Collagen Supplement: Ease for Painful Knees

Collagen Supplement: Ease for Painful Knees: Main Image
Undenatured type II collagen can improve joint function in healthy people undergoing strenuous physical exercise
The cartilage that cushions the movement of bones where they meet as joints is mostly made of a protein called type II collagen. According to a preliminary study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, supplementing with unprocessed (undenatured) type II collagen may improve knee movement and reduce pain in healthy people with exercise-related knee pain.

The nature of collagen supplements

Undenatured type II collagen is different from other cartilage-supportive supplements like glucosamine and chondroiton (parts of other complex molecules found in cartilage and other connective tissues), and gelatin, which is collagen that has been broken down into smaller molecules through a chemical process called hydrolysis. Previous research suggests that collagen supplements might help people with various types of arthritis.

Type II collagen helps painful knees

The 46 participants in the study had no evidence of arthritis or knee pain at rest but reported knee pain after ten minutes of stair climbing in a lab setting. They were given either 40 mg of undenatured type II collagen per day or placebo for 120 days.

Tests were done to measure the range of motion in their knees and the length of time they could stair climb before experiencing pain at the beginning of the study, after seven days, and then at 30-day intervals. These tests showed the following:

  • People taking collagen had better ability to extend (straighten) their knees at the end of the study than at the beginning. There was no change in knee extension in the placebo group.
  • The length of time participants could stair-climb without pain increased in the collagen group over the course of the study but not in the placebo users’ group.
  • At the end of the trial, five people in the collagen group no longer had any knee pain after ten minutes of stair climbing. Only one person in the placebo group was similarly pain-free, but this difference between the groups was not statistically significant.

The study authors report, “In the present study, we show for the first time that undenatured type II collagen can improve joint function in healthy subjects undergoing strenuous physical exercise.” They suggest that the benefits of collagen supplementation might be due to changes in inflammatory activity in joints resulting in enhanced tissue repair and decreased inflammatory damage.

Because this study was funded by the manufacturer of the collagen supplement, and several of the investigators work for the company, the possibility that these results were influenced by researcher bias cannot be ruled out. Nevertheless, they can be considered preliminary evidence and grounds for future research.

Baby your joints

Weight-bearing joints, like the knees, hips, and spine, inevitably undergo some breakdown as we age, and osteoarthritis of the knee is one of the most common ailments in seniors. If you’re starting to show signs of joint wear and tear, here are some things that might slow it down:

  • Give your knees a (gentle) workout. Physical activity can improve blood flow, reduce inflammation, and stimulate joint repair. If pain limits how vigorously or how long you can exercise, choose activities that are easier on joints like walking, swimming, or low-resistance cycling.
  • Eat your medicine. Joint breakdown, especially in the knees, has been found to be slower in people who eat foods rich in antioxidants like vitamins C and E than people who don’t. Fruits and vegetables provide lots of C, and nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil are good sources of E.
  • Consider an herbal anti-inflammatory. Ginger, turmeric, and frankincense are among the medicinal herbs that have been shown to reduce joint pain and stiffness in people with arthritis.

(J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2013;10:48)

Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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