SS 229 – When Does Collagen Supplementation Make Sense?

Episode 229 Show Notes

This week, Grant and Heavey are taking a “Strength & Scotch” look at collagen supplementation. Does it really work?

[04:20] Tummy Filling Feeling

Grant found an article talking about a new FDA-approved product called Plenity. It’s a superabsorbent hydrogel. Taken in the form of pills 30 minutes. Before you eat, these swell up in your stomach to make you fuller so you don’t eat as much.

Heavey also mentions a peanut butter product where the package label included the basic compounds proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. But it also had an “absorbable” panel on the package label, explaining that you’re not going to absorb any of the fats or carbs due to certain compounds which they’ve added, preventing your body to absorb those nutrients.

[07:48] Question on Collagen

Grant’s friend and the people around her have been taking collagen for all sorts of reasons – for their hair, skin, health, etc. They’re spending money on collagen supplements and so she wanted to know the pros and cons of using collagen. Does it work?

Heavey points out that the problem with most information about fitness and nutrition is that you should do xyz but there’s no context provided whatsoever. Hence, it’s impossible to answer that question without really having a grasp of its context.

[10:40] What is Collagen?

Collagen is a protein, in fact, the most abundant protein in the body. It comprises about a quarter of the total protein in our bodies. People use it for various purposes. Some people inject it, others rub it on their faces in the form of cream.

Collagen comes in different types. Protein is made up of different amino acids. There are collagens that have slightly different compositions. Animals have collagen too, and that’s where we mostly get it in our diet when we eat animal products. Our body breaks it down and then we create collagen inside of our bodies. So we’re taking one form of collagen and translating that effectively to the form that our body needs. This being said, vegetarians will find it much more difficult to get collagen.

[12:26] The Health Benefits of Collagen

There are a ton of health claims for what collagen can do. Oftentimes, people recommend collagen supplementation to eliminate wrinkles or joint pain. They claim collagen can help improve your joint health, skin, hair, sleep, digestion, and so on and so forth.

Although collagen is the body’s most abundant protein, it’s not a complete protein. Proteins consist of amino acids and complete protein contains all essential amino acids. The essential amino acids are the ones that are only available through the diet. Non-essential amino acids are those that the body can create on its own.

Collagen is very poor in essential amino acids. So if you’re thinking of leveling up your protein so you can preserve muscle mass or increase your gains, collagen is not a great choice. In other words, you can’t really rely on collagen as it can’t properly support your goals.

[15:40] Collagen’s Superpower

Although collagen is poor in amino acids, it does have a superpower. It contains high levels of the amino acid glycine. Glycine is conditionally essential. It’s under this third category of amino acids that the body can create. This means that we may not be able to create collagen as much as our body could actually use. Therefore, it can beneficial to increase your glycine intake from food sources. When talking about collagen supplementation, it’s usually under the premise of increasing our internal glycine levels.

[16:37] Collagen’s Sidekick

Moreover, Vitamin C is necessary for collagen formation in the body. Hence, low levels of Vitamin C can limit collagen production. So you can pump as much glycine as you want to the body, but if you don’t have adequate Vitamin C, then you still might not be able to produce as much collagen as you want.

This is just one of the benefits of Vitamin C of course. Just be aware that if you’re going to supplement with collagen, then you also have to have high levels of VitaminC.

[17:30] Collagen on Bones and Joints

Collagen has been found to be beneficial to joints and bones. It can reduce swelling and stiffness in joints. It’s also a promising treatment for both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

[18:33] Bye-Bye Wrinkles

Researchers found a 20% decrease in eye wrinkles from eight weeks of collagen peptide supplementation, which persisted for at least a month after the discontinuation of supplementation.

Another group of scientists used hydrolized collagen over the course of 12 weeks and it showed a decrease in skin dryness by up to 76%. It also reduced wrinkles by 13%.

Heavey also found another study that demonstrated improved skin elasticity over 8 weeks of collagen supplementation, thus, reducing the formation of wrinkles.

[20:05] Say No to Cellulite

Weakened collagen fibers enable fat deposits which can lead to the formation of cellulite. One 6-month study demonstrated a decrease in cellulite and skin waviness from collagen peptide supplementation.

All this being said, the improvements are not going to be dramatic. But it can show moderate improvements in any of these skin conditions.

[21:10] Other Benefits of Collagen

There’s been research on the positive effects of collagen on sun damage, improvement of gut health, and sleep. Glycine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which can decrease anxiety and promote mental calmness to help you sleep throughout the night. People who take glycine report that they feel more rested the next day.

[22:30] Link Between Between High Meat Intake and Heart Disease

Eggs and muscle meats are high in the amino acid, methionine. Some individuals with elevated methionine levels can lead to a buildup of toxins called homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine is a risk factor for developing dementia and heart disease. This could be one of the key contributors to the link between high meat intake and chronic disease.

In this regard, glycine can help maintain healthy levels of methionine and homocysteine. It can counteract the effect of high levels of muscle meats and eggs in the diet. Interestingly, it’s possible that this was never an issue historically because people tend to get more glycine in the diet since they used to eat the entire animal. But we don’t do this in our culture anymore. So if you’re getting especially high levels of protein from animal sources rich in methionine and you don’t have a lot of glycine in the diet, then you should consider increasing your collagen consumption.

[25:17] Some Room for Jello?

Another way to get high levels of glycine is through gelatin. It is essentially composed of collagen proteins that have been broken down. A rich source of gelatin is bone broth. Hence, incorporating this in your regular diet would be great. You can also eat more skin and connective tissue of animals. Eating meat on the bone is helpful too, like shanks and ribs.

[26:35] How About Vegetarians?

Vegetarians have low levels of glycine so they should consider supplementing their diet with gelatin powder. If you’re a pescatarian, you can eat fish skin. Gelatin powder is typically mixed with water, specifically, warm water so it can mix well. Hydrolyzed collagen will mix very easily with water.

[28:30] Final Thoughts

There’s a lot of value in collagen but people get wrapped up in it. It’s easy to get lost in this notion of supplementation without having any context.
One last thing – if you want to know more about training and nutrition, get a free email from Heavey as he dives deeper into his research. Just head over to strengthandscotch.com/emailme and sign up for those free newsletters.

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