You have probably heard the term “collagen” before – most likely during TV commercials for skin creams. But in recent years, it has gained popularity as a nutritional supplement and men can benefit from it too.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the human body and, according to the Journal of Cell Science, a major building block of skin, bones, tendon, cartilage and ligaments. It is also found in other body parts such as teeth, corneas and blood vessels. Simply put, it is the ‘glue’ that holds all these things together — the word itself is derived from the Greek word ‘kolla,’ which means glue.
But what is hydrolysed collagen?
The collagen found in your body and the collagen used in supplements is not the same thing. For it to be used as a supplement, it needs to go through a process called hydrolysis. The hydrolysis process breaks the collagen protein down into its smaller parts — the amino acids — and yields collagen peptides, commonly known as hydrolysed collagen. Once broken down, the collagen is more easily dissolvable and digestible.
What does collagen do in the body?
According to the book Molecular Cell Biology, there are 16 types of collagen, but the four main types make up about 90% of the collagen found in your body. Here is a brief explanation of the role each plays in one’s body:
Type I: Gives structure to skin, bones, tendons, fibrous cartilage, connective tissue and teeth.
Type II: Is found in elastic cartilage which cushions joints.
Type III: Supports the structure of muscles, organs and arteries.
Type IV: Found in layers of your skin.
As you age, your body produces less and lower quality collagen. The decrease becomes visible on your skin as its elasticity breaks down — your skin loses some of its ability to bounce back into shape and therefore wrinkles start to appear. Because of the loss of collagen, your skin may also become thinner and drier.
Apart from improving one’s skin health, collagen has other benefits as well.
Increases muscle mass
A small study, published in The British Journal of Nutrition, demonstrated how a group of men taking a collagen supplement in combination with regular resistance training, showed an increase in muscle mass and strength as well as a decrease in body fat.
A group of 53 elderly male subjects, all with sarcopenia — a condition characterised by a loss of muscle mass and function, completed a controlled study over three months. All the subjects completed a 12-week resistance training programme of three sessions per week and received either a 15-gram collagen supplement per day or a placebo.
Upon conclusion of the study, all the subjects showed an increase in muscle mass, muscle strength and a decrease in body fat. But the subjects who received the collagen supplement benefitted from further muscle mass and strength gains, as well as body fat decreases, over that of the placebo group.
The researchers explained that collagen may help stimulate the production of the proteins responsible for muscle growth. They also explained that since collagen is abundant in arginine and glycine, which are important substrates for the synthesis of creatine in the human body, it can also help improve muscle mass and function.
Helps support joint health
As with skin, the cartilage of our joints breaks down as we get older, but there is promising research suggesting that collagen supplements may help with restoring and even preventing the breakdown, of the cartilage in our joints.
A study conducted between 2005 and 2006 at Penn State University in Pennsylvania, USA concluded that supplementing with collagen may help relieve joint pain. A group of 147 athletes with no evidence of joint disease, but suffered from activity-based joint pain, took part in a 24-week study where researchers looked at the effect hydrolysed collagen had on osteoarthritis — the condition where the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones, wears down over time.
The athletes were divided into a group of 73 subjects who received a collagen supplement while the remaining 74 subjects received a placebo. The researchers concluded that supplementing with collagen peptides can support joint health by improving mobility through the reduction of pain and inflammation while possibly reducing the risk of deterioration of one’s joints.
May improve heart health
A study published in the Journal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis explains that collagen may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease — the condition that refers to the narrowing of blood vessels and can lead to a heart attack.
Researchers studied 32 healthy individuals, of whom none had received any previous treatment for cardiovascular disease, over six months to see what effect collagen supplementation had with regards to the possible prevention, and treatment, of plaque build-up in their artery walls.
To conduct the research, all 32 volunteers took a collagen supplement twice a day (a total of 16 grams) and were instructed to carry on with their normal daily lives. No additional dieting or other healthy foods where introduced.
At the start of the study, researchers recorded everyone’s body weight, BMI, blood pressure as well as HDL and LDL cholesterol to achieve a baseline for each. And after the six-month study concluded, the researchers took the same readings again.
In the end, 30 volunteers were included in the result and 12 of these were considered to be high-risk in terms of their LDL to HDL cholesterol ratio. Interesting findings were that these 12 individuals’ LDL-C to HDL-C ratio improved — their LDL (bad) cholesterol decreased while the HDL (good) cholesterol increased. Leading researchers to conclude that the collagen supplement may have helped to improve the cholesterol levels of the 12 individuals who were considered high-risk.
Although promising, more research is required to determine how exactly collagen can help reduce the risk of heart-related conditions.
Can help prevent hair loss
Scientists in Japan have uncovered a new reason behind hair loss — the disappearance of a type of collagen which is brought on by ageing.
Emi Nishimura, the biologist who led the study at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, explains they discovered that ageing damages the stem cells in hair follicles and over time this happens to an increasing amount of stem cells, causing the hair follicles to shrink and disappear. Nishimura further explains that the damaged stem cells turn themselves into skin and in their new state simply shed off the skin surface. They discovered that age-related damage triggers the destruction of a protein known as Collagen 17A1.
The research team analysed hair follicles in scalps from a group of women ranging from 22 to 70 years old and found that the follicles of women over the age of 55 were smaller and had lower levels of Collagen 17A1. Nishimura conceded that stem cell damage is unlikely to be the only contributing factor behind hair loss but that Collagen 17A1 could be used to treat hair loss. Even though the study was done on women, collagen can offer men the same benefits as it can to the ladies.