Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body. Proteins are the body's building-blocks. They are made of amino-acids. Chains of amino-acids form peptides, and large proteins like collagen are made of multiple peptide chains (polypeptides), often twisted in a particular fashion.
Collagen is the major component of our skin, and is an important component of other tissues as well (for example, bone and cartilage). As we age past about 25 years of age, both the total collagen, and especially the collagen in our skin and bones begin to be reduced. This is part of the normal process of ageing, and it causes the affected organs and tissues to become less stable in their physical integrity, and less efficient in their functions. Those who lead unhealthy lifestyle (especially smokers) and have poor diet are likely to see faster loss of collagen.
With the loss of collagen, the skin becomes thinner, less resistant to physical stress and stretching, and less resilient to the damaging effects of the sun's UV rays. At the same time, the ageing skin also loses elastin and hyaluronic acid, which are responsible for the skin's elasticity and hydration capacity respectively. The simultaneous decline in these 3 vital components of the skin manifests as the symptoms of the ageing skin - thin, wrinkled, sagging, dehydrated, poorly elastic; and often covered with age spots, moles and skin tags which are the result of sun-damage. The worst sun-damaged skin is further at risk of developing various types of skin cancers.
Ensuring all three are present in adequate amounts is the best strategy for promoting and preserving skin health and youthfulness, and to delay the effect of skin ageing. Since collagen is the most important of these components, people have been taking collagen supplements since many years ago to try to slow down or reverse skin ageing. Scientific studies on the beneficial effects of collagen on the ageing skin show that collagen can restore the thickness, strength, integrity, elasticity, hydration, glow and overall health of the skin. It also helps in the healing of wounds. It may even help clear cellulite and stretch-marks. There are many other benefits to the other organs and tissues too.
Even without these studies, consumers who took collagen supplements saw for themselves the improvements in their skin (and so did their family and friends) such that collagen supplements became very popular in the last two decades. As our understanding of the science of collagen improved, and the technology for production of the best form of collagen supplement became available, more collagen supplements flooded the market and many more women (and men) became ardent consumers.
One of the concerns among those who take collagen supplements is that some people gained weight. So it is important that we understand that not only there are different types and different qualities of collagen, there are also many other ingredients that are added to the collagen supplements. And if these people gained weight, we have to be sure which component of the supplement is the culprit.
First, let us investigate collagen. Collagen is a protein, and proteins have the same energy content as carbohydrates (4 kcal/gm). So potentially, you can gain the same weight from eating 1 bowl of collagen as eating 1 bowl of rice (300gm) regularly. But it is unlikely that you will consume that much collagen. Even if you take 20 grams of collagen a day, calorie-wise, it is equivalent to taking 1 heaped tablespoon of rice only. Most people only take several grams of collagen supplements daily, so you are unlikely to gain weight from its calorie content.
Next is whether collagen increases your appetite and makes you eat more. The answer is no. In fact, it does the opposite. Collagen actually helps reduce your appetite. Its unique amino-acid profile and peptide structure makes it satiating (ie. removes hunger and gives a sense of fullness faster and longer) and it also reduces appetite. Studies show that collagen intake releases the satiating hormones, and causes the test subjects to eat less at the next meal. So taking collagen should help you eat less, and lose weight.
Thirdly, does collagen somehow make you gain fat? Again, the answer is an emphatic no! Instead, collagen helps you lose fat, while helping you maintain lean body mass. And if you exercise and do weights, it will help you gain bigger muscles and stronger bones faster. If you gain weight because of bigger muscles, that is healthy weight gain!
As we age, especially if we don't exercise, muscles tend to shrink rapidly and bones tend to become weaker (osteopenia, and later osteoporosis). Collagen will help slow down these unhealthy trends. It is obvious that collagen is not the reason why people taking collagen supplements gain weight. The culprit is often the added sugar, or other added carbohydrates, usually for improving the taste. Depending on its source, pure collagen does not taste nice. Fish collagen is popular as a skin supplement, but it tends to smell and taste "fishy". For commercial reasons, sugar and other taste modifiers are added to drown the fishy taste. Other animal-derived collagen (beef, chicken) also do not taste pleasant and need additives to improve the taste.
Some poor-quality, cheap supplements actually have lots of sugar added. For example, there is a popular collagen supplement that has 15gm of sugar for every 25gm sachet of product. That is equivalent to 3 teaspoons of sugar per sachet. The total protein content is only 2.25gm. Of that, the collagen content is not disclosed, but is probably minimal. A cheap supplement is unlikely to use high-quality collagen. Instead, you are buying sugar with a little bit of collagen. Sometimes it may be the other ingredients (other than collagen or sugar) that increase the appetite and cause weight gain. Fats, if added to the supplement, can also be the culprit, but this is rarely the case with collagen supplements.
To get the best out of your collagen supplement, and not gain weight, you should choose a collagen supplement that has high quality, bio-available collagen. For skin health, choose hydrolyzed fish collagen. Hydrolyzed fish collagen is easily digestible to smaller peptides which are then absorbed. These are then made available for the cells (fibroblasts especially) to make new collagen fibers. The best product is that which the hydrolyzed collagen is already broken down to the smaller peptides, without depending on digestion. This is possible using enzymes in the factory.
Having the collagen already in the smaller peptide form guarantees absorption and bio-availability, that is, availability for the fibroblasts to make new collagen. Because virtually all the collagen peptides are absorbed and are bio-available, a much lower supplement dose is required to give the same results as other ordinary collagen supplements. This also means very little sugar, sweeteners or additives are necessary to improve the taste.
Fish collagen is mainly "type 1" collagen, which can be found throughout the entire body. Thus consuming more fish collagen gives benefits for the skin and also the joints, vital organs, blood vessels, digestion and bones. Since collagen synthesis and function require several co-factors (vitamin C, minerals and others), it is better if the collagen supplement is enriched with them. And if the other important skin component - hyaluronic acid (which helps the skin rehydrate even more) - is also added, then the supplement is complete. The supplement must be attested free from any harmful substances such as heavy metal, microbes, synthetic hormone, preservative, melamine, and marine pollutant (dioxin). Onehealth One health