Collagen is a type of protein that can be found in almost all mammals. While collagen comes in 16 different types, the human body mainly contains types I, II and III. Type I and III are a huge part of the body’s organs, tendons, ligaments, skin and bones. Type II, on the other hand, is mainly found in the cartilage, which is why it’s usually associated with arthritis.
Collagen supplements are becoming increasingly popular due to collagen’s ability to restore and regenerate joint cartilage. How is this done? Through amino acids.
Types of Collagen Supplements
Collagen supplements come in three main types, hydrolysed, gelatin and undenatured.
With hydrolysed and gelatin collagen, the protein has already been broken down for you into tiny pieces that are easier on the digestive system. For instance, bone broth is an example of collagen in gelatin form because the protein gets broken down through a lengthy boiling process. Hydrolysed gelatin is when the collagen has been pre-digested which means breaking it down into amino acids.
This is what’s known as collagen peptides but can also be referred to as hydrolysed collagen, hydrolysed gelatin or hydrolysate.
Then you have type II or undenatured collagen which is usually not meant to be ingested by the body for collagen regeneration. However, there are cases where undenatured collagen can be used to fight a condition where the body’s immune system attacks naturally occurring collagen. When used for this purpose, denatured collagen is usually taken in very small dosages through a process known as oral tolerance.
Do Collagen Supplements Help with Arthritis?
Once a hydrolysed collagen supplement has been broken down into its essential form (amino acids), your body doesn’t process it differently than it would other sources of protein like chicken, beef or beans.
However, collagen supplements are unique from other sources of protein because they have been “pre-digested” which means that they’re more accessible to your tissues. So when you take a hydrolysed collagen substance, your body gets an abundance of collagen-rich amino acids specifically. Still, amino acids become all the same once they reach their destination.
So far, the studies which have been conducted on the effects of hydrolysed collagen supplements on pain relief have yielded inconclusive results. In some cases, hydrolysed collagen provided joint pain relief while other studies prove otherwise.
Meanwhile, research into type II collagen has revealed unsatisfactory and inconclusive results. For instance, the 2016 Nutritional Journal published a study which involved 191 participants, all of which suffered from osteoarthritis. The participants were divided into three groups; one was given type II collagen, another group was given a placebo and the third group was given chondroitin sulphate supplements for 180 days. At the end of the 180 days, the participants were examined again, and researchers found that the type II collagen group experienced less pain and stiffness when compared to the other two groups.
Researchers have also conducted studies on rheumatoid arthritis to find out how the condition would fare on type II collagen. For example, the Arthritis Research and Therapy journal published a 2009 double-blind study in which 5,000 RA patients participated. The participants were given collagen in its undenatured form which proved beneficial as they reported less pain and morning stiffness, and no more swollen and tender joints. However, the same result was experienced by participants who took methotrexate, and in the end, type II collagen was found to be a viable treatment option for RA sufferers.
Nevertheless, all of this evidence is not yet sufficient to make conclusive recommendations about type II collagen supplements for arthritis patients.
What to Look for
If there’s one thing researchers can agree on when it comes to collagen is the fact that it’s safe. Consuming it doesn’t lead to any adverse side-effects, save for a few reports of diarrhoea and upset tummy issues.
If you’re considering a collagen supplement for any reason, make sure to pay attention to the following:
- Hydrolysed collagen and gelatin are best taken in significant dosages of 10 mg a day. They’re easy to consume and can be sprinkled into smoothies, juices or coffee in the morning.
- Only take type II collagen in small doses, no more than 20 to 40 mg a day.
- If you’re vegan or vegetarian most collagen supplements won’t be available to you because they’re made from animal tissues. However, there are a lot of plant-based collagen builders available on the market which provide the same amino acid combinations as regular collagen.