Today you'll learn about the importance of collagen for healthy, fracture-resistant bones. And you'll find out how to create and maintain this critical protein through diet and supplementation.
The quality and strength of bones depend on many more factors than just bone mineral density (BMD) — including collagen development. And yet, the Medical Establishment has spent decades ignoring the complexity of bone health by fixating on BMD.
The Save Institute has always taken a holistic approach to bone health that considers its many facets. The studies we'll examine today explain what we know about collagen's role in bone quality. You'll learn how your diet can help your body produce this organic protein and why it's critical for fracture prevention.
Collagen Multiplies Bone Strength
Collagen plays a critical role in bone strength. A review published in the scientific journal Osteoporosis International compiled the existing knowledge about how collagen functions in bone. Even at the time of its publication in 2005, it was clear that this protein was extremely important but inadequately studied.1
Collagen is a fibrous protein that makes up the majority of the organic portion of bone mass. There are many types of collagen in the human body, but “type I collagen” is the bone-building material examined in this review.
The authors identify several ways in which collagen is essential for preventing fracture. They include collagen's role in the process of bone development, its impact on fully developed bone, and how the orientation of collagen fibers enhances bone strength.1
Collagen forms in a pattern of fibers called a matrix. This collagen matrix provides a structure for the formation of mineral crystals. If the inorganic crystals don't have this guide, they won't form properly, leading to structurally unsound bones that are more susceptible to fracture.1
In addition, the presence of collagen in mature bone tissue increases the tissue's tensile strength by a remarkable two-fold.1
A review of published studies identified several ways in which collagen is a determining factor of bones' ability to resist fracture. Collagen is essential for guiding the development of mineral crystals and for increasing the strength of fully formed bone.
Collagen Fibers Respond To Weight-Bearing Exercise
The same review also found that the orientation of collagen fibers plays a significant role in bone strength.
The authors cite one study in which researchers observed the impact of long-term running on dog vertebrae. That study found that over time, the collagen fibers in the vertebrae reoriented in response to the running. The dogs' bones lost BMD but saw no change in mechanical properties or bone strength.1
The change in fiber orientation made the bones better able to withstand the force of running, even as BMD was reduced. We already know that our bones change in response to weight-bearing exercise– that reaction is described by Wolff's Law.
This study shows that those changes involve more than simply the addition of more bone mineral. That makes perfect sense once you understand that BMD is only one of many factors that make bones more resistant to fracture. Clearly, the organic components of bone deserve just as much attention as the inorganic ones.
Collagen also actively responds to the pressure exerted by weight-bearing exercise by changing fiber orientation.
Collagen: Essential But Under-Investigated
The information we have makes clear that collagen plays multiple roles in bone strength and fracture prevention. However, we still have lots to learn, especially in terms of how to assess the health and quality of collagen in our bones.
The 2005 study specifically calls for more focused study on collagen and how it interacts with other components of bone strength. Twelve years later, another study cites many of the same understandings of the role of collagen.
Frustratingly, these later authors come to a similar conclusion about our level of information: there hasn't been enough study of collagen, and we still don't have an effective means of assessing collagen quality.2
Here is the conclusion of that 2017 review:
“Collagen (organic material of bone) remains severely neglected in clinical examinations despite its clear role in mechanical behaviour and skeletal integrity (i.e. anisotropy and viscoelasticity). Future research should aim to establish the ability to examine collagen quality in bone health assessments in-vivo. Clinicians and researchers should also consider ways to promote collagen health in populations at risk of fracture.”2
A second review, published twelve years after the first, confirms the findings of the previous report. However, its authors repeat a familiar refrain: there hasn't been enough study of collagen, and we need a way to clinically assess collagen quality.
How To Support Collagen Production
While we may not yet have a clinical tool for assessing the quality and health of the organic components of bone, we can still take measures to support them. Fortunately, we have an understanding of how collagen is formed, and the compounds needed for that process.
Collagen is composed of 19 amino acids. Your body gets these amino acids by breaking down proteins in the food you eat. Then your body absorbs them and turns them into collagen and other proteins.
However, more than just the amino acids themselves are required to produce collagen. The following Foundation Supplements are required for the process:
- Vitamin C – This vitamin and antioxidant is required for the process of collagen synthesis. Studies have directly linked Vitamin C supplementation to increases in collagen production and the development of bone matrix.3 The Save Institute recommends getting 2000mg of Vitamin C per day.
- B Vitamins (B6, B12, and folic acid) – These vitamins protect collagen by lowering homocysteine levels in the blood. The RDA for B6 is 1.5 mg for women and 1.7 mg for men. The RDA for B12 is 2.4 mcg, and for folic acid (B9) it's 240 mcg.
- Copper – This trace mineral facilitates the cross-linking of collagen and elastin, which make up the bone matrix that guides the creation of mineral crystals. The recommended daily allowance is 0.9 mg, but you can take up to 2 mg per day.
- Silicon – Silicon, like copper, regulates bone matrix proteins. Try to get 12 mg from dietary sources like cherries, apples, tomatoes, and spinach.
In addition to those compounds, you need to get adequate protein from a variety of sources. Try including these protein-rich foods into your diet:
It's entirely possible to get all of the amino acids you need to produce collagen from plant sources. The same is true of every protein your body produces.
You may have seen collagen supplements, which typically contain a mixture of amino acids. As of now, there isn't clear evidence that collagen supplements are an effective way to ensure your body has what it needs to build strong bones.
Eat a variety of healthy protein sources to get the amino acids your body needs to create collagen and other proteins. Fish, quinoa, bone broth, beans, chicken, and eggs are good sources. Supplement your diet with Vitamin C, copper, B vitamins, and foods rich in silicon like cherries, apples, tomatoes, and spinach.
What This Means To You
The Medical Establishment's refusal to accept the complexity of bone health has slowed the progress of scientific study. While we don't yet have good tools for measuring collagen quality, at least we know that measures of BMD are inadequate for understanding the true strength and quality of our bones.
Support the production of collagen through supplementation and diet. The Osteoporosis Reversal Program‘s 80/20 pH-balanced diet is designed to support the full complexity of bone health. It's a great way to ensure that you're supporting both the organic and inorganic components of bone.
As more scientists study and write about long-neglected facets of bone composition and development, we will see a shift in how everyone talks about, measures, and supports bone health. Savers are ahead of the curve, as usual.
Keep learning, and keep marching down the path to strong bones and a healthy lifestyle!