What you need to know about collagen
Although our ancestors and more recently our grandparents intuitively knew that consuming animal bones, tendons, cartilage, hides and connective tissues was healthy - just thinking about that delicious, hours-long simmering, fresh bone broth grandma used to make seems to do us good - this traditional knowledge has slipped somewhat in recent decades. Partly due to the arrival of supermarkets full of processed food and inventions such as the microwave, a great deal of food-wisdom and eating animals from head to tail has been lost in our modern culture. Fortunately, a change has been going on for quite some time and we are re-thinking, choosing more consciously what to feed our body with.
All kinds of research is being carried out in the field of healthy, natural nutrition and it often reveals that ancient wisdom is based on truths. So is the case with eating animal bones and other collagen-rich parts of animals. Although many researchers, nutritional experts and gut flora therapists are convinced of the usefulness of gelatin, collagen and bone broth by now, there is a lot of confusing or incomplete information about the topic.
This blog would like to change that by telling a good and nuanced story about collagen, for everyone to better understand why this valuable nutrient is so important to our body.
First things first: what is collagen?
Most people recognize gelatin as a binding agent for pudding, cake, licorice and other sweets, but gelatin is - provided it comes from grass-fed, organically kept animals - a healthy and natural source of valuable protein. It occurs in the body of animals and humans as collagen and only when heated does it turn into gelatin. There are no vegetable sources of collagen and although there are other forms of high-quality vegetable protein, there is no fully-fledged vegetable alternative to animal collagen (but more on that later). Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body, about 25% to 35% of the proteins in our connective tissues, skin, bones and tendons are made up of collagen. There are more than 25 types of collagen. Type 1 through 4 are most common in the human body, but of the total amount of collagen in the body, 90% is of type 1.
Why does your body need collagen?
Collagen plays a major role in your body's self-healing ability, providing strength, firmness and elasticity to the connective tissues in our skin, bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage, nails and teeth. The amino acids in collagen are the building blocks of these structures. In addition, these amino acids are essential for the smooth functioning of almost all processes in our body.
E.g. all loose structures and tissues that make up the body are held together in what we call the collagen network. Without this network we would not be able to stand up or move. However, this network not only provides stability, it is also a multifunctional communication network that transmits messages in the body in an electrical, chemical and energetic way. It is therefore important to provide your body with sufficient amino acids for all kinds of operations and parts in our body.
Traditional vs modern diet
In traditional cultures, the collagen network in our body was maintained much better than it is today, because our ancestors' diets used all parts of an animal, from its head to its tail. However, the collagen-rich bones, tendons, connective tissues and skins of animals never make it to the menu of the mainstream modern eater. Due to negative reports about animal fat, many limit themselves to lean muscle meat, which is a shame, because people consume less and less collagen. In addition, the number of people who eat low-meat or even meatless has been increasing steadily for years.
Don't get us wrong: A vegetarian diet is generally a healthy choice and, according to experts, is even healthier than animal foods. After all, the diet provides a higher intake of vitamins, antioxidants, essential cofactors, fiber and other important nutrients, while it is relatively low in saturated fat, cholesterol and purines. However, vegetarians run the risk of not getting enough vitamin B12, iron, zinc and amino acids if they don't eat a varied enough diet.
Collagen supplementation can therefore be valuable for vegetarians and vegans as well as people who limit themselves to muscle meat. Unfortunately, there is no plant-based alternative to collagen, but you can choose between different types of fish collagen and beef collagen or a gelatin powder. To be precise, there are vegetable collagen supplements on the market, but they work slightly differently: they do not contain collagen, only the building blocks that can help your body to produce collagen itself.
Collagen as a source of essential amino acids
The great thing about collagen is that it is a complete protein source. When we talk about proteins this is exceptional. It means that all essential amino acids are present. Of the twenty types of amino acids that exist, we can fabricate many in our body, but there is a group that we cannot make ourselves, and for this group of amino acids it is essential to get enough of them through nutrition or supplementation.
There are so-called semi-essential amino acids, which body can lack or only carry in insufficient amounts. Specific groups, such as children, elderly or people on a certain diet have to be monitored. While the name may suggest otherwise, non-essential amino acids are just as important to good health, only these amino acids can be produced by the body when needed. There is one caveat though: for the production of these your body needs - you guessed it - essential amino acids, which shows how important it is to get enough of them.
Although many healthy foods contain protein to a greater or lesser extent, the essential and semi-essential amino acids are not found in every protein source, too. Moreover, it is mainly animal protein sources that contain sufficient essential amino acids. Collagen is such a source of important essential and non-essential amino acids. In particular, the high concentrations of glycine, proline and hydroxproline make collagen unique. These three amino acids are only found in small quantities in plant foods. It can therefore be difficult for a vegetarian or vegan to get enough essential amino acids from food. For this group it is therefore very important to eat a lot of vegetable proteins and to vary a lot, so that the best possible amino acid profile is built up, or to opt for supplementation of course.
Why collagen is good for you
The advantage of collagen in your diet or as a supplement is that it is an excellent source of protein, which also offers specific support to our joints, skin, nails and hair.
- Collagen is important for our nails and skin and reduces visible wrinkles
Although our body is able to produce collagen on its own to some degree, from the age of 25 we start to produce less and less of this prominent body protein, until hardly any collagen is produced by our body by the age of 50. We all know the consequences this has for the firmness of our skin. There is a reason why collagen is considered a nutricosmetic, too. Collagen provides the amino acids glycine and proline, which are important for the structural elements of the skin. Our hair and nails also consist mainly of keratin, a fibrous protein made up of various amino acids, of which collagen is a rich source.
- Collagen strengthens bones, joints and teeth
Other valuable substances that make up collagen, such as amino acids, antioxidants and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, play an important role in countless other bodily functions. For example, calcium and phosphorus in collagen are good for the skeleton and teeth. After all, bones consist of about 65% collagen. The reduction in collagen in our body is therefore the main reason our bones become brittle as we age.
- Collagen & our muscles, cells and intestines
Calcium and magnesium in collagen are good for our muscles, nervous system and cell division process. Calcium in collagen is also known to support digestion, but studies into the effect of collagen on the intestines and the intestinal wall do not provide clear evidence just yet. Gelatin is known to absorb water, which appears to be beneficial for normal intestinal function.
The difference between fish collagen and bovine collagen
Extra collagen intake is suitable for almost everyone and can therefore be very valuable for many people, depending on the needs of your body. There are several types of collagen supplements available, but most types are made from marine (fish) collagen or cattle (bovine) collagen. Although the effect of the two forms is not very different, many people prefer fish collagen.
Fish collagen is the purest form of collagen, which is made from the skin and bone of saltwater fish such as cod. The structure of fish is most comparable to the collagen in the human body and the molecules have a low molecular weight, so that this form is absorbed more quickly than other forms.
Fish collagen is rich in collagen type I and hydroxproline, the amino acid that is an important part of the skin, while bovine collagen mainly contains types I and II. Since collagen types I and III mainly occur in the skin of our body and type II in our joints, bones and tendons, some argue that fish collagen is better for our skin, while bovine collagen may be better for our bones and joints.
However, this does not seem entirely true, since various studies have showed that fish collagen makes a positive contribution to our skeleton and our joints, too. Ultimately, the sustainable and biological origin of a collagen supplement should be determinative in evaluating its quality. Ergomax has distinguished itself from the start by committing to products that are made with attention and care for people and nature and that are of the highest quality. Ergomax's collagen hydrolysate comes from 100% wild, sustainably caught cod and natural vitamin C from acerola.
Gelatine or collagen hydrolysate?
When you want to use a collagen supplement, you will encounter both gelatin powders and collagen hydrolysate. It is best to understand the difference between these two variants so that you can make a choice that suits your needs.
When you heat the collagen in animal bones and connective tissues, it becomes gelatin, an easy-to-absorb form of collagen for the body. So, there is gelatin in supplement form, but gelatin is often further processed into collagen hydrolysate for processing into a supplement, where the proteins are broken down into smaller pieces by means of enzymes. This "pre-digested" form of gelatin is more absorbable because the whole proteins have been loosened and become "loose blocks".
As a side effect, people who have difficulty digesting whole proteins also benefit from collagen hydrolysate. Another important difference is that gelatin has to be dissolved in lukewarm or warm water and forms a jelly, while collagen hydrolysate will not form a jelly. This means that the product can also be dissolved in cold drinks without problems.
Gelatin is often deliberately used to gel dishes and is more often used specifically for the intestines, while collagen hydrolysate can also be mixed in a cold smoothie or yogurt and is used for skin, hair, nails and joints more often. Both variants therefore have slightly different applications, but they are healthy, versatile, and neutral in taste. Both are the same in terms of amino acid profile composition.
Conclusion on collagen
It does not make much difference to your health whether you choose collagen hydrolysate or gelatin, the difference lies in its practical application. Collagen hydrolysate may then have a higher absorbability and be better soluble in cold drinks; gelatin again has the property of being able to bind and jelly-form. It is moreover used more for the intestines. The choice of fish or beef collagen also depends on your personal preference.
Fish collagen is the most similar in composition to that of humans and according to various studies fish collagen has a better absorbability, but the hydrolyzed variant of both fish and bovine origin is absorbed very well.
However, if you have an allergy to fish and shellfish, bovine collagen is your solution. If you do not wish to eat meat, marine collagen is your collagen of choice. Either way, the importance of collagen for your body is not to be underestimated and your skin, hair, nails, bones and joints will thank you!