Collagen Supplementation Relieves Chronic Pain and Improves Daily Function in Middle-Aged Adults

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As we age, many adults experience chronic joint or muscle pain that can severely impact quality of life. Finding safe, affordable solutions to manage this pain is crucial -- and a recent study suggests that collagen supplements could offer real benefits.

This double-blind study found that 10g per day of collagen peptide supplements for 6-9 months improved pain, daily function, and mental health scores compared to placebo in active middle-aged adults. Higher doses and exercise further enhanced some outcomes. As we age, supporting joint, bone and skin health with collagen shows real promise in improving wellbeing.  

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, providing essential structural support to connective tissues including skin, joints, bones, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels and organs.1 It makes up 30% of total body protein and 70-80% of skin.2 Collagen is synthesized inside the body through a complex multi-step process requiring adequate vitamin C and the amino acids proline and lysine.

Collagen production starts inside fibroblasts cells, which string together amino acids proline and lysine into triple helix strands to form procollagen. This step needs vitamin C to assist proper folding and stabilization. Procollagen is then secreted by fibroblasts into the extracellular matrix, a fluid surrounding connective tissue cells. Finally, enzymes modify procollagen by chopping off end pieces to create rigid, durable tropocollagen that incorporates into fibers and networks that make up the matrix.3

Unfortunately, aging causes substantial declines in body's collagen production starting between ages 30-40. By age 60, collagen synthesis may drop by 50%. Lower collagen levels lead to common age-related issues like wrinkling skin, weaker bones and muscles, joint deterioration, ligament tears and chronic pain.4 Deficiencies in vitamin C and amino acids proline, lysine and glycine needed for normal collagen production can exacerbate collagen depletion as we get older.

Modern grain-rich diets often provide inadequate glycine, proline and lysine for optimal collagen synthesis over the lifespan. As these amino acids get diverted to other critical bodily processes, less reaches fibroblasts for crafting procollagen.5 Without enough amino acid building blocks, our fibroblast factories downshift collagen output earlier, quickening age-related connective tissue breakdown and pain.

A recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition explored whether collagen peptide (CP) supplements could benefit active adults ages 40-65 struggling with chronic musculoskeletal pain.6 CP supplements provide collagen, an essential structural protein found in connective tissues like skin, joints, bones and tendons that declines with age.7

The randomized trial included 86 men and women who exercised over 4 hours per week and experienced periodic joint or muscle pain. Participants took either a placebo, 10g CP per day, or 20g CP per day over a 6-9 month period. They completed surveys on pain, daily living activities and physical and mental health at monthly visits.  

The study had two phases - initially examining outcomes at 6 months, then giving participants the option to continue for 9 months total. 72 participants completed the 6 months, while 41 remained for the full 9 months. The research team removed several participants who suffered new injuries unrelated to the study to avoid skewing the results.

At 6 months, the 10g CP group showed significantly improved scores for daily living activities and pain compared to placebo, although for pain, benefits only occurred in those exercising over 3 hours per week. Mental health scores also rose at 10g CP for the 6-9 month period. Participants taking 20g CP daily did not have the same improvements, suggesting 10g daily may be the optimal dosage.

When split up by sex, women taking 20g CP for 9 months demonstrated better physical health scores than those taking placebo or 10g CP. No differences emerged for men between groups. Participants exercising under 3 hours weekly saw no gains except slightly better quality of life scores at 20g CP versus placebo.  

The promising results indicate supplemental collagen peptides can potentially help middle-aged adults remain active as they age by reducing musculoskeletal pain and improving mobility and mental health. Benefits appear most robust for women and regular exercisers. As a safe, affordable supplement, CP shows real potential to support healthy aging of connective tissues when dietary amino acids for collagen synthesis may prove inadequate. However, longer trials are still needed to clarify optimal dosing and timing for lasting impacts.

Learn more about the health benefits of collagen supplementation here.

Learn about natural approaches to reducing pain here.


References

1. Di Lullo, Gloria A., et al. "Mapping the ligand-binding sites and disease-associated mutations on the most abundant protein in the human, type I collagen." Journal of Biological Chemistry 277.6 (2002): 4223-4231. https://doi.org/10.1074/jbc.M110709200

2. Sibilla, Sara, et al. "An overview of the beneficial effects of hydrolysed collagen as a nutraceutical on skin properties: Scientific background and clinical studies." The open nutraceuticals journal 8.1 (2015). https://doi.org/10.2174/1876396001508010029

3. Gelse, Kolja, et al. "Collagens--structure, function, and biosynthesis." Advanced drug delivery reviews 55.12 (2003): 1531-1546. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addr.2003.08.002

4. Shuster, Sam. "Osteoporosis, a unitary hypothesis of collagen loss in skin and bone." Medical hypotheses 65.3 (2005): 426-432. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2005.04.039

5. Phillips, Stuart M. "Current concepts and unresolved questions in dietary protein requirements and supplements in adults." Frontiers in nutrition 4 (2017): 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2017.00013

6. Kviatkovsky, Shiloah A., et al. "Collagen peptides supplementation improves function, pain, and physical and mental outcomes in active adults." Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 20.1 (2023): 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1080/15502783.2023.2243252

7. Lopez, Hector L., et al. "Effects of dietary supplementation with a standardized aqueous extract of Terminalia chebula fruit (AyuFlex®) on joint mobility, comfort, and functional capacity in healthy overweight subjects: A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial." BMC complementary and alternative medicine 17.1 (2017): 1-18. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-017-1977-8

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