(This is a guest post by Jonathan at Limitless Mindset)
For the vain and discerning biohacker, the aspirational beautiful immortal, Collagen is an irreplaceable anti-aging agent. While it will make you look younger, the profundity of its effects, demonstrated in over 400 clinical trials, is so much more than skin deep.
Listen to almost any health podcast and you'll hear the health-conscious raving about Collagen. It's very popular; it's called a "health craze" - here we'll look at the science and evidence for Collagen and see if it lives up to the hype.
This article is mostly going to focus on decoding what the human studies are saying about Collagen and how this squares up with the anecdotal experiences of Biohackers online.
How Does Collagen Work?
So Collagen, while important to health, is not some radically innovative anti-aging intervention. It's the most abundant structural protein in the body. There are 28 different forms of Collagen but you really don't need to worry about all of them, Collagen types 1,2, and 3 are what for the most part make up your cartilage. Your body makes Collagen and then uses it in your skin, hair, nails, muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, and even your bones and eyes. Quite simply, you are Collagen! But, of course, you're questioning...
If my body produces Collagen why do I need to supplement it?
Your natural Collagen levels decline with age beginning in your 20s.
As the decades pass, your body has less and less of this crucial component that it needs to rebuild itself. We might surmise that this is a manifestation of Phenoptosis - our genes intentionally causing aging so that we can get out of the way of the coming generations. So Collagen supplementation is just a smart preventative anti-aging intervention.
A Biohack for the Vain?
Impressively there are over 15,000 items of scientific research about Collagen published in the past 10 years alone on Pubmed, including over 400 clinical trials. Many of these studies will be cited in the sections to follow.
It is well-known as a tool for beautifying and rejuvenating the skin. "Look 20 again!" is the advertising message often used to pitch it, and it's not total hyperbole - over 50 clinical trials have evaluated it as a "skin hack" for younger-looking, tighter, clearer skin. Notably, a 2020 Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Triple-Blind German trial of 60 women evaluated the effects of drinkable Collagen with laser microscopy.
Want fabulous hair? There are over 40 scientific papers drawing the connection between Collagen and hair quality, growth, and lustrousness. What it does for our hair...
- Collagen contains a spectrum of amino acids that contribute to keratin, the main building block of hair.
- Your hair follicles get damaged by free radicals and even things like air pollution, Collagen is an antioxidant and can rejuvenate these follicles.
- Because of Collagen's effect on the skin, it's surmised that it helps with hair thinning associated with aging.
- It may stave off one of the most prominent signs of aging, hair graying, via its antioxidant mechanism - free radicals rob our hair of pigmentation.
Biohacking your hair might seem terribly vain to you but, especially if you do anything in the public eye, people will inevitably judge you by your appearance. The New York Times made the case that Justin Trudeau's great hair had something to do with his political ascension to Prime Minister of Canada.
David Cameron, former Prime Minister of the UK, got £90 haircuts because leading politicians know that hair matters. You may not be an aspiring politician but don't be so naive as to think that your hair has nothing to do with you getting a job (or a date!)
Are you a few pounds heavier after the COVID lockdowns? Well, Collagen isn't the first biohacking tool for weight loss I'd recommend, something as simple as fasting should be implemented first, but there's some evidence for Collagen as a weight-loss helper.
There's been research done with marine Collagen derived from "Skate" fish looking at weight loss effects. The Anti-Obesity Effects of Collagen were evaluated in a 2018 Korean paper, it concluded:
The findings indicated that skate collagen peptide has anti-obesity effects through suppression of fat accumulation and regulation of lipid metabolism.
The same group of researchers conducted a 12-week clinical trial the next year in Busan, Korea with 90 healthy adults.
From the study...
Here, this very first human randomized, placebo-controlled, and double-blinded study was designed to investigate the efficacy and tolerability of [Collagen] for the reduction of body fat in overweight adults... These results suggest the beneficial potential of [Collagen] in the reduction of body fat in overweight adults.
The study adds that Collagen was well tolerated and no notable adverse effect was reported.
For Delightful Digestion
Are you plagued by "leaky gut," irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, heartburn, and arduous sessions in the bathroom?
- Being a hydrophilic molecule (attracting water and acid) it essentially "lubricates" the digestive tract.
- Glycine, an amino acid crucial to digestion is a component of Collagen - lending to an anti-ulcer effect and prevention of harmful gastric secretions.
- The finding of an American paper was that it has a reparative effect on the gastrointestinal tract.
- Collagen contains glutamine and, according to research, dietary supplementation of glutamine improves the intestinal integrity.
A 2003 clinical trial of 170 Greeks identified a correlation between low levels of Collagen and inflammatory bowel disease.
Because fibrosis is a major complication of inflammatory bowel disease, serum concentrations of laminin and collagen IV were measured in patients... serum concentrations of collagen IV are decreased, in patients with inflammatory bowel disease.
Brenda on Amazon reports...
I use it for digestive support and I feel that it's been helpful in that regard, as well as an easy way to get additional protein in my diet.
Did you know that your bones are 50% protein? Collagen, rich in protein, is better than calcium for bone strength, joint issues, and even things like back pain.
A 2019 double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial administered it to 120 Europeans for 90 days and noted improvements in joint mobility and pain.
Oral supplementation with collagen bioactive peptides combined with chondroitin sulphate, glucosamine, L-carnitine, vitamins, and minerals significantly improved the clinical parameters related to skin aging and joint health, and therefore, might be an effective solution to slow down the hallmarks of aging.
But sometimes Collagen delivers pain relief a lot sooner, Dan Christian on Amazon reports leg and knee pain relief...
I have been really surprised and happy to find that in using your collagen product, the pain is substantially reduced in just 2 weeks. It feels good to bend my knees without pain.
Vs osteoporosis - a woman reported:
I am in menopause and have severe osteoporosis. This product has eliminated my joint aches and pains. I am also hopeful that at my next checkup my Dexa scan results will show improvement.
Supplementing Collagen is a smart idea for those stricken as it rebuilds joints and soothes inflammation.
Vs osteoarthritis - A 2019 study administered it with chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, and devil's claw and bamboo extracts to 120 Spaniards for 6 months. The results lend a lot of optimism to the suffering...
This exploratory study shows that treatment with the dietary supplement significantly reduces pain and improves locomotor function in patients with [osteoarthritis] of the knee and/or hip.
Vs rheumatoid arthritis - A comprehensive 24-week double-blind Chinese study evaluated Collagen supplementation in 454 patients. I feel sorry for half the Chinese in the study as Collagen was compared to a nasty immune-suppressing, chemotherapy drug. The study notes that there were decreases in pain, morning stiffness, tender joint count, swollen joint count, and concludes...
[Collagen type 2] is effective in the treatment of [rheumatoid arthritis] and is safe for human consumption. [Collagen] exerts its beneficial effects by controlling inflammatory responses...
Since Collagen is a crucial component of our muscles, it could be regarded as an exercise or muscle-building hack. There are 12 clinical trials evaluating its effects on exercise.
The findings of a 2019 study, done by the Department of Sports Medicine and Sports Nutrition at Ruhr University in Germany, underlie Collagens efficacy as a body-building biohack.
- It included 57 recreationally active young men.
- They received 15 grams a day of Collagen or a placebo.
- Collagen did not reduce body fat mass but did result in an uptick in strength.
- The men did resistance training three times a week for 12 weeks.
The researchers concluded...
We firstly demonstrated improved body composition in healthy, recreationally active men subsequent to prolonged [Collagen] supplementation in combination with [resistance exercise training].
AJ, an athlete reports: I'm an athletic person and I have to say the collagen supplement has, in my mind, aided recovery and lubrication of my joints.
The "Enemy" of Collagen Is...
Sugar. Sugar blunts Collagen's capacity to rebuild your body, which will show on your body. As a biohacker, you should be avoiding sugar in the first place - especially if you're spending money on Collagen, cut the sugar.
Collagen as a Nootropic?
It's not a Nootropic in the same vein as the Racetams or Nicotine, but its spectrum of effects will contribute to brainpower.
Anything that enhances sleep quality is a "Nootropic" - imbuing you more energy and clearer thinking. Collagen is a "sleep hack" thanks to its Proline and Glycine content, a smaller human clinical trial explains...
Glycine improved subjective sleep quality and sleep efficacy (sleep time/in‐bed time), and shortened [polysomnography] latency both to sleep onset and to slow wave sleep without changes in the sleep architecture. Glycine lessened daytime sleepiness and improved performance of memory recognition tasks.
It also notes decreased "sleep latency," which means the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. If you hate tossing and turning in bed with thoughts running through your head try taking Collagen before bed. Anecdotally, people don't seem to find Collagen stimulating but effects on sleep are reported.
Also, according to an article that appeared in Science Daily...
Scientists from the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease (GIND), UCSF, and Stanford have discovered that a certain type of collagen, collagen VI, protects brain cells against amyloid-beta (Aβ) proteins, which are widely thought to cause Alzheimer's disease...
Interestingly, Collagen is semi-conductive. From Dave Asprey's mitochondrial manifesto, Head Strong...
Back in 1962, Robert O. Becker observed that nerves, collagen (connective tissue), and bone were all semi-conductive. Then in 1984, the head of the famous Karolinska medical school in Stockholm, Sweden, published an epic $1,200 textbook on the subject and was promptly fired for disagreeing with a chemical view of our biology. (p. 243)
It shouldn't surprise you that this fundamental building block of the body is helpful if you want to build another body inside of yours. Dave Asprey's lesser-known book about fertility names it as one of the top supplements for expecting mothers...
Our program calls for a pregnant woman to add plenty of high-quality collagen to her diet, along with collagen building blocks like vitamin C. We feel confident that since Lana took plenty of collagen throughout both pregnancies, our children's bones and organs had plenty of body-building collagen available in utero. We also believe that collagen supplementation, along with a high healthy-fat diet, is what prevented Lana from getting even a single stretch mark despite having two children after age forty. (p. 99).
hydrolyzed collagen should never be considered a complete protein for anyone, least of all for a pregnant woman. But it is an excellent supplement to build healthy tissues. (p. 101)
With something like Collagen, we mostly reach our conclusions by looking at the body of "Gold Standard" science done, but anecdotal evidence (when it's equally abundant) should not be disregarded.
Apparently, Collagen saved a guy a knee surgery (I did a little checking on his profile to verify the review)...
Even though I have only taken the collagen for 8 days, I already feel more energetic and the pain on my back almost gone. These are great results because I have a herniated disc and was enduring very bad lower back pain,
Results are remarkable considering my age (almost 82 years old) Thank you for a great product!
One thing I kept seeing reported in the Amazon reviews was "Strong healthy nails!" which imbues credibility because I can't imagine that a nefarious Amazon-fake-reviewing marketer would advertise "healthier nails!"
Which Form Should You Choose?
Hydrolyzed Collagen peptides from animal protein, that's right, this stuff comes from our grass-fed mooing friends. You don't want collagen sourced from synthetic protein. Interesting factoid: the gelatin that we get supplemental Collagen comes from the interior side of bovine skin, the other side of the skin gets used to make leather goods - I better not tell my wife that, she's morally opposed to leather. I'm no vegan, but like many, I'm morally opposed to eating factory-raised (and imprisoned!) beef. The same reasoning applies to choosing Collagen, which is why I'd urge you to not just buy the most affordable supplement - it probably didn't come from a cow that lived a happy cow life before becoming a product that you enjoy!
I'll make a moral argument for the animal-sympathetic out there...
Consuming animal products is not immoral by any coherent reasoning if they ethically-raised. An ethically-raised cow actually has a pretty sweet life; it's safe, it gets to eat a lot of food, it gets to have a lot of sex - most certainly a better existence than a cow living in the cruel natural wild would. And then it dies instantly with an unexpected bullet to the brain towards the end of its natural life, saving it years of suffering in old age.
It has a life of pleasure with very little suffering thanks to our demand for animal products. And that demand drives the breeding of animals who would not otherwise enjoy life. Consuming animals that lived in those terrible factory farms is morally problematic, but consuming ethical animal products increases, on balance, the thriving and happiness of animals. So enjoy a good grass-fed steak or quality Collagen supplement knowing that you're not wronging any cows!
What is Hydrolyzation?
To simplify things, you can just think of Hydrolyzed Collagen as "small" Collagen, it's a miniaturized protein, a smaller molecule that can actually make it into your cells.
My wife and I use Double Wood Supplements' Collagen, here... It does contain Collagen types 1, 2, and 3 - the only ones you really need to worry about supplementing. This product is just pure Collagen, so to fully unleash its effects you would want to supplement some cofactors alongside it. It comes from pasture-raised, grass-fed happy cows.
Before Collagen supplements (and their snazzy marketing) our ancestors got their Collagen from food.
- The skin of pork, salmon, and chicken.
- Egg yolk and shell.
- Non-muscle meats like tripe.
- And bone broth soup
Bone broth is very popular, healthy, and tasty but it's not a great replacement for Hydrolyzed Collagen for two reasons...
- Bone broth is derived from whole animal parts and unfortunately few animals are free of toxins (lead, mercury, antibiotics, etc). Be sure to source bones from grass-fed animals if making bone broth.
- The gelatin in the broth is broken down in digestion, these collagen molecules aren't absorbed as well as hydrolyzed collagen.
Vitamin C - is the most commonly recommended cofactor. It's crucial for strong Collagen "cross-links" if you bruise easily or suffer bleeding gums frequently that's a tell-tale sign of low Vitamin C. Supplementing Vitamin C is a cheap no-brainer, especially if you're on pricier Collagen. By the way, the best presentation on Vitamin C that I could find was done by Dr. Peter Osborne - it's worth watching if you really want to understand this essential vitamin.
As a biohacker, I'm all about implementing cheaper, low-hanging-fruit anti-aging hacks before the really fancy ones. And actually, aging has a lot more to do with Vitamin C deficiency. If you have varicose veins, thinning hair, and get sick during the wintertime before splurging on Collagen you may want to just supplement Vitamin C - make sure you're getting at least a gram daily.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate were two cofactors that kept appearing in the clinical trials, it might be smart to select a product containing these or supplementing them alongside if you're taking Collagen to treat one of the maladies mentioned above.
In the German study, Collagen peptides were combined with acerola extract, vitamin C, vitamin E, biotin, and zinc. In a Slovenian study, it was combined with the anti-aging agent Coenzyme Q10 with favorable results.
The Godfather of Biohacking writes about a few complementary therapies...
Red light therapy
When it comes to light, it turns out that red light is well documented to make both collagen and mitochondria grow; in fact, red light exposure causes collagen synthesis, and this is great if you want healthier skin (who doesn’t?). I’m working to live to 180 years old, but I never want to look that old—so I put extra collagen protein powder in my Bulletproof Coffee to provide collagen building blocks for my body to use with my red light exposure. (p. 165)
So yet another reason to invest in a red light therapy device. And I use the word invest intentionally, one of the greatest arguments for red light therapy is the economic one; a good red light will cost you a few hundred dollars and will empower your health for about a decade - it's a pretty great value compared to supplements that only last a month or two!
a positive side effect of cryotherapy is that it stimulates collagen synthesis in your skin, which means fewer wrinkles and skin that heals better. Since I installed a cryotherapy chamber with liquid nitrogen in my biohacking laboratory, I’ve received a lot of comments about how my skin looks. The cold helps! And so does eating a lot of the collagen protein I created so that my body has the building blocks to grow healthy skin. (pp. 279-280)
If you don't mind being extremely cold for a few minutes, cryotherapy is a pretty amazing biohack. If you've got some cash to splurge on a chilling experience you won't soon forget, look up a cryotherapy spa near you.
Usage and Dosage
Fortunately, it's flavorless, add it to a beverage and enjoy. Many mix Collagen with fruit juices to get the Vitamin C - this is tasty I'm sure but fruit juices (even the "natural" juices) contain a whopping dose of fructose (sugar) and autoimmune disease-causing lectins. Biohackers, like Joyce Arntson here, add it to an empowering cup of Bulletproof coffee...
I mix it with my Bulletproof coffee in the morning and take it with my Magnesium in the evening. I like its texture, being able to mix it with other products, and that it meets my collagen requirements.
Another biohacker on Amazon adds...
I sprinkle it on popcorn, salads, rice, noodles, toast, sandwiches, soup, potatoes....nearly everything I eat. I actually like the mild malty flavor, and it helps me to feel full and satisfied... This collagen also adds protein in a quick, easy, tasty way.
You can take it with a meal or on an empty stomach, whatever is more convenient for you.
You can take it at whatever time of day you like. It doesn't have a stimulatory effect and won't affect your sleep - although some people claim it helps their sleep.
12-24 grams daily is standard, 30 grams is the higher end, even though one Biohacker on Longecity reported: I drank 72g of collagen while fasting and felt terrific...
When should you expect results?
Skin beautification: In the German study the significant improvement was measured after 12 weeks.
The clinical trials lasted months typically but there's reason to be optimistic about results coming sooner. John Dandridge reports...
I have been taking the Collagen Peptides for 2 weeks and I like it. I have noticed more energy, my joints don't hurt and my gut is feeling better.
In rare cases, unpleasant feelings of fullness and heartburn are reported.
A biohacker, well-acquainted with it, adds on Longecity: Be warned collagen can cause constipation. Be sure to get plenty of fiber.
I looked at dozens of clinical trials and repeatedly read "no adverse effects were reported." However, the Chinese rheumatoid arthritis study notes that Gastrointestinal complaints were common in both groups, but there were fewer and milder side effects in the [Chicken type-2 Collagen] group. So be a little wary of gastrointestinal discomfort, decrease the dosage if it manifests, and maybe avoid chicken-derived Collagen.
Having looked at not all of the Collagen papers (there are thousands of studies!) but many of the most notable ones along with a not-insignificant number of anecdotal reports, my conclusion is that this is a virtually risk-free supplement. The only real concern is purity and toxicity; Amazon particularly is a "hive of scum and villainy" when it comes to supplements - the packaging is pretty but they may be rife with heavy metals and toxic manufacturing chemicals.
Every manufacturer claims to sell "organic" Collagen but unless you see a legit COA from an accredited lab you never really know. Being a smart consumer entails some investigation and not always choosing the most affordable (or highest rated) option.
Collagen is not just for the vain. In modernity, few can eat truly organic, non-GMO meat or grass-fed beef giving us all the Collagen we need. Even if you have high standards and a strict diet, you're simply not getting all the nutrients you need from your food. Our ancestors didn't have fancy Collagen supplements (although, they did enjoy bone broth soup) - everything they ate was "organic" - and they died at younger ages than us. I'd rather be living in modernity and have the option to supplement the nutrition I need!