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New research is pushing collagen from strength to strength.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
More than Skin Deep
“As the population looks to slow the signs of aging,” observes Rousselot’s De Clerck, “oral intake of collagen peptides, as with nutricosmetics, has become an attractive solution for improved skin structure and appearance.” In fact, the results of a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial1 showed that Rousselot’s brand of collagen peptides significantly decreased collagen fragmentation in the deep layer of the dermis by 18% after four weeks of intake, and by as much as 31% after 12 weeks. After four weeks of intake, the peptides also appeared to significantly increase collagen density in the dermis by 9%.
Such studies represent “breakthroughs” in antiaging skin science, De Clerck says, as they “clearly demonstrate that not only is the increase in collagen quantity in the dermis important to improving the properties of the skin, but the quality of the collagen network and fibers is key, too.”
“Another key benefit of collagen peptides is their effect on promoting joint health,” De Clerck continues. An in vivo study2 published this year shows that supplementation with her company’s branded collagen peptide helps preserve the cartilage area during osteoarthritis development while also protecting it from degeneration by stimulating chondrocyte and proteoglycan synthesis. The findings also demonstrate the ingredient’s effectiveness at reducing inflammation by normalizing synovial thickness and reducing the production of the inflammatory tumor necrosis factor (TNF).
“These results are particularly important,” De Clerck says, because “they not only show that our collagen peptides can help protect cartilage from degeneration, increase cell number, and stimulate proteoglycan synthesis, but can significantly and dose-dependently reduce inflammation of the synovial membrane. This level of mechanistic evidence is unique among collagen peptide products.”
Get to Work
If collagen peptide supplementation can ameliorate the painful symptoms of joint deterioration-and thus give hesitant weekend warriors the confidence to get out and start exercising again-wouldn’t it be handy if it could also improve the tone and strength of their newly working muscles? A 2015 study3 involving 53 elderly male subjects with the age-related muscle-loss condition known as sarcopenia found that those who supplemented with collagen peptides in conjunction with a 12-week course of guided resistance training exhibited significantly more pronounced increases in fat-free mass, bone mass, isokinetic quadriceps strength, and sensory motor control, plus a greater reduction in fat mass, compared to those not receiving supplementation.
Gelita’s Niemann says that the study-which looked at her company’s collagen-peptide product-“clearly demonstrates” that it “has a positive impact on body toning and muscle strength.”
An Inside Job
When we think of cellulite-and, boy, do we ever-we usually associate it with excess weight and poor muscle tone. But cellulite has a dermal component, too, and a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study4 published in 2015 shows that supplementation with targeted collagen peptides can affect it.
The study included 105 normal-weight and overweight female subjects aged 24 to 50 years with moderate cellulite. Subjects received either a daily oral dose of 2.5 g collagen peptides or a placebo for six months. At the end of this period, researchers found that among the normal-weight subjects, collagen-peptide supplementation yielded a statistically significant decrease in degree of cellulite and a reduction in skin waviness on the thighs, while also improving dermal density. Supplementation proved effective in the overweight subjects, too, albeit to a lesser extent.
“While this study on its own is compelling,” notes Niemann, “it’s even more meaningful in conjunction with other recently published studies showing that, taken orally, specific collagen peptides influence the skin’s collagen metabolism directly from the inside, supporting a strong dermal layer and thus improving skin’s elasticity and firmness.”
That collagen is a structural constituent of fibrous tissues like tendons and ligaments makes sense; that it’s structurally important in, say, bone, is less intuitive. But, says De Clerck, “Collagen peptides have also been shown to provide bone and skeletal support.” In in vitro and in vivo studies5,6 and in a recently published review7, her company’s branded collagen peptide demonstrated an ability to improve bone metabolism-with supplementation helping to restore bone mineral density and improve bone microarchitecture and solidity.
“On a mechanistic level,” De Clerck says, the collagen ingredient “was shown to stimulate bone formation by promoting proliferation, differentiation, and mineralization of osteoblasts, and to slow bone breakdown by inhibiting osteoclasts.”