What Are Collagen Peptides? The Benefits & How To Pick A Supplement
For the last few years, collagen has taken the wellness world by such storm that it seems everyone—from skin care aficionados to celebrities—can't get enough. However, it's a supplement that tends to (still) have a lot of confusion surrounding it. Starting with terminology, like collagen peptides. Here, everything you need to know.
What are collagen peptides?
Often collagen supplements or products are marketed as containing "collagen peptides." In biology, peptides is a term that simply refers to short chains of amino acids. All collagen is a protein made up of amino acids: glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine, all of which help our bodies remain in good health. Collagen becomes a collagen peptide through the process of hydrolysis (why you'll often hear these called hydrolyzed collagen or collagen hydrolysate).
The different varieties of collagen peptides and why it matters:
There are more than a dozen types of collagen, which are composed of different peptides and exhibit a range of structures and functions: For instance, there are specific types of collagen responsible for forming your skin and cartilage. Unfortunately, there has been minimal research on the various types and not many studies at all that pinpoint one as the most beneficial—as far as we know, they're all crucial.
Roughly 80 to 90% of collagen belongs to what's classified as type 1, 2, and 3, which are very strong and flexible proteins. Type 1 is important for bone, teeth, and skin formation and is predominant in the tissue and tendons. But where there is type 1, you'll often find type 2 collagen that is mostly known for its role as structural support in cartilage. Type 3 is found in skin, muscle, and blood vessels.
Beyond the different types of collagen, it's important to note that there are two terms used to classify it. First, endogenous collagen is natural collagen, or the kind that is synthesized by the body. Second, exogenous collagen is synthetic and comes from an external source, such as a powder. Often in the scientific literature, endogenous collagen depletion is linked to a declining bill of health.
Collagen peptide benefits.
Here's what the research says so far:
1. Collagen benefits for skin and hair.
In studies, collagen peptide supplements have been shown to support skin elasticity and overall hydration.* The thought is that collagen plays a role in forming a cluster of cells, or fibroblasts, that allow new cells to grow while helping replace dead skin cells. Fibroblasts are critical for skin health and wound healing. Collagen has also been found to accelerate hair growth and wound healing.*
Topically, most collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed by the skin. Any immediate benefit from a topical collagen product is likely due to the moisturizing effects that don't actually increase or stimulate collagen production. We also need vitamin C to synthesize collagen. So, while the jury is still out on all the hype about collagen skin care products, adding vitamin-C serums and oils to your routine may help naturally stimulate collagen production in the body.
2. Collagen benefits for the gut.
In addition to skin, the gut gets the most attention when it comes to collagen. Much to the discontent of collagen lovers everywhere, most of the gut microbiome and collagen research remains in its infancy. But there is some evidence that amino acids in collagen, specifically glycine, may reduce GI inflammation for those with digestion conditions. Additionally, glutamine, one of collagen's other amino acids, is key for preventing gut inflammation and inhibiting oxidative stress of the intestines.
And healthy collagen levels have been shown to help regulate proper gut acidity, which may prevent painful heartburn and digestion issues. It is also known that collagen is essential for healing the intestinal wall. In fact, collagen supplements may help heal the stomach lining.
On the flip side, research has found decreased collagen in those with digestive troubles. Specifically, an association between IBS and diminished collagen levels.
3. Collagen and joint and bone health.
The most robust research on collagen has been on joint and bone health. Collagen plays an important role in connective tissue functioning, meaning that healthy collagen levels are paramount for maintaining ideal body strength as we age.
Some research has found that collagen may decrease painful symptoms in those with osteoarthritis. While the exact biological mechanism for how collagen supplementation relieves joint pain remains unclear, scientists surmise that collagen may not really boost your endogenous collagen supply; rather, it reduces inflammation, thereby improving throbbing osteoarthritis symptoms.
Osteoarthritis sufferers are not the only ones finding solace in collagen since recent research shows it may also be beneficial for those with rheumatoid arthritis. One study found that collagen supplementation for those with rheumatoid arthritis significantly reduced swelling and joint pain. A few participants in the small sample size even experienced remission over the three months that the study occurred. But while these findings are certainly laudable, there have been mixed findings on whether oral collagen supplementation really penetrates deep into cartilage tissue of the joints.
Why does collagen decrease with age?
It's no secret that everything we do affects some aspect of our health. So it's unsurprising that many of our lifestyle choices can either deplete or preserve collagen levels. Here are some steadfast recommendations that are sure to keep your collagen levels healthy:
1. Avoid sugar.
While skipping out on sugar has many general health benefits, sugar can weaken our strong collagen proteins. High sugar intake increases the rate of glycation, forming these molecules known as AGEs that wreak havoc on and degrade other proteins. Over time, too much sugar can cause a weakening and depletion of collagen.
2. Be mindful in the sun!
If you love catching some UV rays from time to time, use sunblock and wear a hat. Collagen experiences rapid deterioration with repeated sun exposure. Plus, since sun damages the dermis, your skin may replenish abnormally, leading to wrinkling and pigmentation.
3. Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
And it may also be worth giving up the cigarettes since chemicals in tobacco smoke are known to damage elastin and collagen.
4. Start healing your autoimmune conditions.
And if you suffer from an autoimmune condition, talk to your doctor if your disorder targets or affects collagen, like scleroderma.
What to know about picking a collagen supplement:
While the above habits deplete collagen, don't fret! There are many ways to ensure that you're in good health through solid nutrition and supplementation. Food high in proline, vitamin C, vitamin A, and anthocyanidins supports collagen formation.
Of course there's collagen powder. But not all collagen peptide proteins are created equal. And if you're a vegan or vegetarian, you should know that most collagen supplements available for human consumption are animal-derived. Most often, you're buying hydrolyzed type-1 collagen that has been extracted from animal hides or bones, which you'll see identified as bovine collagen.
Be sure to look for a brand that uses third-party testing and that has been branded clear of any potential contamination, like heavy metal toxicity. Especially because most collagen comes from animal parts, make sure that you're buying from a high-quality and reputable source that only uses grass-fed options.
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