Is Collagen Loading for You?
I know “collagen loading” sounds like a reference to illicit drug use, but it’s actually a healthy thing. Many are advocating high doses of collagen to add youth to skin, muscles, and joints. In this article I will tell you what collagen is, and then talk about the ways collagen is used. Finally, I will provide some guidance on what to do to make sure your own collagen is plentiful, young, and healthy.
What is Collagen?
The most abundant protein in the animal kingdom is a strong fiber that holds everything together. It’s like The Force, it has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the Universe together. Our bones are made of collagen, with calcium deposited around it to make it stiff. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and the underlying layer of skin are primarily collagen.
Collagen is a very strong fiber, like a rope. When I was in Boy Scouts, we made rope out of hemp (yes, marijuana, but this was THC-free). The individual fibers of hemp were wound together. Each fiber was not very long – only a few inches. But winding them together could produce a very long string because they pull together tighter. The then string gets stronger, as there is more tension on the string. This is repeated as three strings are wound into a small rope, and three small ropes are wound into a big fat rope. Because of the winding, the rope gets stronger as there is more tension because all the strands are pulled tighter together. A rope works by friction.
Collagen is similar. A triple-helix, three strands, are bound together in the basic structure. These are then wound into fibrils, which come together to form the collagen fibers. Collagen fibers are the basic structure of bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments – the ropes that hold our bodies together. 
But, over time, that strength of youth seems to get lost. The collagen fibers thin out. Our bodies become soft. We no longer have the same strength, or stamina. Our skin gets thinner, with less collagen to hold it together, it cuts, tears, and scrapes easier. It no longer stretches tightly, and begins to sag and wrinkle. Our muscles can tear and get sore. We get tendon and ligament injuries more easily. People get knee injuries, or rotator cuff tears of the shoulder without any major trauma – it just weakens and breaks! A normal rotator cuff tendon that should easily handle a ton, tears with hardly any weight! Also, the joints wear out and no longer have elasticity. This all happens because we are losing COLLAGEN fibers!
To counter this loss, people have tried all sorts of tricks. You know someone is going to take advantage of every opportunity to sell something people think they need. There are multiple marketing methods to replenish collagen, and people are spending thousands, and now in the United States, hundreds of millions of dollars every year with collagen creams, lotions, potions, injections, and supplements. But, do they work? Do they really help the skin re-gain a youthful level of collagen fibers? Do the joints really get stronger? Can we bring our tendons, muscles, and ligaments back to being stronger than the MAN OF STEEL???? Let’s look.
While injections of collagen under the skin will puff-out wrinkles, and will stay there for a little while, over time it will diminish, and move around. The injected collagen does not become part of the structure, so it doesn’t make the skin stronger.
On the other hand, eating collagen might provide some benefit. There is some evidence that taking partially-digested collagen might increase collagen in the skin. Also, there are many studies to show that taking collagen can increase connective tissue. Supplementation with partially-digested collagen protein improved the strength of the Achilles tendon in one study.
The problem with these studies is that they are mostly done in small groups, and they are done by the manufacturers of “collagen peptides.” In spite of this, my patients have told me that they have found great benefits to taking collagen peptides, such as stronger hair and nails, as well as less pain in the joints. However, there are many ways to get this protein. It isn’t necessary to buy powders, pills, or supplements to get more collagen.