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The life expectancy of humans all over the globe has markedly increased over the past decades. Although many of the so-called “golden agers” lead an active lifestyle, there are also many whose quality of life is impaired by physical complaints. In addition to joint and bone diseases, these include obesity and malnourishment. Collagen peptidescan help prevent these disorders or alleviate their effects – for a mobile and active lifestyle in old age.

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common joint disorders in adults worldwide and a typical disorder suffered by older people. Osteoarthritis is caused by a chronic breakdown of articular cartilage. About 70 per cent of the cartilage substance in the joints is composed of collagen. An imbalance in the natural synthesis and conversion processes of collagen in the joint cartilage can lead from joint deterioration to osteoarthritis, which involves the destruction of the cartilage surface, the lower cartilage layer and the adjacent bone tissue. The first signs of osteoarthritis are usually nonspecific. However, in the further progression of the disorder, two symptoms stand out: joint pain and an increasingly restricted range of motion. 

Dietary supplements containing active ingredients such as collagen peptides, which promote cartilage regeneration, are growing in importance because laboratory studies have shown that they can stimulate the synthesis of collagen and proteoglycan. Numerous clinical studies as well have substantiated the positive effect of this natural active ingredient. Experimental research has shown that following oral administration, collagen peptides are absorbed by the body through the intestinal walls and then primarily taken up by the joint cartilage, where they stimulate the generation of collagen in the cartilage cells. The cartilage substance is thus able to regenerate naturally, which counteracts the wear and tear on the joints. 

Taking collagen peptides is recommended for the prevention and therapy of these types of joint disorders. Those afflicted benefit long-term by a decrease in pain, improved joint mobility and increased resilience of the joints, which often leads to a reduction in the number of pain relievers that must be taken. Many products containing collagen peptides are available as ready-to-drink dietary supplements or powders. Synthesis and degradation of the cartilage tissue are very gradual processes, which is why a course of treatment should be followed for at least three months. Since collagen peptidesare a natural active ingredient, no information is available on possible adverse effects and interactions with other drugs. 

Even formerly healthy and energetic people can experience a loss of mobility and strength after they reach the age of 60. These changes can be caused by excessive muscular degeneration that increases with advancing age and a loss of muscle strength. Many factors can lead to this condition, which is known as sarcopenia; the exact causes have yet to be conclusively established. In addition to other factors, lifestyle and nutrition play an important role: this far too rapid degeneration of muscle is exacerbated by insufficient exercise and a lack of energy, proteins and nutrients in the diet. 

To counteract this, older people should not only exercise regularly, but also make sure they are eating enough protein on a daily basis. As aging muscles respond with less sensitivity to the respective messenger substances, older people require more of the essential amino acids to stimulate muscle synthesis*. Thus, persons over 65 should ingest approximately 1.2 grams of protein for every kilo of body weight each day, in doses evenly distributed throughout the day. 

Another important factor is the type of protein. The essential amino acids, and especially leucine, are necessary to stimulate the synthesis of muscle proteins. These amino acids must be taken in through the diet, as the body cannot synthesise them by itself. Food and dietary supplements enriched with protein can improve the protein supply. One example is collagen, which is one of the most important building blocks of the body. Thanks both to the amino acids it contains as well as its wide range of administration forms, collagen peptides are especially ideal as a dietary supplement for older people. Some products offer the building block by itself, others mix it into a special vitamin cocktail that contains other nutrients.

*Prof Dr D. Volkert: Die Rolle der Ernährung zur Prävention von Sarkopenie und Frailty (The Role of Nutrition in the Prevention of Sarcopenia and Frailty), Schweizer Zeitschrift für Ernährungsmedizin (Swiss Magazine for Nutritional Medicine), 4/2009; Dr A. Immel-Sehr: Gewichtsverlust bei alten Menschen (Weight Loss in the Elderly), Pharmazeutische Zeitung online (Pharmaceutical Newspaper online), 23/2013, and others.

Osteoporosis (bone atrophy) and its precursor osteopenia are diseases that are especially common in women after menopause. The bones become more brittle and their microarchitecture changes. Two types of cells play an essential role in this: osteoblasts and osteoclasts. The former synthesise bones, the latter break them down. While bone formation predominates in younger years, bone resorption gradually takes over from about 40 years of age. Moreover, during menopause, bone metabolism may also change with a decline in the level of the female hormone oestrogen, thereby accelerating the degenerative process.

However, this is preventable: from a nutritional standpoint, risk factors for the development of osteopenia are deficiencies in collagen, calcium and vitamin D. These deficiencies can be rectified in time through proper nutrition: good sources of vitamin D are oily fish such as salmon or tuna, while calcium can be found in milk products.

A dietary supplement containing collagen peptides can ensure that sufficient amounts of collagen are being ingested. Medical studies* have shown that a daily dose of at least 10 grams of collagen peptides, when taken over a period of at least three months, can not only prevent, but even check the progress of osteopenia. The studies showed that the body completely uses collagen peptides as a building block, integrating it into the bones and making them stronger. 

*Guillerminet, F., Beaupied, H., Fabien-Soulé, V., Tomé, D., Benhamou, C-L., Blachier, F., Roux, C. and Blais, A. 2010. Collagen peptide improves bone metabolism and biomechanical parameters in ovariectomized mice: An in vitro and in vivo study. Bone, 46: 827–834.