Mainstream media coverage of dietary supplement safety and efficacy is often critical, but the article, The Real Deal on Collagen: Can popping a pill or eating foods with collagen improve your skin, hair, nails, or joints? (Consumer Reports, October 13) was described as “mostly accurate”, by Len Monheit, CEO, Trust Transparency Center, which operates the Collagen Stewardship Alliance (CSA).
The article notes the continued growth of the category, which it cites will be worth $298 million this year (Nutrition Business Journal data), as well as highlighting that data from sports studies and studies with skin health endpoints have reporter significant benefits for ligaments and other connective tissue as well as skin elasticity and hydration.
“Overall, the Consumer Reports article represents an appropriate review of the state of the market and science in the space – albeit with some inaccuracies,” Monheit told NutraIngredients-USA.
“The Collagen Stewardship Alliance, formed earlier this year to work with stakeholders across the collagen market to promote and steward responsible, sustainable growth of the market, agrees that this hugely popular category has seen marketing and consumer uptake drive growth, but would argue that type by type, there is an increase in health research and also an improved understanding of mechanistic science.
“CSA appreciates this acknowledgement of collagen’s increasing popularity and agrees that responsible presentation of existing and future science to align with claims is the way forward,” added Monheit.
The CR article features a quote from Donald Layman, PhD, professor emeritus in the food science and human nutrition department at the University of Illinois in Urbana: “There is some evidence the body can absorb these [collagen peptides] and use them to rebuild tissue. Collagen also contains unique levels of glycine, an amino acid that may stimulate growth hormone, improving collagen synthesis.”
“Currently, we’ve got this huge gap between what protein science tells us and what consumers who take collagen have been saying for years—back to ancient times in Asia,” added Prof Layman. “There’s an amazing amount of subjective evidence saying it’s great, but there’s not a lot of science to prove it.”
In response, Monheit told us: “As Layman notes in the article, there are multiple studies showing both direct benefits of collagen intake on factors linked to skin health and joint heath, in addition to bioavailability studies showing that specific di- and tri-peptides associated with collagen remain intact in digestion and make it into the bloodstream.
“We need to be mindful of letting the market get ahead of the science as this area of science is still developing and more work needs to be done to further demonstrate the mechanisms at play. However, the state of science surrounding collagen has developed significantly in recent years and will continue to do so.”
Type by type
Collagen is one of the main structural proteins in skin, bone, and connective tissue, explained Monheit. There are multiple types of collagen, the most common are types I, II and II.
As we age, collagen levels in our body fall dramatically (the general rate of collagen degradation in our body vastly outweighs our own collagen synthesis). This process starts at about 20 years old, but becomes very significant after the age of 30-35.
Actual collagen proteins have a complex triple helical structure that makes them very strong but flexible, he added. This form of collagen cannot be digested, which is why we eat small peptides known as hydrolyzed collagen. In order to make collagen from scratch, your body needs all of the amino acids plus various other co-factors like vitamin C and zinc.
“While it is true that some of the di- and tri-peptides consumed in hydrolyzed collagen are broken down to individual free amino acids, multiple bioavailability studies, using different specific forms of hydrolyzed collagen, have shown that the di-peptide and tri-peptide ‘building blocks’ of collagen are bioavailable and present in blood after consumption,” said Monheit. “For example, studies from collagen supplier Rousselot show it’s Peptan ingredient is highly bioavailable in the form of specific di-peptides and tri-peptides. Similarly, GELITA cite studies showing that 10% of bioactive collagen peptides remain intact during digestion and are directly absorbed.”
The CR article did mention results from the Organic Consumers Association and Clean Label Project that raised concerns about heavy metal levels in a select number of collagen supplements (lead or cadmium at levels above that of the California Standards).
“While these products were not pure collagen, so it is impossible to know where heavy metals came from, it is important to reiterate that it is not acceptable for any collagen-containing products to contain these levels of heavy metals,” said Monheit.
“Much like other area of the nutritional supply chain, it is clear that the collagen category is in need of agreed upon best practices and codes of conduct, which will help to protect consumers and ensure those who do muddy the waters by bringing inferior quality product into the marketplace are not allowed to continue.”