It seems everywhere you look collagen protein powders and supplements formulated with collagen peptides are appearing on shelves in natural health food stores. But why? Where is the demand coming from and is collagen “the most important supplement you can take” as some in the wellness industry say?
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is an amino acid-based protein that is created and stored in the human body. It is found in the digestive system, bones, teeth, muscles, skin, hair, connective tissue, and blood cells. This vital protein’s production diminishes as we age. Collagen proteins are essential for slowing down many signs of aging, including joint pain, wrinkles, sagging skin, crepe-like skin, and decreased cartilage.
The primary amino acids that create collagen are:
- Arginine: Arginine is a semi-essential amino acid known as the “anti-aging” amino acid that benefits cardiovascular health.
- Glycine: Glycine is the second most common amino acid in humans, making up one-third of the total collagen in the body.
- Proline: Proline is responsible for the production of cartilage and collagen that benefit wound healing and heart health.
These three amino acids are called nonessential amino acids because they can be produced in the body. Although essential amino acids comprise only a small fraction of the amino acids in collagen, the availability of essential amino acids can be crucial for the production of collagen because essential amino acids cannot be produced in the body.
What Are Collagen Peptides?
We’ve talked about collagen, now let’s talk about collagen peptides. Collagen peptides are essentially hydrolyzed collagen that has been broken down into more digestible strands of protein. Collagen peptide supplements are more accessible and easier to consume than several servings of bone broth each day.
In truth, bone broth’s healing power comes from the gelatin (produced from collagen) found in the bones of animals. If you’ve wanted to try beef bone broth or chicken bone broth but haven’t wanted to spend a couple of days making bone broth from scratch, a collagen supplement or an amino acid supplement may provide the health benefits you are looking for.
Collagen Peptides vs. Amino Acids
Now we are going to get a bit deeper into the science. As noted above, collagen protein is actually made up of amino acids—so is it wiser to take collagen supplements or amino acid supplements?
Amino acids are considered “collagen builders” or building blocks for collagen that keep collagen production high and give collagen its glue-like and moist characteristics. Amino acids are naturally occurring chemical compounds that combine to form proteins—including collagen. Our stores of amino acids are depleted during exercise and digestion, and as we age, which makes optimal ingestion via the diet and supplementation advisable.
“Peptides” are simply short chains of amino acids. It has been proposed, however, that the benefits of collagen peptides aren’t merely due to the composition of amino acids, but are derived from the peptide itself. According to scientists at the Vellore Institute of Technology, many of the biological activities of collagen are attributable to the “small hidden peptide residues in the collagen molecules.”
Amino Acid-Rich Foods
In addition to taking amino acid supplements, you can boost the production of collagen in your body by eating foods rich in amino acids. Adding high-quality protein sources to your diet can provide the amino acids that spur the development of collagen. The best sources of amino acids are called “complete proteins” that contain all the essential amino acids the human body needs.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, it can be challenging to get enough essential amino acids through diet alone. Supplementation with essential amino acids may help to keep you thriving and fight the signs of aging.
So to answer the question which is better—collagen peptide supplements or amino acid supplements—the answer is it depends. If you are noticing age-related skin problems, loss of muscle mass, joint pain, hair loss or breakage, or are concerned about your heart health, start with an amino acid supplement to see if your symptoms improve. While collagen peptides may benefit skin, they do not provide the widespread benefits throughout the body that essential amino acids do.
Remember, amino acids are the building blocks of collagen, but they also provide health benefits above and beyond collagen production. Amino acids support the breakdown of foods in the gut, help to repair tissue, improve athletic performance, regulate mood, and so much more.