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What Are The Benefits of Collagen Protein?

Updated: Dec 30, 2022


What is collagen protein?


Collagen is a structural protein found within the body and is commonly found in sources of gelatin such as pig skin, bovine hide, and pork and cattle bones (1, 2). It functions as any regular protein would when consumed – namely, it is broken down in the body into its constituents which are molecules called amino acids (3). With regards to collagen, it can be broken down into amino acids to form other essential proteins, especially keratin, which are used for building some body structures (4). Collagen is integral to cellular functions and is found in human bones, tendons, ligaments, hair, skin, and muscles (1, 5 – 7). Due to its various functions and accessibility, collagen is often used in the formulation of supplements and foods – like Zentein protein bars (8). Scientific research investigating the utility of collagen supplementation has established it as a source of benefits for skin, hair, and muscle mass. This article will examine the evidence supporting these advantages of collagen.




Collagen and its effects on skin health


A primary reason for collagen use is for enhancing skin health. This is because of collagen’s ability to provide structural support to the skin (9). During the normal ageing process, the body produces less collagen which consequentially leads to drier skin and wrinkles (10). A study assessing skin aging and skin health showed that collagen supplementation improved skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density among older women. Even after 4 weeks upon the conclusion of the study without collagen intake, those older women retained the skin benefits (11). A systematic review – which summarizes academic literature pertaining to a topic under investigation (12) – looked at 11 studies that focused on women and showed that an average daily intake of 2.5g – 10g of collagen for 8 to 24 weeks and 3g for 4 to 12 weeks led to improvements in skin aging and skin elasticity and hydration (13). These benefits may be due to greater production of skin structures, particularly elastin and fibrillin, which can be realized with collagen supplements (13).



Collagen for improving hair health


An additional benefit that can be derived from collagen is improving hair. As mentioned previously, collagen is a protein that is broken down to provide amino acids that provide the basis for body structures and cellular components (1). The structural protein keratin – which helps build hair (4) – is made from collagen through its amino acids lysine, proline, and glycine (9). While some have argued whether collagen supplementation has a direct translation into helping hair health, research suggests that it can.



Damage to hair follicles can be caused by a variety of factors. Particularly, free radicals – which are ions in the body that are developed from stress and environmental influences (14) – can negatively affect hair follicles (15). Free radicals may be combated with antioxidants which are compounds in the body that can protect against its damage (16). Researchers have found that collagen has strong antioxidant properties (17). These properties are generally indicative of a protective effect against free radicals and was found to be the case in one study using marine collagen (18). It is important to note that these studies were conducted in isolated cells and more needs to be understood regarding collagen’s role as an antioxidant in the body.


Studies in humans have proposed that collagen supplements can attenuate hair thinning given that 70% of the dermis – the middle layer in skin which contains the roots of all hairs is comprised of collagen (19). Evidence for this was found in a study using collagen supplementation among older women which showed that it promoted hair growth after 6 months (20).


Collagen's effect on muscle mass


Greater muscle mass may also result from collagen supplementation. Muscle growth (also known as muscle hypertrophy) occurs when the body repairs muscle fibers that become damaged after a stressor (such as weight training). The body then goes through a cellular process to join muscle fibers together that allow new muscle protein strands, called myofibrils, to be synthesized. These myofibrils, now repaired, become greater in volume and number which ultimately produces muscle hypertrophy (21).


This process of hypertrophy necessitates the use of amino acids that can be provided from protein sources, like collagen. It has been widely recognized that the amino acid leucine is a significant contributor to facilitating muscular hypertrophy (22). Although collagen contains only a small amount of leucine (0.4 g/15 g) (23), which is not sufficient to induce muscle hypertrophy, it contains other amino acids – especially glycine which has been shown to elicit biochemical reactions relevant to muscle growth (9, 24).



Support for this has been shown in a 12-week study of older men with sarcopenia – a musculoskeletal disease characterized by a loss of muscle mass, strength, and performance with age (25). The researchers found that an exercise program combined with collagen supplementation increased muscle mass compared to those who exercised but did not take collagen (23). A systematic review of 15 studies also had similar findings which showed that collagen had beneficial effects for strength, muscle recovery, and body composition – as indicated by a greater muscle mass to fat tissue ratio (26). While it is still yet to be determined regarding the specific potential of collagen to increase muscle mass, the evidence provided would suggest that collagen supplementation shows much promise for delivering muscle hypertrophy.


Conclusion


In conclusion, collagen intake could have much utility regarding improvements associated with skin, hair, and muscle mass. While there are many food sources available that are abundant with collagen, many of the studies discussed that support its advantages would also advocate for a good balanced diet. For example, consuming Zentein protein bars which have 25g of protein, primarily from collagen, and made with peanut butter, oats, dark chocolate, and honey with only 250 calories (8), could help with meeting the necessary requisites for a good diet to ensure that one can receive all of collagen's related benefits. Regardless of the consumption method, the research evidence provided seems to strongly recognize collagen as a credible source of benefits.






Bibliography


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