Collagen: The Master Protein
What if there was a nutrient that reverses aging, builds more muscle, and improves your sleep? This might sound too good to be true, but there are actually a lot of scientific studies that speak in collagen’s favor. Collagen has recently been growing quite popular in the paleo community in the form of bone broth and gelatin, which contains a similar amino acid composition. It is known for its anti-aging benefits on the joints and skin. But this protein actually has even more advantages in store for the human body.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is a type of protein found naturally in the body. There is more collagen than any other type of protein in mammals, making up 30% of all the body proteins. It gets its name from a Greek word that means “glue,” which makes sense, since it is basically what holds the human body together. You can find collagen in the skin, joints, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and even in the bones and muscles.
Collagen is composed of the conditionally essential amino acids glycine, proline, and arginine. It also contains the amino acid derivative hydroxyproline. Conditionally essential amino acids are those that are normally produced by the body, but there are cases when your body might need more than it can make. In such a case, you can benefit from consuming more of them through food sources or supplements. These amino acids are the reason why collagen supplementation has so many benefits.
So what can collagen do for you?
Helps With Digestion
People aren’t usually aware about the digestive benefits of collagen. Most seek it out for its anti-aging and joint health benefits. But this protein actually has a role to play in the digestive tract.
The glycine content of collagen has been found to promote the growth of bifidobacteria.1 This is a good kind of probiotic bacteria. Good bacteria are responsible for aiding in the digestion of food, nutrient absorption, and fighting off bad bacteria that can cause disease in the body.
Studies also found that glycine can help protect the intestine by fighting off the swelling and inflammation often seen in IBD (inflammatory bowel disease).2 Furthermore, glycine is found to protect the small intestine during endotoxemia,3 a state where endotoxins in the blood may cause bleeding, cell death, and shock.
This goes to show that collagen is important not only in helping digestion, but also in protecting the digestive tract from disease and injury.
Better Physical Performance and Results
Here’s what will pique the interest of athletes and bodybuilders the most: collagen can help you build bigger and stronger muscles. Two studies were conducted by German and Japanese researchers to test this.
A 2015 German study4 was done with men in their seventies on collagen peptides against placebo. For three months, they consumed collagen peptides and performed regular resistance training. In the end, the men in the collagen group had grown more muscle mass.
Another study by Japanese researchers5 tested whether the hydroxyprolylglycine (a combination of hydroxylproline and glycine) from gelatin or collagen peptides could be the reason for the German study results. They tested this on muscle cells and found that the cells fused faster and grew larger muscle tissues from supplementation.
As if bigger muscles weren’t enough, the arginine content in collagen also plays a role in exercise.6 Studies were also conducted on this amino acid and concluded that arginine taken during training increases strength and body mass, and lowers collagen breakdown. Moreover, arginine stimulates the production of growth hormone that is responsible for muscle growth.7
Aids in Weight Loss
Do you remember that German study on elderly men? Another result from this study was that the subjects consuming the collagen peptides also burned more body fat. Aside from this, consuming extra amounts of protein such as collagen supplementation makes you feel full and reduces appetite. Lower calorie intake generally means less added pounds, if you’re aiming for weight loss.
Promotes Joint Health
Have you ever wondered why Jell-O is so good for kids? It’s not actually just for fun. Gelatin is simply the cooked form of collagen, and Jell-O contains plenty of gelatin that helps build bones and other connective tissues.
Research has also shown that collagen can also reduce joint pain. One study was conducted on athletes who suffered chronically painful joints.8 After consuming collagen for 24 weeks, their pain decreased substantially compared to the placebo group.
Collagen also has positive effects on arthritis sufferers. An experiment was conducted on rats with osteoarthritis, consuming supplemental collagen for 90 days. The results were decreases in pain and increased mobility. Collagen as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) was also tested on RA sufferers.9 After 24 weeks, they showed positive improvements without any side effects.
So aside from helping the musculoskeletal development of the body, collagen also helps treat conditions associated with the joints. This is a good thing not only for those suffering from diseases, but also those who work out hard and routinely stress their joints to their limit and could use the extra support. The less joint pain you experience, the more time and energy you can dedicate to exercising more often.
Speeds Up Healing and Recovery
An Indian study found that the amino acid proline, which can also be found in collagen, helps with wound healing.10 In the study, the researchers tested this on rats with the same size of wounds. The first group was given proline orally, the second group had proline applied directly onto the wounds, and the third group did not receive any proline. The wounds healed after 15 days, 10 days, and 20 days, respectively.
Interestingly, topical proline was the most effective, paving the way for future potential topical creams to speed up healing. Another study further concluded that collagen plays an important role through the whole process of wound healing.11 These findings are the reason why collagen dressings came about for medical uses.
Keeps the Skin Young
One major concern with getting older is the physical appearance of aging. While aging is a natural process and is not completely avoidable, some people show signs of it at an earlier age than others. Imagine being confused as the grandfather of your kids, or having lines on your face in your early 20s. White hair can easily be covered up by coloring your hair, but wrinkles and dry skin that lost its elasticity and youthful glow takes a lot more effort; some just let it be. But what if there’s another way to counter this?
Collagen is most popularly known as a protein that reverses signs of aging and has beautifying effects. An extensive study was done on this claim.12 They asked 300 subjects from different countries to test collagen consumption’s effects on signs of aging.
The study concluded positive results in skin health, higher collagen density, and improved skin firmness. The subjects who had wrinkles, and those who had photo aging signs showed considerable improvement. There were also improvements in skin hydration, and the depth of the nasolabial fold (the line from the corner of the nose to the mouth) was reduced. You might not be able to escape aging, but with collagen, you can at least delay it.
Improves Sleep Quality
This is another benefit you wouldn’t really expect from collagen. When you are sleeping, you enter into different levels of sleep, ranging from stage 1 to 4. Stages 1 and 2 are very shallow, and you can easily awaken from them. Stage 3 is the deep sleep stage or slow wave sleep, while the 4th is REM (rapid eye movement), where dreams usually occur.
The deep sleep stage is when your body rests and recovers. It is a very important sleep stage that you need to go through in order to perform well the next day. In this stage, growth hormone is released as well which is what fuels your muscle growth.
Some people, however, cannot enter deep sleep due to health conditions or habits. Consuming caffeine too late in the evenings, for instance, can disrupt your body from being able to reach deeper stages of sleep such as stage 3. This causes drowsiness during the day and an inability to concentrate.
A study was conducted on the effects of collagen intake on sleeping patterns.13 According to this research, people who took collagen before sleeping reported better quality sleep. The measurements done also showed that the subjects fell asleep faster and reached deep sleep quicker than those who took the placebo. They were also found to not feel fatigued during the day and had good mental performance. Even if they didn’t say that their sleep quality got better after consuming collagen, their cognitive performance tests still showed improvements.
How to Consume Collagen
After reading about all these benefits, you are obviously thinking, where can I get myself some collagen? The good news is, your body already naturally produces this protein. The bad news is, your body’s collagen decreases as you grow older. Therefore, you should consume collagen supplements if you feel like your body could benefit from the increased intake.
There are two forms of collagen commonly seen in supplements: gelatin and collagen hydrolysate.
- Cooked collagen protein is what you know to be gelatin. You can use this to make desserts. It has a denser consistency, which makes it better for healing the gut, since it takes longer to digest.
- Collagen hydrolysate, or collagen peptides, are lighter forms and easier to dissolve even in cold liquid drinks. It also has the same amino acid content as gelatin. This is more preferable if you want to put it in your drinks, protein shakes or smoothies.
The two forms of collagen have the same benefits. Your choice ultimately just depends on how you would like to consume it.
It is surprising how many additional benefits you can get from just a different kind of protein. No wonder it makes up most of the proteins in the body! Although it’s not absolutely necessary to take collagen, it is very beneficial overall. It’s not just good for a youthful appearance, but also great for mental, digestive and musculoskeletal health. Plus, a good night’s sleep will keep the fatigue away and make sure your muscles get the recovery they deserve to build a great physique.
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