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How Collagen Supports Immunity

The Secret Benefits of Collagen For Your Immune System

It seems these days that everyone is looking for new ways to stay healthy, with a particular focus on immunity. Your immune system is a complex web of immune cells, signaling molecules, and chemical reactions that protect your body from invading particles and keep you safe from potential harm. 

Like every other system in your body, however, your immune system requires a little TLC to keep it working optimally. This is where nutrition can make a huge difference. 

One of the often forgotten benefits of collagen is its impact on your immune system. Due to its unique structure and blend of amino acids, collagen not only supports the integrity of vital organs involved in immunity but can enhance the function of specific immunosuppressive pathways. 

In this article, you'll learn:

  • How your immune system works
  • How the collagen in your gut protects you from foreign invaders
  • The amino acids in collagen that play a crucial role in immunity
  • How collagen impacts vital immune functions like inflammation and oxidation 

How Your Immune System Works

Although most people are generally aware of what the immune system does (protects you against bacteria, viruses, infections, and so on), the details can get a bit blurry. Why? Your immune system is an incredibly complex network of cells and signaling molecules that kicks into action almost immediately when it senses imbalances in your body. 

Without getting too deep into the textbook version of the immune system and its functions, let's look at the big picture approach.

Your immune system is divided into two branches: innate immunity and adaptive immunity...

Innate Immunity 

Your innate immune system is your body's first line of defense against invaders. This branch of the immune system is sometimes referred to as the "non-specific" immune response because it responds in the same way to all germs and foreign substances. 

When an invading substance enters your body, the innate immune system activates immune cells and proteins to protect you. Scavenger cells, also known as phagocytes (a type of white blood cell), enclose germs and digest them. Once digested, the remains of the germs move to the surface of the phagocytes, which allows them to be detected by your adaptive immune system (more on that to come).

Another type of innate immune cell is known as natural killer cells (NK cells). These cells specialize in the identification of cells that a virus has infected. Once identified, the NK cells destroy the infected cells so they can no longer cause trouble in your body. 

Proteins, as enzymes, also play a significant role in your innate immunity. It's the ability of enzymes to activate one another in a rapid fashion that allows for the quick response of your innate immune system. The jobs of enzymes in your immune system include:

  • Marking germs as targets for scavenger cells
  • Attracting immune cells from your blood to the location of injury or infection
  • Destroying bacteria 
  • Fighting off viruses by breaking them down or targeting cells that have been infected

The strength of this part of your immune system is that it acts very quickly to stop the infection. The downside is that it isn't specialized, so sometimes its efforts don't fully do the trick. This is where your adaptive immune system comes in.

Adaptive Immunity

When your innate immune system isn't able to complete the job, your adaptive immune system takes over to target the invaders with a more specialized approach. While the innate immune system is fast-acting but more generalized, your adaptive immune system is slower to act, but it's much more targeted. 

This branch of your immune system can also remember specific germs, which is why you can become immune to specific viruses. After the first infection, your adaptive immune system is able to respond faster when it comes into contact with the same germ again, and you may not even notice an infection because it's resolved so quickly. 

There are three types of immune cells: T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, and antibodies. 

T lymphocytes (T cells) help to activate the adaptive immune response by sending chemical messengers. They detect infected cells, destroy them, and remember the germ's architecture so they can respond faster next time. 

B lymphocytes are activated by T lymphocytes and are even more specialized than T cells. When a T cell detects a germ, it sends a message to B lymphocytes to jump into action, which creates a cascade of replication to fight that specific germ. 

B lymphocytes then produce antibodies, which are even more specialized to each germ, and like a lock and key, can neutralize the invader by directly attaching to their surface. Antibodies also assist in the efforts of scavenger cells from your innate immune system, making it easier for them to engulf and digest them[1].

Together, your innate and adaptive immune systems work in an intricate dance to keep your body free of infection and to fight off invading substances. As you can imagine, these hard-working cells can take all the help they can get. This is why consuming nutrients that support their effort can make a significant difference in the state of your immune system. 

How Collagen Supports Your Immune System

There is no shortage of literature on collagen's benefits for joint, bone, and skin health, but many people overlook the benefits of collagen for immunity. Far more than just a structural protein, collagen comes packed with some unique immune supportive qualities. Some prime examples include:

Improves Gut Health

One of the most compelling ways collagen may promote immunity is via its role in gut health. Your gut is the epicenter of your immune system. In fact, most people don't realize this, but 70% of your immunity originates in your digestive tract[2].

Therefore, when your gut isn't healthy, it can directly impact your immune system's function. 

One of the most common issues with gut health that we see today is "leaky gut syndrome," also known as intestinal permeability. Leaky gut is caused by lifestyle factors like poor diet and too much stress. 

When you have a leaky gut, the inflammation in your digestive tract gets out of control and causes the integrity of your intestinal lining to become weak, which results in foreign compounds entering your internal circulation. This can result in a host of issues like autoimmunity, obesity, and emotional issues like anxiety and depression[3]

Furthermore, the immune signaling and cellular functions that originate in your gut can become disorganized and mismanaged, further imbalancing your immune reactions[4]

Since collagen plays a crucial role in the integrity of your gut-lining, taking collagen supplementation may support the process of rebuilding the integrity of your gut. So far, human trials have not been conducted to support this claim, but animal research shows that collagen can attenuate damage to the gut and provide support in the healing process[5]

Assist The Function of Natural Killer Cells (NK Cells)

As previously described, NK cells jump into action to fight infection during your innate immune response. They travel to the site of infection to neutralize foreign invaders and destroy them so they can no longer proliferate and spread infection. 

While much still remains a mystery when it comes to exactly how these cells carry out their functions, research suggests that the collagen in your tissues may play a role. Specifically, it appears that the interaction between collagen and NK cells promotes the retention of these cells in the infected area. This allows NK cells to carry out their function and continue to fight off infection[6]

Anti-Inflammatory 

While acute inflammation is vital for the resolution of injury in your body, when it becomes chronic, it can damage your tissues and lead to imbalance and dysfunction. The amino acid glycine, which is abundant in collagen, has been shown to support both innate and adaptive immunity through its anti-inflammatory activity. 

Specifically, glycine appears to decrease proinflammatory chemical messengers sent out by your immune system, and in turn, may protect your tissues from damage caused by an overactive inflammatory response[7].

Increases Lymphocyte Proliferation

Lymphocytes (Both T and B) play a crucial role in adaptive immunity. Lymphocyte activation is necessary to turn on this more targeted branch of immunity and to stimulate the cellular responses needed for a more specific immune attack. 

Glutamine, another amino acid that's found in collagen protein, plays a vital role in your immune response by initiating the proliferation of lymphocytes[8][9]

When your glutamine concentrations are low, it can impair immune cell function and result in a weakened immune response and, in some cases, an inability to fight off infection optimally. For this reason, glutamine is often referred to as fuel for your immune system, as a deficiency can weaken a robust immune response[10]

Supports Antioxidant Activity

Just like inflammation, the process of oxidative stress is natural and necessary when it happens in moderate doses. In fact, you have a whole system to manage oxidative stress, called your antioxidant system. 

Antioxidants come in to neutralize oxidative stress and clean up the damage. However, issues occur when your oxidative stress outpaces your antioxidant activity, which leads to oxidative damage[11].

Collagen supports the activity of antioxidants in your body through the production of one specific antioxidant called glutathione. Glutathione is the king of antioxidants; it's one of the most potent and powerful antioxidants that you produce and can support your body against a range of oxidative insults. 

Collagen is an excellent supplement to support glutathione production due to its high glycine and glutamine levels, which are two precursors for this antioxidant[12][13]

Takeaway

You may already be incorporating collagen into your diet due to its impact on bone, joint, and skin health. While most articles highlight collagen's ability to build structure and support anti-aging, the impact on immunity is often left in the shadows. 

As an immune-boosting food, Collagen can support your immunity efforts by providing the nutrients your body needs to fight off invaders while simultaneously building the structure your body requires to fend off an attack. 

Learn more about NativePath Collagen here!

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279396/
  2. Vighi, G., et al. "Allergy and the gastrointestinal system." Clinical & Experimental Immunology 153 (2008): 3-6.
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you-2017092212451
  4. Bischoff, Stephan C., et al. "Intestinal permeability–a new target for disease prevention and therapy." BMC gastroenterology 14.1 (2014): 1-25.
  5. Chen, Qianru, et al. "Collagen peptides ameliorate intestinal epithelial barrier dysfunction in immunostimulatory Caco-2 cell monolayers via enhancing tight junctions." Food & function 8.3 (2017): 1144-1151.
  6. Coombes, Janine L., et al. "Infection-induced regulation of natural killer cells by macrophages and collagen at the lymph node subcapsular sinus." Cell reports 2.1 (2012): 124-135.
  7. Cruz, M., et al. "Glycine treatment decreases proinflammatory cytokines and increases interferon-γ in patients with Type 2 diabetes." Journal of endocrinological investigation 31.8 (2008): 694-699.
  8. Shah, Ali Mujtaba, Zhisheng Wang, and Jian Ma. "Glutamine metabolism and its role in immunity, a comprehensive review." Animals 10.2 (2020): 326.
  9. Castell, Linda M., and Eric A. Newsholme. "The effects of oral glutamine supplementation on athletes after prolonged, exhaustive exercise." Nutrition 13.7-8 (1997): 738-742.
  10. Cruzat, Vinicius, et al. "Glutamine: metabolism and immune function, supplementation and clinical translation." Nutrients 10.11 (2018): 1564.
  11. Pizzino, Gabriele, et al. "Oxidative stress: harms and benefits for human health." Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity 2017 (2017).
  12. Yu, Jian-Chun, Zhu-Ming Jiang, and De-Min Li. "Glutamine: a precursor of glutathione and its effect on liver." World journal of Gastroenterology 5.2 (1999): 143.
  13. Nemati, Ali, et al. "The effect of glutamine supplementation on oxidative stress and matrix metalloproteinase 2 and 9 after exhaustive exercise." Drug design, development and therapy 13 (2019): 4215.


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Medical Disclaimer
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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