As an undergraduate I’ve had the privilege of watching an eminent and established researcher up close (a friend of my relatives). They’ve studied protein synthesis in the human body for some years now, and we’ve seen the world blow up on the topic around them, as the hype (and the science) around protein synthesis has become mainstream. In this article I’m going to look into how protein synthesis occurs, and it’s day-to-day implications for both beauty and power, that we all seek in one way or another.
Hype and Science
I’ve seen “Collagen”, a word that I thought was known only to dermatologists and biologists, plastered over everything from chocolate bars to face washes, in my local supermarket. We’re definitely experiencing a hype phase in the spread of the new research on collage, so let’s get some clarity on the topic, and divide the hype from the science. Firstly, let’s get a basic understanding of what collagen is. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It can be found almost anywhere and is one of the key building blocks for the skin, nails, ligaments, bones and tendons. It’s known as the connective “glue” which binds things together and gives them strength. It is well-known for providing structure and firmness to skin, but it is also found in blood vessels, the corneas, and teeth. Among the many types of collagen found in the body, there are four main types:
- Type I: This is the most common type of collagen found in the body, and it mostly resides in tendons, densely packed. It’s also present in hair, skin, bones, teeth and nails. This type of collagen can help restore firmness and elasticity to skin.
- Type II: The cartilage in your joints contains mostly type II collagen, which is more loosely packed to provide cushion to your knees, ankles, wrists, etc. Taking supplements of this type of collagen could help to reduce swelling (and pain) found in joints due to arthritis. Type II collagen is also found in the lining of the gut helping to ensure that the digestive system is running properly and preserving a healthy immune system.
- Type III: This collagen helps provide function and structure to the organs, arteries, and muscles and taking this type of collagen could provide cardiovascular benefits.
- Type IV: Another type of collagen that helps out your skin, this type improves filtration and can be found amongst the layers of the skin.
Now we have an understanding that not all collagen is the same, let’s press on to the real-world effects it has in subjects under supplementation.
Both anecdotal experience and human studies have shown that external supplementation of collagen has statistically significant effects on a range of demographics, in specific areas of health. Let’s look at the high-level summary:
Hair, skin, and nails
Although collagen cannot reduce the effects of aging completely (nothing can!), it can help you achieve firmer, more supple skin with consistent use. Since collagen is a part of the fabric of your skin, by increasing its quantity in your diet, more is available for your body to use, and as such, you’re more likely to see your skin appear less thin and more elastic. However, in order to reap the full benefits that collagen can have on your skin, it’s also crucial that you’re getting hydrated and protecting it from the environment. No amount of collagen will help skin that isn’t cared for properly, so in order to reap the best results, ensure you’re getting enough water each day, eating a healthy diet, exercising and wearing appropriate SPV to prevent sun damage.
When you take a collagen supplement you may also experience stronger, healthier looking hair and nails. Since collagen plays a large role in their construction, it can help with brittle nails or hair, and even promote their growth. The subject’s nutrition and lifestyle habits are also important factors in realizing these benefits.
Since we lose the elasticity of our cartilage as we age, many people find themselves with stiff or sore joints due to arthritis. Taking a supplement with type II collagen may help you get a little relief from the pain that can come with this condition. Since collagen is found in our joints, some studies have shown that when supplements are taken, the collagen may stimulate the tissues to continue collagen production. This additional collagen production has a tendency to decrease inflammation and the pain associated with some forms of arthritis.
Bone strength and muscle strength
As we age, our bones get increasingly brittle and weakening bones can lead to conditions such as osteoporosis – a reduction in bone density – which can mean an increased risk of fractures. Similarly to the effects you may see on brittle nails, taking a collagen supplement could help strengthen weakened or brittle bones, and may even prevent further bone loss. Although more human trials are needed, studies have shown that adding collagen supplements to your daily routine may help prevent the breakdown of bones. As mentioned previously, lifestyle is a major component in realizing improvement, along with a nutritionally complete diet. In unrelated research, subjects that undertake load bearing resistance training see increased bone health and density: this type of exercise is one of the best things you can do for long term bone health.
Dosage and tolerance
While many supplements have a specific dosage in the milligrams or even micrograms, collagen (being a protein) doesn’t have a standard “dosage”. In the same way that steak or protein powder does not have a standard dosage. Most collagen supplements are available in powder or capsule form, in a dosage that is appropriate for most diets.
Collagen supplementation is well-tolerated in almost all subjects. There are not really any side effects to taking collagen, and it is considered very safe to use. The only thing you should be aware of is that egg or shellfish can be potential sources for collagen in your supplement product, which may be relevant for those with egg or shellfish allergies. If you decide to go with the powder form, you may experience mild digestive issues such as bloating, but as you become accustomed to taking it, you may not feel anything at all.
Putting the theory into practice
Although you cannot really take too much collagen since it is very safe, there is a point where more is not better. When you first start taking your supplement you may be anxious to see the results, but understand that taking additional amounts will not help you reach your goal any quicker. Instead, keep to your routine of the correct dosage, each day. We should note that although collagen is a protein, do not use it as a protein supplement to build muscle mass, as it does not have a complete amino acid profile. Taking collagen supplements like those from Dr. Emil Nutrition is a great way to keep collagen loss at bay and keep you looking and feeling your best.
When you start taking a collagen supplement, it helps to be patient. Although subjects vary in their response time, you can expect to see changes anywhere from 4-12 weeks of consistent use. As with most health and lifestyle changes, be patient, as small results will compound over time. Outside of supplementation, there are lifestyle factors that you can change in order to increase your chance of seeing results sooner:
- Decrease your UV exposure and be sure to protect your skin
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Reduce or eliminate cigarettes and alcohol
- Get restful sleep and stay hydrated
- Maintain a good skincare regimen
- Appropriately manage stress
However there are also some external factors that subjects are not in direct control of, which may affect how quickly benefits accrue, such as:
- How quickly collagen breaks down in your body
- Your skin’s ability to retain moisture
- How quickly your skin cells repair themselves
- How your skin recovers from damage
For beauty (skin health), and for power (muscle strength), the answer is complex, but we can strongly conclude that collagen supplementation is a safe and effective way to increase positive outcomes. Improving the firmness and smoothness of your skin and the reduction in wrinkles is one benefit. Over time and with consistent use you’ll also notice that any pain in your joints may lessen, or disappear. Together with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and good sleep patterns, you’ll begin to notice objectively measurable improvements.