Every so often, your stomach acts up, and you find yourself in agony as you go through the usual motions of abdominal bloating, cramping, and even pain. Visiting your doctor leads to scary-sounding diagnoses like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and the all too common leaky gut.
To combat your gastrointestinal (GI) problems, you’ve tried every kind of diet, from low-FODMAP to Paleo. Yet, even after cutting gluten out of your meals, you’ve found little to no improvement. If that’s the case, you may want to give collagen supplementation a shot.
Perhaps you’ve heard about the gut-friendly benefits of bone broth from your grandma or witnessed how your colleague gushed over her collagen peptides powder. Whatever the case, collagen supplementation for gut health has so far been supported by ample anecdotal evidence and preliminary scientific data. You’ll learn how collagen can help with your digestive issues, which is, more often than not, linked to a leaky gut.
A Microscopic Look at the Human Gut
To understand the potential benefits of collagen relative to your digestive system, we first need to take a detailed look at the human GI tract.
The small intestine is the epicenter of all food digestion and nutrient absorption, making it the focal point of your digestive system. What makes the small intestine able to carry out its functions is its semi-permeable barrier.
A normal-functioning intestinal barrier (or GI mucosa) consists of tight junctions that “seal” the digestive tract. This unique structure allows small molecules like digested food and water to be transported to other parts of the body for energy consumption. Unfortunately, when the gut lining becomes damaged, the tight junctions loosen. This allows larger particles, such as undigested food substances and unwanted bacteria, to pass through the intestinal barrier and into your bloodstream. This is medically known as leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut syndrome often leads to a trickle-down effect of negative health issues. That’s because your immune system identifies these food particles and bacteria as foreign pathogens. In response, your body mounts an immune reaction, sparking widespread inflammation.
For that reason, a compromised intestinal barrier is often linked to both digestive and non-digestive problems. Case in point: leaky gut syndrome usually goes hand in hand with food allergies, IBS, IBD, metabolic disorders, and even autoimmune diseases. Instead of perceiving leaky gut syndrome as the root cause of these medical conditions, look upon it as the resulting symptom of underlying GI issues.
How Collagen Supplementation Can Help Promote Better Digestive Health
To tackle leaky gut syndrome, and by extension, improve your digestive health, medical practitioners and scientific studies advocate for resealing the gaps in a hyper-permeable intestinal barrier.
This is where collagen supplementation comes in handy. Remember, our body’s capacity to synthesize collagen declines with age. Having external sources of collagen, like highly bioavailable collagen peptides, may help rebuild the intestinal lining for better gut health.
But why does collagen generate so much interest as a gut-healing supplement? It boils down to collagen’s amino acid composition, of which there are 19 essential and non-essential types.
Amongst this array of amino acids, glutamic acid is the most beneficial for your GI tract, as a recent medical review explained. Glutamic acid acts as the precursor for glutamine, a major food source for the cells in your intestine. As such, glutamic acid indirectly upholds a properly functioning GI barrier. Glutamine supplementation has also been shown to diminish intestinal hyperpermeability associated with IBS and Crohn’s disease.
Meanwhile, glycine, another prominent amino acid in the collagen molecule may help protect intestinal mucosa. One study using rat models found that glycine lowered gastric secretions and ulcers in the intestinal wall. Another study showed that dietary glycine supplementation maintains optimal intestinal function in porcine models. The amino acid regulates “the expression and distribution of tight junction (TJ) proteins” that make up the intestinal mucosal barrier function. The findings suggest that similar results may be replicated in human clinical trials.
On top of that, various animal-based studies have proven the effectiveness of dietary arginine (another amino acid present in collagen) in enhancing the intestinal barrier. One study, in particular, showed that one week of 2% l-arginine supplementation stopped the rise in intestinal permeability and bacterial translocation.
What Science Has To Say About Collagen for Optimal Gut Health
While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from consumers and healthcare professionals, the current scientific literature consists of preliminary evidence from animal models and in-lab cell studies.
The most significant study to date is a 2017 study published in the Journal of Food and Function using a human model of the intestinal epithelial barrier. Researchers showed that Alaska pollock skin-derived collagen significantly lowered the breakdown of the intestinal tight junction proteins, zonula occludens (ZO-1) and occludin. As such, the study concluded that collagen peptide supplementation enhanced the tight junction integrity of the GI tract. This, in turn, can help alleviate and even reverse intestinal mucosa dysfunction such as that in leaky gut syndrome, potentially mitigating other digestive issues.
On top of that, a 2019 study featured in the Journal of Marine Drugs recommended water-loving collagen peptides with a low molecular weight of ideally 500 Da to 1000 Da. The rationale is that such collagen supplements are the most effective in protecting the GI tract. Moreover, the same study highlighted that collagen supplements are more potent than single-amino acid supplements (like glutamine or arginine) due to the former's synergistic gut-healing composition.
Yes, more human-based studies are needed to show the clear-cut relationship between collagen and gut health. That being said, current research paints a promising start to using dietary collagen to improve your digestive problems related to a leaky gut.
Collagen Supplements vs. Bone Broth: Which Is Better for Gut Health?
Now that you’re aware of the benefits of collagen supplementation for optimal gut health, you’re probably wondering how to go about incorporating it into your diet. The truth is, incorporating dietary collagen is easy.
Many people opt for bone broth as a time-honored home remedy to support healthy digestion. While it’s true that bone broth is a source of gut-beneficial collagen, science cautions that it may not provide specific amino acids in the required concentrations for leveling up your digestive health.
According to a 2019 study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, the concentrations of hydroxyproline, glycine, proline, hydroxylysine, leucine, and lysine in a standardized bone broth recipe was significantly lower than that in therapeutic collagen supplements. Because there is “a large variability in the amino acid content” of bone broth (mostly due to different recipes), the study warns that bone broth may not be able to “provide a consistently reliable source of key amino acids.”
On top of that, there are concerns about toxic metals in bone broth, like lead and cadmium, since animal bones contain small amounts of essential and toxic metals. While a 2017 study stated that the risk of heavy metal ingestion from bone broth is minimal, you may still want to play it safe with other alternatives like collagen peptides and gelatin powder.
Give Collagen a Shot for Digestive Wellness
Ready to give collagen supplements a shot? Your best bets are top-grade collagen supplements, like Zen Principle Beef Collagen Peptides Powder and Marine Collagen Peptides Powder. Aside from their ready-to-eat convenience, these collagen supplements provide a calculated blend of essential and non-essential amino acids to promote and maintain a healthy GI tract. They are free of fillers, additives, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to provide your body with pure, gut-healing collagen molecules.