Collagen proteins are almost totally absent from the modern western diet, as most of our protein sources are muscle meat, and not the animal parts that contain lots of collagen (bones, skin, joints, etc.). Of course, as today we eat less and less tripe, aspic, bone stock, pig’s trotters and such. That is a big mistake! As the protein content of animal bodies is also mostly collagens, and as the source of the protein intake of our ancestors and modern hunters-gatherers is almost exclusively of animal origin, it is only logical that a large majority of their protein supply should be collagen proteins. Our ancestors and modern hunters-gatherers did use every part of an animal, they did not just eat its meat. For me, it follows from the above that during our evolution we adapted for a high consumption of collagen proteins: it is the healthy way of living for us. It is unusual for our body and should cause problems if only a small part of the consumed proteins are collagens. In the following, I will attempt to support this idea.
Caloric restriction (CR) results in a significant increase in the life span and decrease in the risk of diseases in animals. This was easy to confirm in animals. They simply gave less food to the animals in the study and observed how longer they lived compared to the control group and what the decrease was in the occurrence of diseases. Well, it is obviously hard to set up such an experiment for humans. Thus, in this case, researchers can only measure markers and reach some conclusions. The positive effects of CR on longevity and health is generally considered to result from the decrease of IGF-1 or insulin-like growth factor levels and the increase in IGFBP-3, with the latter being the protein that binds IGF-1 and thus neutralizing its negative effects. Only short term studies were conducted on human CR until 2008 (several weeks - months). These concluded that the levels of IGF-1 are reduced also in humans, thus CR appeared to be effective. However, the results of the first study on long term CR in humans were published in 2008. Here it was found that CR results in a lower IGF-1/IGFBP-3 ratio only for 3 months; afterwards the ratio increases. At the same time, the IGF-1/IGFBP-3 ratio remained low in the long term in the vegan group with high calorie and carbohydrate intake and low protein intake. Some members of the CR group were then asked to continue their CR diet while keeping their protein intake low, similar to that of the vegan group, after their IGF-1/IGFBP-3 ratio returned to its original, high level. As a result, the ratio decreased again to the favourable level. The researchers concluded that, contrary to the findings in animal studies, CR will only result in an increased life span in humans if both their caloric and protein intake are restricted (~0.8 g protein/body weight kg).
Another study in 2012 found that a so-called mTORC protein complex is strongly and directly activated by BCAA amino acids, especially by leucine. These amino acids are only found in large amounts in milk proteins and meat. The increased activity of mTORC is a big problem as both IGF-1 and insulin exert their negative effects through this complex. The activity of mTORC is increased by IGF-1 and insulin as well. Thus it is harmful if they are present at high levels. Increased mTORC activity reduces life expectancy and increases the risk of life-style diseases. Today, medicinal products are being developed against cancer and cardiac attack based on the inhibition of mTORC activation. These researchers concluded that a paleolithic type diet that lacks meat and is based on vegetables and complex carbohydrates would be the most appropriate.
Animal studies were conducted where researchers eliminated specific amino acids from the diet. Both the elimination of methionine and tryptophan resulted in a longer life span of animals, though they did not reduce caloric intake.
All this supports the importance of the predominance of collagen proteins. Why is that? As I have mentioned at the beginning of the article, collagen proteins hardly contain any of the problematic amino acids (BCAAs, tryptophan, methionine), while meat and milk proteins have plenty of them. Modern hunters-gatherers eat much more protein than the 0.8 g per body weight kilogram recommended by the 2008 study, and it is also impossible to follow a diet based almost solely on vegetables, proposed by the 2012 study. Such a low intake of proteins would be unhealthy anyway, resulting in muscle degradation, weakening of the immune system and indirectly in the reduction of bone density.
Collagen proteins therefore reduce the activity of mTORC and help decrease the levels of tryptophan and methionine. All this results in better health and a longer life. What is more, a new study in 2014 may also suggest that even the level of IGF-1 can be reduced with collagen proteins without side effects, which in turn increases life expectancy.
Thus we can eat lots of protein, but be careful to provide only half of our intake from muscle meat, and the other half from animal parts with high collagen content (or with collagen supplementation).
Let us see now what the direct supplementation of collagen is good for.
First, it is important to clarify that the normal edible gelatine (such as aspic) is made up of giant proteins, hardly digestible at all. Pre-digested (hydrolyzed) gelatine/collagen was used in each study (mostly in the form of powder that can be mixed in drinks). These contain collagen peptides instead of intact proteins. There is no evidence if normal gelatine is effective or not. What collagen peptides are good for:
Skin and hairSkin and hair
• Decreases the depth of larger wrinkles and prevents the formation of others; helps remove small wrinkles.
• Increases hydration and firmness of the skin.
• Increases levels of collagen and elastin in the skin, thus the elasticity of it.
• Increases the measured level of hemoglobin in the skin, resulting in a better microcirculation.
• Reduces facial sebum and thus the occurrence and severity of acne.
• Results in thicker and stronger hair; speeds up hair growth.
• Reduces seborrhea (greasiness of hair and dandruff)
• Reduces diffuse and androgenic hair loss (in men and women also)
• Reduces joint pain
• Increases the efficacy of sleep (due to its glycine content)
• Increases learning abilities, memory and recall functions without stimulation (glycine).
• Increases the production of new neural cells in the cerebrum (only mice studies performed).
• Helps cut back appetite by balancing the hormones produced by the digestive system.
• Improves peripheral blood circulation (scalp and fingers).