon.
Collagen helps reduce joint pain and can aid people suffering from arthritis. Collagen is the primary protein found in the ligaments and tendons that connect joints together. It is also a major component of cartilage, which is a smooth connective tissue that coats our bones and allows for friction free movement. The body naturally produces collagen, yet as we get older, this production gradually decreases. As a result, joint pain can increase. Research shows that athletes who took a hydrolyzed collagen supplement for 24 weeks experienced less pain in their joints at rest and during movement (2), which may help physical performance and decrease joint deterioration. Collagen’s high affinity for cartilage makes it a more likely option for the prevention and management of degenerative arthritis. Collagen helps improve skin, hair, and nail health. The beauty industry has been promoting this benefit of collagen supplements for years. Positive effects gained from using collagen for beauty purposes include a reduction in wrinkles, an increase in skin density, reduced scarring in acne, and improvements in cellulite. A trial using 2.5 g of collagen peptides daily showed a significant decrease in the degree of cellulite and a reduced skin waviness on thighs in both normal-weight and overweight women (3). Another trial showed positive effects on wrinkles and dermal matrix synthesis with the use of collagen in just 8 weeks of use (4). Collagen can help improve digestion, gut integrity, and detoxification. I would have to argue that the most impactful benefit of collagen comes from its benefits on the gut. A healthy digestive tract contains a layer of tightly bound epithelial cells and a diverse colonization of microbes. However, microbial dysbiosis, refined/processed diets, and environmental stressors all have negative impacts on the integrity of your gut membrane and lead to increased permeability commonly known as “leaky gut” (5). Intestinal permeability allows for foods and other toxins to leak into our bloodstream, creating systemic symptoms correlated to food intolerances, autoimmunity, acne, fatigue & brain fog, eczema, etc. A diet high in collagen has numerous benefits for the gut and detox organs like the liver.
Gelatin, which is formed from hydrolyzed collagen, helps reinforce the mucous layer of our guts and reduces the impacts of inflammatory endotoxins released from gut microbes (6,7). This may have profound benefits for those with Crohn’s/Colitis.
Glycine and glutamine (amino acids found in collagen) have been shown to protect against gastric ulcers and strengthen the integrity of the gut mucosa (8,9). Taking collagen for its glycine has also been shown to help regulate the products of stomach acid and bile, which may help in cases of acid reflux.
It also helps promote liver detoxification. Glycine stimulates the production of glutathione, which is a master antioxidant in the liver’s detox process (10), which has been shown to improve fatty liver disease and protect cells against free radical damage.
As you can see, there are several benefits you can gain by adding collagen to your diet. How to get collagen Bone broth: But before we get into supplementation, remember that you can get collagen in your diet without the fancy powders and packaging. The most effective way is through bone broth soup, which is a common recommendation in functional medicine these days due to its rich collagen/gelatin content. I typically advise 250 ml of bone broth daily. Here’s a recipe to make your own bone broth. Collagen Powders: You can also get collagen from powdered supplements. Here are some important things to know when choosing a collagen supplement:
Not all collagens are equal. Different bones contain different collagens. Beef hide is rich in collagen I & III, whereas chicken sources are rich in collagen II. Marine sources are available for vegetarian/vegan patients. Make sure to talk to your ND to ensure the collagen you are taking is right for your concerns.
Check the quality and source of the collagen powder. It should be clear and tasteless when dissolved in water, should not contain fillers and additives, and should be from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals
Make sure it's hydrolyzed – only hydrolyzed collagen peptides will convert to gelatin in the body, which is what we reap most of the benefits from.
Before you start taking collagen, it is highly recommended you speak to a qualified naturopath, like Dr. Courtney Holmberg to determine if collagen would be safe and appropriate for your own personal health and well-being. Book an appointment online or call 647-351-7282 today! References:
Steffen Oesser, Milan Adam, Wilfried Babel and Jurgen Seifert. Oral Administration of 14C Labeled Gelatin Hydrolysate Leads to an Accumulation of Radioactivity in Cartilage of Mice (C57/BL). The Journal Of Nutrition. 26 January 1999. P 1891-95.
Kristine L. Clark et al. 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain.Current Medical Research and Opinion Accepted 29 Feb 2008, Published online: 15 Apr 2008. P 1485-1496.
Schunck M, Zague V, Oesser S, Proksch E. Dietary Supplementation with Specific Collagen Peptides Has a Body Mass Index-Dependent Beneficial Effect on Cellulite Morphology.J Med Food. 2015 Dec;18(12):1340-8. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2015.0022. Epub 2015 Nov 12.
Proksch E1, Schunck M, Zague V, Segger D, Degwert J, Oesser S. Oral intake of specific bioactive collagen peptides reduces skin wrinkles and increases dermal matrix synthesis. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(3):113-9. doi: 10.1159/000355523. Epub 2013 Dec 24.
Christian R. H. Raetz and Chris Whitfield. Lipopolysaccharide Endotoxins. Annual Review of Biochemistry. July 2002. Vol. 71:635-700
Franco Scaldaferri et al. Gelatin tannate ameliorates acute colitis in mice by reinforcing mucus layer and modulating gut microbiota composition: Emerging role for ‘gut barrier protectors’ in IBD? United European Gastroenterol J. 2014 Apr; 2(2): 113–122.
Frasca, Venera Cardile, Carmelo Puglia, Claudia Bonina, and Francesco Bonina. Gelatin tannate reduces the proinflammatory effects of lipopolysaccharide in human intestinal epithelial cells. Clin Exp Gastroenterol. 2012; 5: 61–67. PMCID: PMC3358810
Wang et al. Glutamine and intestinal barrier function. October 2015, Volume 47, Issue 10, pp 2143–2154
Tariq M, Al Moutaery AR. Studies on the antisecretory, gastric anti-ulcer and cytoprotective properties of glycine. Research Communications in Molecular Pathology and Pharmacology [01 Aug 1997, 97(2):185-198]
Guoyao Wu, Yun-Zhong Fang, Sheng Yang, Joanne R. Lupton, Nancy D. Turner; Glutathione Metabolism and Its Implications for Health, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 134, Issue 3, 1 March 2004, Pages 489–492