Oral Collagen Hype or Hero? Part I

Aging involves many factors but a major source of skin aging is the breakdown of collagen. While it’s true that the body constantly makes more of it, it’s also being constantly depleted. The trick is to stay ahead of the loss. Imagine that after the age of 30 collagen production and cell turnover slows down which contributes to the aging process, so producing collagen should always be a focus. 

In addition, lifestyle and environmental factors contribute to collagen loss such as: diet, smoking, stress levels, alcohol use, water intake, and sleep. Aging culprits like chemical exposure, sun exposure and medication use also contribute to the breakdown of collagen.

The good news is collagen is the most abundant and strongest protein in your body, making up approximately 75% of the weight of your skin and 30% of your total body protein. It’s made up of long fibers of protein that provide strength and support, holding the skin together. It repairs and renews skin, keeping it moist and firm. 

I divided this topic into two parts. In part one I’ll cover some of the claims being made by marketers, manufacturers and bloggers and in part two I’ll cover how to help your body produce collagen naturally.

There are at least 16 variations of collagen in the body. The most prevalent types (80 to 90 percent) of collagen in the body are type 1,2 and 3. Type 1 is the most prevalent and found in the skin, hair, nails, organs, bone and ligaments. Type 2 is associated with cartilage and type 3 in bone, cartilage, teeth, tendons and other connective tissue. The challenge is to increase the production and repair of collagen in order to slow down the thinning and wrinkling of the skin as the loss of collagen begins to outpace the production with the passing of every year.   

The answer is not to apply collagen topically. Topical collagen does not help to improve the collagen within the skin structure because the molecule is too large to penetrate the surface of the skin and travel down to the dermal layer where collagen is found. However, topical collagen may help with hydration levels but that’s about it. 

So, what about oral collagen?

There have been studies that show promise but more research is needed. The science is in its infancy and much of the studies being done are sponsored by manufacturers and therefore not totally reliable. Holes have already been punched through a number of studies that in some cases left obvious questions unanswered. Preliminary, it's safe to say that yes there is some benefit to taking oral collagen. However, is it returning the skin to the youthful plumpness of years gone by? According to August, Georgia based dermatologist Lauren Eckert Ploch, she is not convinced. She points out the obvious issue that stomach acids break down collagen proteins and therefore ingested collagen doesn’t reach the skin. 

Additionally, in order for collagen to have a long-lasting effect one would have to take supplements consistently for the rest of his life. Here’s why. The body is constantly producing the enzyme, collagenase which destroys natural collagen. UVA rays from the sun trigger the production of collagenase which is one of the ways sun exposure damages the skin. The battle for collagen is a continuous one.

So here is a good example of a study that asserts oral collagen improves wound healing.

They claim collagen has been shown to act as a powerful wound healer, able to stop bleeding, recruit immune and skin cells, and stimulate new blood vessel formation. One study of 89 long-term care residents with pressure ulcers found that those who took collagen supplements three times daily for 8 weeks saw wounds heal twice as fast. 

My question is how do you know to attribute the speed of healing to oral collagen intake without testing the same subjects for the same wound without the use of the collagen supplement for the 8 week period. Moreover, what if the same study was done where the subjects were fed a super diet rich in the necessary ingredients to speed up wound healing and yet another study observing the results on wound healing when topical human stem cell serum was applied to the wounds. By comparing the results of three different methods of triggering the body to produce and repair collagen we’d get a really good idea of what shows the most promise.

Manufacturers claim that hydrolyzed collagen is digestible because it is assembled collagen peptides which purportedly travel through the bloodstream and are deposited in the dermis. So the point is the body doesn't have to synthesize the compound because the collagen is already broken down.

Some supplement companies claim oral collagen "peptides" ingestion is effective because “ideally” it’s already a complete molecule chain that consists of fragments small enough to be absorbed and transferred to the dermis layer of the skin. I say great, show me that it actually arrives to the dermis. 

I am totally open to the possibility but I want to see convincing evidence with a high rate of positive results in the majority of studies conducted by schools and labs with no special interest sponsors or conflicts of interest.

Pubmed published a study that claims oral collagen peptide supplementation significantly increased skin hydration after 8 weeks of intake. According to the study the collagen density in the dermis significantly increased and the fragmentation of the dermal collagen network significantly decreased already after 4 weeks of supplementation.  Ex vivo experiments demonstrated that collagen peptides induce collagen as well as glycosaminoglycan production, offering a mechanistic explanation for the observed clinical effects.

This study doesn’t observe if the oral collagen supplement was able to travel in tact through the body and to the dermal layer of the skin to perform the operation the study claims? The study was done ex-vivo, meaning the collagen was applied to tissue in a cultured environment. The study presumes the collagen made it through the body’s intestinal tract. The fact is a major hurdle for collagen is to get through the intestinal tract and deposit where it’s needed most. 

Additionally, this study was done in affiliation with the following raw materials companies

· 1COSderma Laboratory, Bordeaux, France.

· 2BIO-EC Laboratory, Longjumeau, France.

· 3Unitec Foods, Tokyo, Japan.

· 4Rousselot BVBA, Gent, Belgium.

The  University of Kiel, Kiel, Germany did a study on a type of collagen by the name of bioactive collagen peptide (BCP) VERISOL® In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, the effectiveness of the specific bioactive collagen peptide (BCP) VERISOL® on eye wrinkle formation and stimulation of procollagen I, elastin and fibrillin biosynthesis in the skin was assessed. Their findings demonstrate that the oral intake of specific bioactive collagen peptides (Verisol®) reduced skin wrinkles and had positive effects on dermal matrix synthesis. However, there is only a limited number of clinical studies supporting these claims. I also find it interesting that this German university chose a German manufacturer of collagen products. There is no sponsor of the study listed but I have an aching feeling it could be Gelita, the manufacturer of the bioactive collagen peptide (BCP) VERISOL® used in this study. 

 Gelita is a German company specializing in the manufacture of collagen and gelatin ingredients. Gelita sponsors research through a German organization called the Collagen Research Institute, so there are a few studies on their website that claim you only need 2.5 grams of collagen to see results. Geilta also sells product to Costco.

I hope this information encourages you to do your own research on the effects of oral collagen intake so you can draw your own conclusions. In part 2 I'll share ways to stimulate collagen naturally.