The effects of collagen on gut health and digestion
Collagen supplements have become increasingly popular in recent years, with claims that they can improve skin, hair, nails, joints and even gut health. But what does the research actually say about the effects of collagen on digestion and overall gut health? This article will examine the evidence.
- What is Collagen and What are its Proposed Benefits?
- Research on Effects of Collagen on Gut Health
- Potential Mechanisms Behind Collagen's Effects on the Gut
- What Types of Collagen Are Best for Gut Health?
- Recommended Dosage of Collagen for Digestive Health
- Other Lifestyle Factors for Improving Gut Health
- Potential Side Effects and Precautions for Collagen Supplements
- The effects of collagen on gut health and digestion. Conclusion
What is Collagen and What are its Proposed Benefits?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, making up around 30% of total protein. It forms connective fibers that provide structure and flexibility to skin, bones, muscles, tendons and other tissues.
Collagen contains specific amino acids including glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. It comes in many different forms, with Types I, II and III being the most common in the human body.
As we age, collagen production starts to decline. This loss of collagen is thought to contribute to common signs of aging like fine lines, wrinkles and joint discomfort. This has made collagen supplements popular for anti-aging purposes.
But collagen may also have benefits for gut health and digestion. Here are some of the proposed benefits:
- Improving integrity of intestinal wall - Collagen peptides may help reinforce the protective lining of the intestinal wall, preventing "leaky gut."
- Reducing inflammation - The amino acids in collagen may help reduce inflammatory cytokines and other markers of inflammation.
- Supporting production of glutathione - Collagen stimulates production of glutathione, the body's master antioxidant.
- Promoting growth of probiotics - Collagen provides sustenance for beneficial gut bacteria.
- Easing digestive discomfort - Collagen may help relieve symptoms of leaky gut like gas, bloating and indigestion.
Let's review what the current research says about these potential gut and digestive benefits of collagen supplements.
Research on Effects of Collagen on Gut Health
A number of studies have begun to investigate the effects of collagen supplements on markers of gut health and integrity in both animals and humans.
Animal studies provide the opportunity to directly analyze the effects of collagen on the gut lining.
One study in rats with chemotherapy-induced intestinal mucositis found that those given collagen peptides had less intestinal damage and lower levels of inflammatory cytokines like TNF-alpha and interleukin-1B. The collagen appeared to provide protection against the chemotherapy drugs' disruption of the gut barrier.
Another rat study of colitis found that supplementation with collagen peptides helped repair defects in the intestinal lining and reduced the disease activity index. The collagen rats also had lower expression of inflammatory markers like NF-KB and reduced stool water content compared to control groups.
Overall these animal studies provide proof of concept that collagen can improve gut barrier function, protect the intestinal lining from toxins and drugs, and dampen inflammation. But do these benefits also apply to humans?
Several small human studies have investigated the effects of collagen supplements on markers of gut health:
- Improved intestinal permeability - In a randomized trial of 23 volunteers, 2.5g collagen for 4 weeks reduced intestinal permeability compared to placebo as measured by the lactulose-to-mannitol ratio.
- Increased nutrients absorption - A study in 10 patients with a history of joint pain found that 3g collagen for 6 months increased absorption of the nutrients coenzyme Q10 and selenium.
- Reduced symptoms of leaky gut - A study in 15 patients with gastrointestinal disorders like IBS and leaky gut found that taking 3g collagen daily reduced symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea after 12 weeks compared to baseline.
- Boosted probiotics - A trial in 39 healthy adults found that 10g of collagen peptides increased bifidobacteria and lactobacilli counts compared to placebo after 4 weeks. These strains are beneficial for gut health.
While limited by their small sample sizes, these human studies support the preclinical data showing measurable benefits of collagen supplementation for gut barrier integrity, nutrient absorption, and probiotic levels. Larger scale human trials are still needed.
Potential Mechanisms Behind Collagen's Effects on the Gut
Researchers are still investigating the mechanisms behind collagen's beneficial effects on gut health and integrity. Here are some of the potential ways collagen may improve digestion:
- Structural support - Collagen strengthens connective tissue and forms a mesh-like scaffolding that may physically reinforce a healthy intestinal barrier.
- Stimulating growth factors - Collagen contains Glycine-Proline-Hydroxyproline (GPO) motifs that stimulate cell growth and tissue repair factors.
- Reducing inflammation - The proline and glycine in collagen have anti-inflammatory effects by suppressing cytokine production.
- Increasing gastric secretion - Collagen rich foods enhance secretion of gastric juices like pepsin and hydrochloric acid that aid digestion.
- Activating immune cells - Collagen's amino acids help maintain protective gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT).
- Supporting microbiome - Collagen acts as a prebiotic to encourage growth of beneficial Bifidobacterium.
Research into these mechanisms is still evolving. But the prevailing theory is that collagen improves gut integrity through a combination of structural, anti-inflammatory and prebiotic effects.
What Types of Collagen Are Best for Gut Health?
Collagen used in supplements and research comes in several forms:
- Gelatin - Collagen that has undergone partial hydrolysis for use in food products.
- Hydrolyzed collagen - Collagen that has been enzymatically processed into small peptides for better absorption.
- Undenatured collagen - Type II collagen in its native form, often derived from chicken cartilage.
Hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides seem to be most effective for improving gut health. The peptides are low molecular weight so they are easily digested and absorbed intact into the bloodstream and digestive tissues.
Hydrolyzed marine collagen from fish may also offer benefits. Fish collagen peptides have been shown to reduce intestinal inflammation and allergic reactions in mice.
For most gut health benefits, a supplement containing a hydrolyzed collagen peptide complex or marine collagen is recommended.
Recommended Dosage of Collagen for Digestive Health
Studies finding digestive benefits of collagen supplements have used dosages ranging from 2.5g to 10g per day. The most common dose is around 5-10g or about 1-2 scoops daily.
When taking a collagen supplement for gut and digestive issues, it may be best to start with a lower dosage around 2.5-5g per day for 2-4 weeks to assess tolerance. The dose can then be increased up to 10g daily.
Taking collagen 30 minutes before meals may help improve digestion of the meal. Some brands also recommend combining hydrolyzed collagen powders with juice or smoothies for better mixing.
At appropriate therapeutic doses, collagen supplements appear very safe for long-term use. However it's still best to cycle on and off collagen every few months.
Other Lifestyle Factors for Improving Gut Health
While supplemental collagen may help improve gut barrier integrity and digestion, other lifestyle factors play an important role too:
- Avoid gut irritants - Limit intake of processed foods, saturated fats, sugar, alcohol and NSAIDs like ibuprofen that may disturb the gut lining.
- Reduce stress - Chronic stress exacerbates gut inflammation through release of cortisol and inflammatory cytokines.
- Take probiotics - Consuming fermented foods and high quality probiotic supplements help replenish beneficial bacteria.
- Eat prebiotic fiber - Prebiotics like inulin, acacia fiber and psyllium provide fuel for probiotics to thrive.
- Stay active - Regular exercise helps increase intestinal motility and gut flow.
- Get enough sleep - Disrupted sleep contributes to increased intestinal permeability and inflammation.
A comprehensive approach to gut health should include collagen along with diet, lifestyle and other supplements that support optimal digestive function.
Potential Side Effects and Precautions for Collagen Supplements
Collagen supplements are considered very safe for most people, with a low risk of side effects. However, some precautions include:
- Allergies - Collagen may trigger allergic reactions in those with beef, fish or egg allergies. Look for non-animal sources if allergies are a concern.
- Heavy metals - Marine collagen sources may contain mercury or other contaminants from water pollution. Choose reputable brands that filter heavy metals.
- Food reactions - Collagen can cause mild nausea, heartburn or diarrhea, especially at high doses. Reduce dose if these occur.
- Drug interactions - Collagen's amino acids may interact with antibiotics like ciprofloxacin or cause excess bleeding when combined with blood thinners.
- Quality controls - Collagen peptides from disreputable brands may carry a risk of contamination. Only purchase from trusted manufacturers.
Consult your doctor before taking collagen supplements if you have any medical conditions or take any medications to assess safety. Start with low doses and watch for any intestinal side effects.
The effects of collagen on gut health and digestion. Conclusion
Early research indicates that collagen supplements, especially hydrolyzed collagen peptides, may improve gut barrier integrity, reduce intestinal inflammation, enhance nutrient absorption and ease symptoms related to leaky gut syndrome.
Though larger scale human studies are still needed, the current evidence is promising for the use of collagen to support a healthy gastrointestinal tract and improve digestive discomforts. At doses of 5-10g daily, collagen is well-tolerated and may also provide additional benefits for skin, joints and other connective tissues when taken regularly.
Along with collagen, be sure to include probiotic foods, prebiotic fiber, stress management and other gut-supportive lifestyle practices as part of an overall digestive health regimen.
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