Medically reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD, PhD
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It provides a structure for connective tissue, bone, skin, hair, and nails and maintains gut health.
Although collagen is known for its benefits to the skin, it contains essential amino acids like glycine, hydroxyproline, and proline that help preserve the integrity of the intestinal wall. Moreover, it also contains amino acids like glutamic acid, arginine, lysine, and threonine, which protect the cells in the gut against harmful substances.
Collagen is used to treat a condition called ‘leaky gut’ and helps resolve several digestive health conditions. The gut determines our immune system, metabolism, state of mind, skin, and overall well-being. Neglecting this system can make us vulnerable to numerous pathogens leading to infection, inflammation, and leaky gut syndrome.
What Is ‘Leaky Gut’ Syndrome?
Leaky gut is a condition in which the integrity of the intestinal wall is lost, increasing its permeability. Due to this, pathogens get reabsorbed in the body, triggering an immune response and causing inflammation in the body. While several factors can help prevent and heal leaky gut, incorporating collagen and collagen-rich food into the diet can help maintain the digestive system.
How Does Collagen Affect Gut Health?
Collagen plays a vital role in maintaining the gut health in the following ways:
- Collagen helps to repair and strengthen the gut lining
A study, “Collagen peptides ameliorate intestinal epithelial barrier dysfunction in immunostimulatory Caco-2 cell monolayers via enhancing tight junctions“, published in Food & Function, states that collagen peptides can help to get rid of gut barrier dysfunction. Another study, “Effect of a high-collagen peptide diet on the gut microbiota and short-chain fatty acid metabolism,” published in the Journal of Functional Foods, has established a correlation between a diet rich in collagen peptides and an increase in fatty acid production by the microbiota in the gut.
Since inflammation and infection in the gut can also affect other body parts, it is essential to include food items rich in collagen in the diet.
- Collagen helps in the process of digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Disturbed gut health leads to impairment in the absorption of nutrients. The nutrients, which could otherwise be properly digested and absorbed in the gut, escape the intestinal lining. This loss of nutrients can be prevented by strengthening the gut lining. As collagen plays an essential role in maintaining the integrity of the gut lining, upping the collagen intake can help mitigate this loss of nutrients.
- Helps in the synthesis of collagen
Although collagen is naturally produced in our body, the ability to replenish the deficit amino acids in our body declines. Hence, one must consume sufficient quantities of amino acids to build, store, and synthesize collagen in our bodies.
Which Foods Are Rich in Collagen?
Collagen-rich foods include fish, egg whites, beef, gelatin, and chicken. However, marine collagen is considered to be the most effective source of collagen.
Bone broth, made by boiling animal bones or connective tissues for over 10 hours, is one of the most popular sources of collagen. Bone broth contains nutrients like amino acids, glucosamine, calcium, and magnesium. These nutrients help reduce inflammation and improve mobility.
Which Type of Collagen Is Considered to Be the Best in the Market?
Several types of collagen and collagen supplements are available on the market. Hence, choosing the collagen supplement best suited to one’s skin and health can be confusing.
Collagen powders are derived from animal sources like a cow (bovine), pig (porcine), chicken (poultry), and fish (marine). These usually provide type I, type II, and type III collagen. Type I and III support skin, hair, and nails, while type II is used to improve joint health and bone density. There are no plant-based sources of collagen.
Bovine collagen is commonly sourced from cows. It has collagen types I and II.
Poultry collagen is derived from the cartilage found in the breast bone of a chicken and from the eggshell membrane. It contains higher levels of collagen type II.
Marine collagen is obtained from fish skin, scales, and bones. Most of the marine collagen is obtained from fish like cod or snapper. Marine collagen primarily has collagen type I.
While both marine and bovine collagen provide similar benefits, bovine collagen is more economical.
Although marine collagen has become popular in recent years, there are several factors that one should consider before preferring it to other forms of bovine-derived collagen.
A study, ” Oral collagen supplementation: A systematic review of dermatological applications,” published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, states that hydrolyzed marine collagen can improve skin’s overall elasticity and hydration. Moreover, it can also increase the production of collagen and its density, helping wounds heal faster. It also helps protect and preserve collagen stored beneath the dermis, thus improving overall skin health and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Marine collagen is also rich in essential amino acids like glutamine, proline, and glycine that help strengthen the intestinal barrier.
Marine collagen is a sustainable source of collagen. The rate of carbon emissions from marine fisheries is significantly lower than those from traditional red meat production. The fish skins that are to produce collagen are considered to be by-products of the food industry.
Marine collagen should also be chosen over other forms of collagen, especially when one’s diet doesn’t include adequate amounts of animal proteins, eggs, or food items rich in gelatin-like bone broth and chicken’s feet.
Furthermore, the rate of absorption of collagen also plays a vital role while choosing the type of collagen supplement. In its complete form, collagen supplement does not have a perfect absorption rate. This is because the molecules are too big to be broken down and absorbed by our digestive system. Hydrolyzed or nano-hydrolyzed collagen increases the bioavailability of collagen in the body. Marine collagen peptide is enzymatically hydrolyzed.
Achieving good gut health is of utmost importance, yet it is not an easy task. This is why people face digestive symptoms and other chronic disorders for years. Hence choosing the right supplement can help you improve your gut, skin, and mental health.
Chen, Q., Chen, O., Martins, I. M., Hou, H., Zhao, X., Blumberg, J. B., & Li, B. (2017). Collagen peptides ameliorate intestinal epithelial barrier dysfunction in immunostimulatory Caco-2 cell monolayers via enhancing tight junctions. Food & Function, 8(3), 1144–1151. https://doi.org/10.1039/c6fo01347c
Choi, F. D., Sung, C. T., Juhasz, M. L. W., & Mesinkovsk, N. A. (2019). Oral collagen supplementation: A systematic review of dermatological applications. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology: JDD, 18(1), 9–16. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30681787/
Mei, F., Duan, Z., Chen, M., Lu, J., Zhao, M., Li, L., Shen, X., Xia, G., & Chen, S. (2020). Effect of a high-collagen peptide diet on the gut microbiota and short-chain fatty acid metabolism. Journal of Functional Foods, 75, 104278. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2020.104278
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