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New collagen research could change supplement formulations

Explore collagen's transformation, backed by 24 studies since 2022. From beauty benefits to sports performance, delve into specialized peptides like Gelita's Tendoforte and Rousselot's Peptan for surprising insights.

Hank Schultz

February 5, 2024

4 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Collagen has been completely transformed over the last 15 years because of science.
  • Sports applications have mixed results.
  • Peptides are the coin of the realm.

Collagen is an interesting case of an ingredient that has been almost completely tranformed in the past 15 years or so because of accumulating scientific research. At the beginning of this journey the whole protein molecule was not particularly highly thought of, because of its poor showing on the PDCAAS (protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score) scale, a scale which matches all proteins against egg protein, which gets a perfect score of 1.0, as a standard for amino acid profile completeness.

However, the health supporting properties of collagen have led to both a burgeoning amount of research and booming sales. Here we dig into the latest published science on collagen since 2021.

Collagen scores a 0 on the PDCAAS scale because of a complete lack of tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids. This led the molecule, which is otherwise easy to formulate with, to be used as a relatively low value add-in to things like nutrition bars to plump up the protein content.

However, the health-supporting properties of collagen have led to both a burgeoning amount of research and booming sales. According to Nutrition Business Journal, collagen notched $252 million in sales in 2022 and saw 14.6% year over year growth.

A total of 24 studies published since the start of 2022 are captured using "collagen supplementation" as the search term.

Related:Which collagen source is best for dietary supplements?

Traditional beauty

As far as its properties beyond raw protein contrubition are concerned, collagen has been most frequently studied for its benefits for healthy nails and skin and that continues to be the case.

One recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted in South Korea added to the scientific backing for those effects by studying the effect of "low molecular weight collagen peptides" on skin wrinkles and other markers of epidermal health. The researchers scored the effects by comparing before and after photos of skin wrinkles (a common approach) and conclude that crow's feet wrinkles were reduced and the skin of the collagen was better hydrated.

Sports wins and losses

Some of this researhc has focused on sports nutrition endpoints, and the findings there have been mixed. A recent study in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that, for a small cohort of young men, whey protein did a better job of supporting muscle protein synthesis than did "leucine-matched collagen peptides."

The lead of the research grou[p, Prof. Stuart Phillips of McMaster University, has done a number of studies along this line. Phillips attributed collagen's relative lesser performance to its lower leucine level compared to whey. He also mentioned the absence of tryptophan.

Related:10 ingredients that can power new nutricosmetic supplements

"With those features it becomes hard to reconcile how collagen could support muscle protein synthesis. Perhaps supporting other tissues could be a proposition for collagen peptides," Phillips said in an interview published in 2020.

Another study, published in the journal Acta Physilogica, found that collagen peptides performed getter than placebo in helping young male subjects build muscle and increase flexibility after a course of resistance training.

Bone end points

Another study conducted by a group in Greece focused on collagen peptides and their effects on bone health markers in older women. Vitamin D and calcium are a common one-two punch for bone health supplementation.

The Greek study, which is remarkable in that it ran for a full year, aimed to see if the poositive effects of those two mainstays could be improved with the addition of collagen peptides. The study compared collagen peptides in a relatively high dose (5 grams a day) in conjunction with vitamin D and calcium to the effects of calcium and vitamin D alone.

The researchers found that the addition of collagen significantly improved bone mineral density and bone structure in the population of postmenopausal women with osteopenia. This is a gradual bone demineralization which can be a precursor to outright osteoporosis.

As with sports nutrition studies, hoever, studies on collagen in connection with bone health also present mixed results. A brand new study published in the journal Bone found that a daily dose of a commercially available collagen drink that supplied 18 grams of collagen did not result in greater bone formation after a jump test meant to induce bone stress. The study was small and very short term, however, at only three days.

Peptides

But at the leading edge of collagen research are ingredient developers who have drilled down into specific collagen peptides.

To get a comprehensive look at new research and applications from collagen peptide ingredient suppliers – including resistance training, muscle tissue, joint health, digestion and more – click here to download the free Natural Products Insider digital magazine, "Collagenation."

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About the Author(s)

Hank Schultz

Senior Editor, Informa

Hank Schultz has been the senior editor of Natural Products Insider since early 2023. He can be reached at [email protected]

Prior to joining the Informa team, he was an editor at NutraIngredients-USA, a William Reed Business Media publication.

His approach to industry journalism was formed via a long career in the daily newspaper field. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and German, Hank was an editor at the Tempe Daily News in Arizona. He followed that with a long stint working at the Rocky Mountain News, a now defunct daily newspaper in Denver, where he rose to be one of the city editors. The newspaper won two Pulitzer Prizes during his time there.

The changing landscape of the newspaper industry led him to explore other career paths. He began his career in the natural products industry more than a decade ago at New Hope Natural Media, which was then part of Penton and now is an Informa brand. Hank formed friendships and partnerships within the industry that still inform his work to this day, which helps him to bring an insider’s perspective, tempered with an objective journalist’s sensibility, to his in-depth reporting.

Harkening back to his newspaper days, Hank considers the readers to be the primary stakeholders whose needs must be met. Report the news quickly, comprehensively and above all, fairly, and readership and sponsorships will follow.

In 2015, Hank was recognized by the American Herbal Products Association with a Special Award for Journalistic Excellence.

When he’s not reporting on the supplement industry, Hank enjoys many outside pursuits. Those include long distance bicycle touring, mountain climbing, sailing, kayaking and fishing. Less strenuous pastimes include travel, reading (novels and nonfiction), studying German, noodling on a harmonica, sketching and a daily dose of word puzzles in The New York Times.

Last but far from least, Hank is a lifelong fan and part owner of the Green Bay Packers.

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