Although they are not exactly the same as gelatin, both originate from collagen and are proteins made of amino acids. To understand better what collagen peptides are we will first start by explaining what collagen is - and how the two differ.
Collagen is the key structural protein that ensures the cohesion, elasticity and regeneration of all our connective tissues, including skin, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bones.
In essence, collagen is strong and flexible and is the ‘glue’ that holds us all together! It strengthens body structures as well the smoothness of our skin.
80 to 90 per cent of the differing collagens in our bodies are Type I, II or III, with the majority being Type I collagen.
Type I collagen fibrils have great tensile strength. This means they can be stretched without being broken. You can read more about what collagen is here
Different cells in our body tissues are responsible for the production of collagen. The cells use specific amino acids and peptides as building blocks for the production of the large collagen helix structure. This is then organised into the strong fibres that provide structural tissue support and flexibility.
As we age, our bodies naturally begin to produce less collagen, and the signs of ageing start. From around the age of 25 and accelerating in our 40s, loss of collagen affects all of our connective tissues.
As skin cells become less active, the collagen network that provides skin firmness and structure breaks down. Our skin becomes dehydrated and thinner, while lines, wrinkles and deep furrows start to appear.
Bone loss exceeds bone formation. This causes our bones to become more fragile and breakable.
You may feel joint discomfort as lower levels of collagen lead to loss of cartilage and joint function.
A gradual loss of muscle mass and strength caused by ageing can affect our balance, gait and overall mobility.
Ageing is of course a natural process, but external factors – such as UV, pollution or lifestyle choices – can accelerate the process and lead to premature signs of ageing.
So you may have heard or been told that consumed 'collagen' is too large to be absorbed into the bloodstream, or would be destroyed by the gut.
However, collagen peptides are small bioactive (easily broken down by the body) peptides obtained by enzymatically hydrolysis of collagen, in other words, the breaking down of the molecular bonds between individual collagen strands to peptides.
Hydrolysis reduces collagen protein fibrils of about 300 – 400kDa into smaller peptides with a molecular weight of lower than 5000Da. Collagen peptides are also known as hydrolyzed collagen or collagen hydrolysate (ref Peptan®).
Let's unravel another difference between collagen and collagen peptides. What this means is that absolutely, collagen in its natural state would be too large to be absorbed and do any good. This is because n ative collagen is made of large triple helix chains of amino acids. It is not soluble. Typical applications include collagen casings, medical materials, sponges for burns/wounds etc. The molecular weight of native collagen is around 300 - 400kDa.
However, collagen peptides are highly bioavailable. They act as building blocks, renewing bodily tissues, such as skin, bones and joints.
Additionally, they may act as a messenger to the cells to trigger the natural production of more collagen, thereby supporting our tissue structure. Taking collagen, therefore, means producing more collagen!
Numerous scientific studies, such as that by the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology in 2005 have demonstrated collagen peptides’ health and beauty benefits.
These include reduced and better ageing, joint and bone health and skin beauty.
Collagen peptides are cold water-soluble and highly bioavailable and bioactive.
This makes them a better option for consumption and food supplements than gelatin. Collagen peptides have a molecular weight of less than 5000Da.
Gelatine sits somewhere in the middle. Whilst native collagen is NOT soluble, and collagen peptides are highly soluble - gelatine is moderately soluble.
Gelatin is obtained by the partial hydrolysis of collagen. This is when collagen triple helices are broken down to the point where they have pulled apart into individual strands.
Gelatin will only dissolve in hot water and will jellify when it is cooled (this is the same gelatin you would get in the bone broth you prepare at home).
Gelatin is often used in cooking - jellies, sauce thickeners etc. It is also used for making soft and hard capsules in the pharmaceutical world. Gelatin has a molecular weight of 50kDa.
It is when this gelatin is hydrolyzed even further, that those individual strands of protein are broken down into small peptides of amino acids.
Collagen peptides are soluble in cold water, highly digestible and ready to be absorbed by our bodies.
Studies have demonstrated that over 90% of the peptides we consume are digested and absorbed within a few hours after consumption. This rapid absorption ensures an effective delivery of the essential peptides and amino acids.
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