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What is collagen and its impact on health and nutrition

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You might be using the term ‘collagen’ all wrong – here’s why

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Collagen is a promising ingredient demonstrating significant potential in the health and nutrition space. Why? Its wide-ranging role in human health means it benefits virtually every consumer. It’s safe to consume long-term. And is abundant in nature, making it widely available for research and development.

Such factors have contributed to the ingredient’s rising popularity in the food and nutrition space. But it’s also the molecule’s ‘catch-22’. Because of collagen’s versatility in human health, the many types available and multiple innovation pathways bring significant complexities too. So, while awareness of collagen is at all an all-time high – especially in the joint health category – confusion in the marketplace is rife, and growing.

To tackle this, global branded ingredients supplier, Bioiberica, recently brought together a panel of experts from across the collagen industry – including Len Monheit (Executive Director at Collagen Stewardship Alliance (CSA), David Foreman (Pharmacist and Media Natural Health Expert), Elizabeth Thundow (VP Consulting Nutrition at Frost & Sullivan), Caio Gonçalves de Souza (Head of Medical Affairs at Apsen), Ingrid Möller MD PhD (Rheumatologist) and Daniel Martinez (Head of R&D Human and Animal Health at Bioiberica) for The Collagen Symposium.


Industry experts gather for The Collagen Symposium, hosted by Bioiberica.

The discussion raised some controversial talking points – read on to discover the challenges facing the future of this growing space and potential solutions to overcome them.

Want a sneak peek of the highlights from The Collagen Symposium? Watch the teaser video below.

Should all collagen ingredients even be called collagen?

The verdict from The Collagen Symposium was unanimous: the term ‘collagen’ is being used to define a host of products that are very different when it comes to structure, mechanism of action, scientific evidence…the list goes on. So why then is the term being used so broadly?

There is a growing number of products marketed as ‘vegan’ and ‘veggie’ collagen, when in fact, they don’t include collagen at all, since it can only be derived from animal sources. This also raises the question of whether molecules, like hydrolysed collagen – which are used widely across the dietary supplement market – should be called collagen too. This begs the question – what is collagen?

Getting clued up on collagen 

Let’s take collagen for joint health as an example. Hydrolysed (denatured) collagen peptides and native (undenatured) type II collagen-based supplements have both demonstrated benefits for joint health – but in very different ways. Up to 90% of collagen in the joint cartilage is native type II, that is collagen in its complete triple helix form. Native type II collagen has an immune-mediated mechanism of action called “oral tolerance” that does not require intestinal absorption. Through its unique mode of action, the molecule safeguards endogenous joint collagen from degradation; supporting longer-term joint health and overall mobility.

On the other hand, hydrolysed collagen is not specific for joint health, but it demonstrates some benefits. During the extraction and manufacturing process, hydrolysed collagen has been denatured and ‘cut’ into smaller peptide molecules. Thus, collagen peptides are not a complete protein, but fragments of a native collagen protein – which have a different effect to the ‘raw’ collagen.

Unlike native collagen, hydrolysed peptides are easily absorbed by the body. As such, they may reach the joints if supplemented, where they have been reported to exert different biologic mechanisms at cartilage level, suggesting joint health benefits.

The key takeaway? Both native type II and hydrolysed collagen support joint health, but in completely different ways – and it’s important for brands to communicate this. Now is the time for the industry to redefine the collagen market and get clear on what collagen really is, the different collagen types available for innovation (whether it’s type I, II or III) and the role of molecules (native versus hydrolysed) in the body. One solution may be to only call native (undenatured) molecules “collagen” – because it is the molecule in its natural, complete form, before being denatured and hydrolysed.

Taking action to demystify the market

It’s time to walk before we run. There’s a huge opportunity to rethink how collagen is positioned in the health and nutrition market – and start unravelling the misconceptions linked to the ingredient.

There are numerous steps that manufacturers and brands could take to dispel growing confusion in the industry. Top tips include getting clear on the type of collagen being used, understanding how the collagen chain has been ‘cut’ and from where it has been sourced – all key factors that influence the molecule’s mechanism of action and consequent effect in the body.

The importance of scientific evidence is key too. Science is predicted to become the major driving force of progression and success in the collagen landscape because it reinforces ingredient credibility, supports health claims and underpins product trust. Players across the collagen industry should therefore remain at the forefront of emerging research in the space and ensure that product innovation is backed by robust scientific proof.

Only once these steps have been taken and specialists across the industry are aligned in terms of what collagen is, can brands clearly and simply communicate the above to consumers and medical professionals. To support this, product developers could introduce more transparent on-pack messaging – highlighting the type of collagen used and its targeted benefit – or develop collateral that helps consumers understand which type of collagen to take and why.

The Collagen Stewardship Alliance is tackling this head on by establishing a certification platform that will enable collagen manufacturers – and therefore finished product developers and brands – to become verified based on several factors including ingredient quality, scientific evidence and manufacturing compliance. This collaborative approach could play a key role in shaping the future of the collagen market.

Want to discover more expert insights about the future of the collagen industry? Watch the full Collagen Symposium roundtable​.

About Bioiberica: an expert in native type II collagen

Bioiberica is a global Life Science company with more than 45 years of experience in the identification, extraction and development of molecules of high biological and therapeutic value for the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries.

Collavant n2​ is Bioiberica’s next generation collagen for joint health innovation. A trusted source of high-quality native (undenatured) type II collagen, backed by 20+ years of expertise, Collavant n2 is helping brands and innovators make their next move in the joint health and mobility space with confidence.

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