What’s Driving Collagen?

Oct 6, 2017

Americans may be getting older, but there’s little indication that they’re eager to look or feel…well, old. That’s why collagen supplements aimed at improving everything from joint function to skin appearance are “sitting pretty,” so to speak, with consumers intent on slowing the aging process as best they can—and reaping the other benefits that collagen brings.

According to Lara Niemann, marketing director, Americas, Gelita (Sergeant Bluff, IA), “More people globally are adopting a ‘DIY’ mentality and proactive stance in achieving their health targets.” The result, she says, has been a “resurgence” of interest in collagen protein.

Elke De Clerck, global market development manager for Peptan, Rousselot (Peabody, MA), agrees—adding that collagen “has become a particularly hot topic” in the nutrition community over the past decade. “Traditionally a popular ingredient in the Asian region, collagen’s use has now significantly increased across the global industry, proving that it’s not just a passing trend,” she says. MarketsandMarkets research predicts the demand for collagen peptides to grow at a 7.1% CAGR between 2014 and 2019, likely surpassing $800 million in sales by the end of that five-year timeframe.


It’s Everywhere

Why the interest? Because collagen is well-nigh inescapable. The most abundant protein in the human body, it accounts for roughly 25%–35% of the total protein content. And as collagen’s amino acids are wound together into triple helices that themselves twist into long fibrils, it’s no surprise that collagen is a key structural component of the fibrous tissues of tendons, ligaments, and skin, while also helping to build bones, cartilage, muscles, and the dentin in teeth.

As such, collagen supplementation “helps us stay flexible, mobile, beautiful, and strong,” Niemann says. “Worldwide, collagen is among the most trusted active ingredients for consumers who prioritize skin, nail, joint, bone, and muscle health.”


Broad Base

These days, that pretty much covers all of us—that is to say that all of us, regardless of age, prioritize skin, nail, joint, bone, and muscle health. Older consumers hoping to stay active longer and reduce the visible signs of aging recognize collagen’s “proven results” in improving skin appearance and maintaining a healthy musculoskeletal system, De Clerck says, while younger consumers turn to the protein “for a slightly different reason: prevention through nutritional supplementation.”

As De Clerck elaborates, “Whether for sports-related injuries or skin beauty, younger demographics aim to avoid certain conditions and slow down the effects of aging.” Collagen’s support for athletic activity, for instance, is attractive to Millennials, as “in addition to building muscle, collagen peptides have been shown to help protect joints and support connective tissues by reducing discomfort and preventing injury,” she says.


Size Matters     

Both Niemann and De Clerck cite the utility of collagen peptides in effecting these results—and not by accident. Collagen peptides are the short-chain products that emerge when native collagen is enzymatically hydrolyzed “to obtain a specific bioactive peptide profile,” Niemann explains. “With their special amino acid composition and peptide profile, these specific collagen peptides influence the body’s collagen metabolism directly from the inside.”

How? Via two mechanisms: one, they supply the amino-acid starting materials needed to generate new collagen; two, they stimulate cell synthesis. With different collagen peptides stimulating different cell types, they “can play a key role as part of a whole-diet approach to health promotion, increasing longevity and reducing the risks of a wide range of age-related conditions,” Niemann says.

Compared to unhydrolyzed proteins, collagen peptides are also more easily and effectively absorbed. The small protein segments travel right from the blood to target tissues “where they act as building blocks to boost production of new collagen fibers, and as biological messengers that stimulate cellular metabolism,” De Clerck says. Exhibit A: small collagen peptides in the skin may trick the body into thinking that native collagen is breaking down, “triggering the synthesis of new collagen fibers,” she says.


Easy Does It

Collagen peptides aren’t only more easily absorbed and incorporated than larger proteins; as soluble powders with a neutral color and taste profile, they’re also easier for formulators to work with. That being the case, collagen’s horizons have expanded beyond capsules and tablets to cover “pioneering clean-label formulations like yogurts, gummies, beverages, and chocolate, which fit today’s lifestyles and improve products’ overall wellness offering,” De Clerck says.

She even thinks marketers should pair collagen with complementary nutrients “to create a wide range of nutritional blends with added health benefits.” A bone-health formulation might match collagen peptides with calcium and vitamin D to achieve “a synergistic effect and provide optimal protein content to build the bone matrix,” she suggests.

Niemann adds that while collagen has been a frequent flyer in topical beauty and personal-care products—face creams, body lotions, shampoo, and more—“recent scientific evidence confirms that the highest efficacy can be achieved when collagen is ingested orally. Consumer attitudes and preferences are now following suit.”

But collagen peptides aren’t one-size-fits-all ingredients. “Different collagen peptides offer optimized benefits for different body areas,” Niemann continues. “Manufacturers and retailers should seek specific collagen ingredients that meet their product objectives and, more importantly, meet their consumers’ demands while also providing rigorous scientific evidence.”

Ahead, we look at the latest research into collagen’s premier benefits.

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