Collagen - Why is it Important?

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Collagen is currently one of the most popular nutritional supplements on the market. Many people have benefited from its properties, so what makes it such a sought-after product? 

Collagens are proteins that are the main naturally occurring proteins in the body.

Proteins are integral to the function of the body, as they have many different roles. Collagen contains structural proteins whose functions are different from those of globular proteins such as enzymes.[4] It also differs from other proteins found in plants and animals, as it has a very specific amino acid makeup.

The name Collagen comes from the Greek κόλλα (kólla), meaning ‘glue’, and suffix -γέν, -gen, denoting ‘producing’, and it is often described as the ‘glue of the body’.

Due to its unique properties, Collagen is used in the growing fields of pharmaceutical and biomedical devices, as well as in the fields of nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, food and beverages.[1]

It has been elected as one of the key biological materials in tissue regeneration approaches, among many other beneficial abilities. 

The history of Collagen is not extensive, particularly in regards to medicine (which has such a long history). The first evidence of it was found in the 1930s, when it was discovered to have a regular molecular structure.[6]

Since then, there has been comprehensive research into the different ways Collagen is formed, its purpose in the body, and its possible uses as a supplement. In the 1980s it was most commonly known as the main ingredient of cosmetic filler, but its use in this way has been mostly discontinued. 

What is Collagen?

Collagen is a complex macro-protein which groups 20%–30% of all proteins found in living organisms and represents the main structural component of all connective tissues (i.e., skin, bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage)..[1]

In these locations it serves an essential structural role, providing tensile strength and flexibility to tissues and organs.[3]

The protein is generally made up of three long spiral chains of amino acids about 1050 in each helix [1], and is the most abundant high molecular weight protein in both invertebrate and vertebrate organisms.[2] 

There are actually multiple types of Collagen found in the human body, up to 29 different forms. Each type has a specific alpha chain with its own structural units [1], and they are classed according to these distinct structures.

Over 90% of the Collagen in the body is type I, while the other common types include II, III, and IV.[3]

The most widely accepted breakdown of where some of the types are located is as follows: Type I—bone, dermis, tendon, ligaments, cornea; Type II—cartilage, vitreous body (in the eye); Type III—skin, reticular fibers of most tissues (lungs, liver, spleen, etc.); Type IV—basement membranes (where cells meet connective tissue), Type V—often co-distributes with Type I Collagen, especially in the cornea.[2]

Health Benefits and Uses

Many health benefits are associated with Collagen, as it displays a number of unique features that are valuable to the food, medical devices and pharma industries.[2]

One of the most useful properties of the molecule is that it has weak immunogenicity, which decreases the possibilities of rejection when it is ingested or injected into a different body [1], making it universally compatible.

One of the sectors that uses Collagen the most is, understandably, medicine (including dentistry). This is because its molecular structure provides a surface that is very suitable for cell adhesion and wound repair.[1]

For this process, Collagen is used in two forms, sponges and films, both of which are employed for long-term and temporary application. Consequently, the protein is very much sought-after. 

Besides its mechanical elastic properties, Collagen exhibits good absorption characteristics with interconnectivity between pores [2], making it a desirable ingredient for products designed to combat anti-ageing and increase skin elasticity. These are the most prevalent reasons Collagen is used as a supplement, and for good reason.

It has been found to have anti-ageing and anti-wrinkling factors, and can therefore be used for the development of creams or gels with high moisturizing action.[4]

Additionally, in a study conducted where subjects took either tablets containing Collagen or a placebo, in those who took the Collagen, there was an overall significant increase in skin elasticity. [5]

It has also been suggested that Collagen could reduce inflammation and contribute to maintaining joint health, although some studies are inconclusive. 

Marine Collagen

Historically, Collagen has been extracted from cows and pigs for commercial and medical use, but some questions have been raised as to their suitability in terms of religious exclusions, safety, and sustainability.

Hindus, Muslims, and Jews collectively do not eat beef and pork and they make up 39.2% of the world’s population. Because of this, a huge amount of people are being excluded from using Collagen products.

The ability for cows and pigs (in particular) to carry diseases that affect humans is also a worrying factor of bovine/porcine Collagen manufacturing, especially for illnesses such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (Mad-Cow Disease), and Foot and Mouth disease.[3]

The abundance of livestock is another factor, as it is an issue for the environment. Farming can cause deforestation and addition of methane to the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming. 

Due to these problems, an alternate source of Collagen has been identified: Marine life. The skin and bones of fish and sharks, sea urchin waste and jellyfish and starfish all have a high Collagen content.[1]

Marine organisms have received consideration as promising sources because they have no limitations in use for any religions, and there are no reports of possible transmissible diseases.[1]

Using Collagen from marine organisms is also an appropriate substitution because marine species comprise approximately half the total global biodiversity. They are part of an enormous resource that can provide Collagen and other natural substances for the development of various cosmetic, nutraceutical, food, pharmaceutical, medical, and biomaterial products.[3]

Additionally, waste matter from fishing practices (i.e those who are not the right colour or have stunted growth) could be used for production of Collagen products instead of being discarded. The majority of waste recorded consists of bones, skin, scales, and fins [1], all of which are high in Collagen.

The use of discarded and underused marine biomass could mean the development of a sustainable process for Collagen extraction which has a significantly reduced environmental impact.

This addresses the parameters laid out in the European zero-waste strategy.[1] 

Marine organisms have displayed brilliant capabilities as a source of Collagen, providing all the health benefits that are required from products containing the protein.

Collagen extracted from codfish and salmon have been shown to demonstrate a good capacity to retain water, showing promise as a suitable candidate for dermal moisturizing applications [1], which encourage anti-ageing.

Marine Collagens have also been found to have use in the healing of wounds resulting from different traumas (burns, grafting, ulcerations, etc.). In this instance, Collagen-based materials were being used mainly to prevent moisture and heat loss from the wounded tissue.[2]

Moreover, numerous studies have revealed that marine Collagen-based biomaterial scaffolds have been used as bone tissue substitutes and reinforcements that promote bone tissue regeneration. Its easy extractability, water solubility, anti-microbial activity, and functionality make it an attractive biomaterial for both tissue engineering and drug delivery. 

Furthermore, in many cases marine Collagen has been proven to be just as if not more effective than when the protein is derived from cows or pigs.

For example, Collagen extracted from marine organisms (such as fish, seaweed, sponges, and jellyfish) offer advantages over mammalian Collagen, as it can be easily extracted, is water-soluble, and has better chemical and physical durability.[3]

Marine Collagen also showed similar stimulating effects to the bovine version in wound contraction [3], which is one of the product’s most important uses. In addition, other areas (cosmetics in particular) using marine extract Collagen have shown a comparable effect on the skin with that of animal Collagen in terms of pH, moisture and sebum.[1]

Some have suggested that Collagen from marine sponges are identical to the human types I and IV[4], which demonstrates without a doubt that marine organisms are the best possible solution to the problems that livestock-derived Collagen present.

Conclusion

In summary, Collagen is an extremely useful and beneficial protein. As it is involved in so much of the body’s regenerative process, it has many properties that promote skin elasticity, aid wound healing, and maintain the skin’s natural moisture.

Marine life is a particularly important source of Collagen, as it does not have the same limitations as other sources (such as livestock), and its increasing use in Collagen products is beneficial in many ways.

As a result of these conclusions and those of other studies, Collagen has been said to be key for the health and well-being of humans [1], and therefore an essential part of any supplement repertoire.

References

1) Coppola D, Oliviero M, Vitale GA, Lauritano C, D'Ambra I, Iannace S, et al. Marine Collagen from Alternative and Sustainable Sources: Extraction, Processing and Applications. Marine Drugs [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2021Mar24];18(4):1–23. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-3397/18/4/214/htm

2) Silva TH, Moreira-Silva J, Marques ALP, Domingues A, Bayon Y, Reis RL. Marine Origin Collagens and Its Potential Applications. Marine Drugs [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2021Mar24];12(12):5881–901. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-3397/12/12/588

3) Lim Y-S, Ok Y-J, Hwang S-Y, Kwak J-Y, Yoon S. Marine Collagen as A Promising Biomaterial for Biomedical Applications. Marine Drugs [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2021Mar24];17(8):1–32. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-3397/17/8/467

4) Berillis P. Marine Collagen: Extraction and Applications. SM Group [Internet]. 2015Apr5 [cited 2021Mar24];:1–13.

5) Czajka A, Kania EM, Genovese L, Corbo A, Merone G, Luci C, et al. Daily oral supplementation with collagen peptides combined with vitamins and other bioactive compounds improves skin elasticity and has a beneficial effect on joint and general wellbeing. Elsevier [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2021Mar24];57:97–108. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0271531717311508

6)Wyckoff, R.; Corey, R. & Biscoe, J. X-ray reflections of long spacing from tendon. Science 1935 [cited 2021 Mar 25]; 82(2121):175–176. Available from: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/82/2121/175 

 

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