How Collagen Supplements Work

Many people are skeptical about collagen supplements. I often hear, “It’s just protein” or “All protein gets digested into amino acids, so taking collagen isn’t any different than a chicken breast or eggs”. However, there is solid science behind the mechanisms of action of collagen supplements. For all you science nerds like myself, here is a summary of what is going on in the body when you take a product like our Super Collagen powder or tablets.

Scientific Explanation of Collagen Degradation and Regeneration

Collagen Regeneration CycleCollagen fibers within the extracellular matrix can be attacked externally or break down naturally. The attacks come from a number of sources, including free radicals, enzymes such as matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), ultraviolet light and autoimmune factors. These aggressors attack the molecular bonds of collagen fibers, leaving disorganized collagen fragments known as peptides floating loosely in the extracellular matrix. To compensate for the lost collagen fibers, the producing cells, fibroblasts and chondrocytes, have molecular receptors that detect the presence of loose peptides, and in response to the abundant buildup of collagen peptides in the extracellular matrix signal their cells to produce replacement collagen bundles.

However, there is a delay. The response is not immediate to the breakdown of collagen in the extracellular matrix. Compare the reactive mechanism of the feedback response network to a home heating system. Though a thermostat might be set to 70 degrees, the system is designed to trigger the furnace to operate when the temperature drops to 65 degrees versus constantly turning on at 69. In similar fashion, the receptors must detect a specific concentration of collagen peptides before responding to produce the same amount of collagen fibers each time. This is known as the collagen peptide threshold.

Before the collagen peptide threshold is reached, a percentage of collagen peptides is lost by leaching out of the extracellular matrix and goes undetected by the fibroblasts and chondrocytes. The feedback response network initiates the production of the collagen fibers to match the loss, and the leaching would create a potential deficit in the balance of the overall collagen. However, by the deliberate overproduction of new collagen versus peptides, the feedback response network compensates for this loss, maintaining tissue homeostasis and integrity.

Unfortunately, with time the collagen production cycle changes. Between the ages of 25 and 30, collagen production begins to decline at a rate of about 1.5% per year. This decline in production coincides with the maturation of the body’s collagen fibers. During this period, the molecular bonds of the collagen strengthen, increasing the overall integrity of the extracellular matrix. Type III collagen is produced quickly by young fibroblasts before the tougher Type I collagen is synthesized, but eventually Type III is replaced by the more stable Type I collagen.

In a younger body, the Type III matrix is more dynamic and collagen fibers break down quicker. Because of this, the cycle of tissue regeneration quickly reaches the collagen peptide threshold that stimulates the production of more collagen fibers. During the period when collagen bonds strengthen, collagen fiber degradation lessens, increasing the cycle time needed to reach the collagen peptide threshold and trigger new collagen production. This slowing of the cycle has unexpected consequences. As more time is needed to reach the threshold at which new collagen production is stimulated, the volume of peptides leaching out from the extracellular matrix increases. As we age, the production of collagen fibers slows, losing ground to the increased leaching of peptides – resulting in the 1.5% drop in collagen production per year. Unless the cycle frequency is increased to a level where collagen production can exceed the loss, this vicious cycle will compromise the integrity of the tissue’s form and its function for the remainder of our lives.

By supplementing with NeoCell’s Type I & III collagen, the collagen peptide threshold is reached more quickly, the collagen regeneration cycle is stimulated more often, and the collagen matrix is rebuilt.

I hope that helps. Feel free to ask any questions for clarification and I’ll be happy to respond.