Some ingredients are based on a ‘whole food’ type of approach. In many polyphenolic ingredients, such as some fruits, berries and other botanicals, the bioactive constituents of the raw ingredient number into the dozens or hundreds. And in some traditional medicinal systems, such as Ayurveda, using the whole ingredient and thus capturing its full energetic potential is a key part of the formulation and treatment strategy.
Not so with collagen. After first discovering the benefits of supplementation with this protein, researchers started to go deeper into why the molecule had these benefits, whether they be for skin health, maintaining bone mass, or for other indications. That involved deconstructing the long chain protein molecule and looking at the specific effects of individual peptides.
Deconstructing the molecule
Among the companies that have gone the furthest into deconstructing the collagen molecule is German supplier Gelita. That decades-long head start in collagen research now affords the company a commanding position, said Lara Niemann, Gelita’s marketing director for the Americas. That research has allowed the company to develop a suite of targeted collagen ingredients containing specific peptides that are backed by studies linking those formulations with the claimed benefits.
“It’s because of our science that Gelita is widely recognized as one of the leaders in the world of collagen,” Niemann said. “Verisol is our optimized product for skin health that includes. We have collagen for bone health, for tendons and for other indications.”
Gelita has four collagen offerings that fall into this category. In addition to Verisol, which is positioned for skin health, the company has developed Fortigel, which has has evidence backing its positive effects on cartilage regeneration and in improving joint comfort, Fortibone, which stimulates the formation of bone matrix to maintain healthy bone mass, especially in post menopausal women and Peptiplus which helps strengthen connective tissue and helps reduce muscle loss with aging.
Niemann said that these targeted ingredients, all deriving at their core from the same molecule, were developed only after a long scientific gestation period, so to speak. Some dietary ingredients show a benefit early on (or can lay claim to one based on traditional use) and hit the market long before their developers fully understand how they work. In the case of collagen, most of the body’s connective tissue and bone matrix is made of this protein, so the quick and dirty approach might be to claim that pumping more of it into the body ought to help, right? Then it’s just a matter of proving the safety of your ingredient and perhaps providing some information about bioavailability and you’re good to go. Gelita took the opposite approach, Niemann said, and sought to write the book before beginning to recite from the first chapter. In passing one could observe that this approach is more typical of a European, and perhaps specifically a German company, that desire to cross every ’T’ before moving forward. Speed to market could be seen as much more of a North American imperative, where filling in the blanks as you go along might be more common.
Mode of action
“Gelita took this initiative up in the late 90s,” Niemann said. “Before we moved forward with the clinical research we really wanted to understand the mechanism of action. We wanted to understand in detail what happens to the specific collagen peptides when they enter the body. We worked with the Collagen Research Institute in Kiel, Germany.
“After we had that information in hand the clinical research really took off. In just the past three years we have seen more and more customers and consumers really starting to connect with that research,” she said.
Niemann pointed to recent research conducted on Verisol to illustrate ten company’s commitment to clinical backing. In the first study, conducted at the Kiel institute in 2013, researchers looked at the effectiveness of Verisol on skin biophysical parameters related to cutaneous aging. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 69 women aged 35-55 years were randomized to receive 2.5 g or 5.0 g of Verisol or placebo once daily for 8 weeks, with 23 subjects included in each treatment group.
Skin elasticity, skin moisture, trans epidermal water loss and skin roughness were objectively measured before ingesting the first product and after 4 and once more at 8 weeks of regular intake. Skin elasticity, which was of primary interest, was also assessed at follow-up 4 weeks after the last intake of Verisol.
At the conclusion of the study, skin elasticity in both Verisol dosage groups showed a statistically significant improvement in comparison to the placebo group. After 4 weeks of follow-up treatment, a statistically significant higher skin elasticity level was determined in elderly women.
In a subsequent clinical study, also conducted at Kiel in 2014, researchers demonstrated that 2.5g of Verisol daily reduced wrinkles and increased dermal collagen synthesis. The study looked at the ingredient’s effects over eight weeks and an additional four week regression phase on 114 women, divided into placebo and Verisol groups. Eye wrinkles were objectively measured and compared, and a subgroup was established for suction blister biopsies analyzing pro-collagen I, elastin and fibrillin at the beginning of
the treatment and after 8 weeks of intake.
“This is clearly demonstrated by a significant increase in collagen and elastin synthesis, with the result of statistically significant wrinkle reduction after only 4, and even more pronounced after 8 weeks of treatment,” said Dr Stephan Hausmanns, Gelita’s vice president of the health & nutrition business unit.
Moisture retention, elasticity
Another company that is backing its collagen peptides with science is Japanese supplier Nitta Gelatin. The company recently announced the results of research conducted on the effects of its Wellnex Collagen Peptides ingredient on skin health. The results, which were published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, were promising, said Naoki Inoue, staff scientist with Nitta.
“The two major contributors to aging are oxidation and glycation, in the skin and all over the body. And since collagen peptides are known to signal cells, they aid in increasing metabolism. The results of the study we conducted are very significant as ingestion of the two peptides we’re using at Nitta, proline-hydroxyproline (PO) and hydroxyproline-glycine (OG) showed a major difference in skin moisture retention and elasticity, thus demonstrating a reduction of wrinkles,” Inoue said.
“This is the first report to suggest that we can control the efficacy level by adjusting the manufacturing process,” he added.
In addition to skin health Niemann said there are significant opportunities for collagen peptides in other areas of anti-aging, ones that bear more specifically on health and less on external beauty parameters. Maintaing muscle mass and muscle function is becoming a hot topic among geriatric specialists, as it has been recognized that the inability to perform basic functions like rising from a chair can be the dividing line between independent and assisted living.
“I always like to talk about healthy aging as opposed to anti-aging,” Niemann said. “Within that, I think muscle health is a huge opportunity. We have some compelling research there, with a BMJ (British Medical Journal) study looking at older men already suffering from sarcopenia. What we are seeing is that in combination with resistance exercise our Peptiplus improved lean muscle mass and reduced fat mass greater than resistance training alone.”
Shining a light on the commoditizers
It’s a sad fact of life that science-backed ingredients have to contend with their commoditized counterparts. A broken-down cart horse won’t run with a thoroughbred, but to the uninitiated, both look like a horse. In the case of collagen, this dichotomy runs even deeper, as there have been allegations that some formulators have used the base protein, inexpensive as protein ingredients go, to boost overall protein content claims. Inoue said this is a matter of education, and points to a fundamental misunderstanding about what collagen can do.
“Using [collage peptides] for a straight protein claim would be missing the point of what this gourmet protein can do. As you know, collagen has low essential amino acid profile and there are those who believe that collagen won’t work for protein synthesis because of that. However, this is not true—collagen peptides can actually enhance protein synthesis. We are concentrating the particular peptides here that are beneficial to the skin, with that unique focus. It is similar to eating an orange versus taking vitamin C in concentrated form. Collagen peptides, particularly that contain hydroxyproline, are able to increase absorption by working against the actions of proteolytic enzymes, and reaching each cell, while stimulating others. Our research suggests that collagen peptides are able to be delivered to various parts of the body, including the bones, joints and in this particular study, the skin,” Inoue said.
Experts from Nutrilite/Amway, Atrium Innovations, Unistraw and CosmeticsDesign-USA will discuss the science, market, and consumer expectations at the upcoming NutraIngredients-USA Anti-Aging Forum on July 28. For more information and to register for free, please click HERE.