Protein score system doesn't give complete picture on collagen, supplier says

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock / Wavebreakmedia
© iStock / Wavebreakmedia

Related tags Collagen Protein Nutrition Amino acid

According to one supplier, the common way to measure protein quality unfairly disparages collagen, a protein source that is ubiquitous both in the market and in the bodies of mammals.

NutraIngredients-USA spoke with officials from Rousselot, one of the main global suppliers of collagen, at the recent SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas, NV. Rousselot is often referred to as a French company but the firm recently moved its base of operations from Paris to the Netherlands.

PDCAAS score accentuates the negative

Mai Nygaard, global director for the company’s Peptan line of collagen ingredients, and Richard Schell, a sales manager for North America, made the point that the PDCAAS measure (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score) that was adopted in 1993 by FDA and by the World Health Organization as the preferred way to assess protein quality, while useful, can skew the picture for collagen because of its bias toward a given protein’s ‘completeness.’  The score looks at all of the essential amino acids contained within a given protein and calculates the score for that protein in isolation.  In other words, the underlying assumption is, more or less, that those proteins with a score of 1 or close to it (the scores are expressed as whole numbers or decimal fractions between 0 and 1) would be the best choices to properly nourish a person if that’s the only protein they ingested, as they contain all of the essential amino acids in sufficient quantities.

Nygaard said that this system has over the years come to mean in some quarters that the high scoring proteins are “good” while others are “bad.” Collagen comes in at this measure with a score of 0, mostly because the protein is entirely devoid of tryptophan. While that’s undeniable, Nygaard said that offers an unfair picture of the protein’s usefulness, and it is relatively easy to blend other proteins into a formulation to account for this issue.

“The PDCAAS system accentuates the negative. It is easy to say that everything with a low score is a bad protein but I say that you have to look at the objective of the formulation. We are lacking one amino acid, that is true, but that does not mean the whole protein is bad,” ​Nygaard said.

“Collagen is popular for protein enrichment because it’s so easy to work with. We do encourage people to blend collagen with another protein,”​ she said.

Going beyond skin health

As far as objectives for the protein are concerned, those have evolved over time and are different in different markets.  At one time collagen was for the most part exclusively a beauty ingredient.  Japan was an early adopter, and Nygaard said that collagen is in many products there, both in topicals and in ingestibles, including beauty shots that are sold in many retail channels. The protein plays a key role in skin health, particularly as a component in the elastic structures in the dermis that support the skin and fight the ravages of aging: sagging and wrinkles. But more recent research has shown benefits in joint health and by extension healthy aging and has even opened the door for sports nutrition applications. (Collagen is the most prevalent protein in bones, too.) In these newer arenas, Japan has led the way, too, she said.

“Japan used to be really driving this market. That market is the only one around the globe that could be said to have reached a saturation level for beauty products. But now that is a market where we think we can build a position in healthy aging,” ​Nygaard said.

More uptake in US

Schell said that the word about collagen has slowing been working its way through the product formulation network in the US as a result of research Rousselot has done on mobility and the amelioration of sarcopenia. Product launches with Rousselot's collagen ingredients, which it sources from cattle, pigs and fish, have been increasing, and formulators are now starting to request the protein, rather than having to be sold hard on its benefits outside of the skin health arena, he said. 

“In the past year or year and a half it has been them coming to us,” ​Schell said.

Growing that market is to some extent a matter of choosing the right smaller players to work with. Small companies move faster and can more easily show rapid growth, Schell said. It is something of an art to carefully choose which among these newer firms ought to be developed as solid customers, as in this industrial sector as in most others the majority of new companies will fail in their first five years.

“It takes some research to look at how integrated they are into the nutraceutical community. We are looking for a company that is playing in the right sales channels and one that knows how to market a product correctly. We aren’t really interested in launches of me-too products. And we are looking for a customer who knows how to use social media correctly,” ​Schell said.

Market segmentation

On the subject of mobility, which Nygaard said is one of the biggest opportunities for the ingredient, the picture is complicated by how products are typically segmented in the US. There are sports products on the one hand, with their clear message of support for muscle growth and muscle maintenance, and bone health and joint health supplements on the other. But mobility really strikes at all of these, and maintaining mobility is a key parameter for a fruitful life as consumers age.

“Joint health is a very crowded market today. According to Innova collagen is the No. 4 or No. 5 joint health ingredient but it is growing rapidly,” ​she said.

“But collagen is unique in that is can act on all of the areas of the musculoskeletal system at the same time. According to Innova, product launches with a mobility claim are growing by as much as 60% CAGR in Asia. There isn’t much of it yet in the US because the positioning is challenging. There is a joint category here; over there is the bone category. If I walk into a store and I want a ‘mobility’ supplement, where should I look?”​ Nygaard said.

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