Managing mobility: cartilage, collagen and the science of joint health

Published: 24-Apr-2019

Heightened awareness of the importance of a healthy, active lifestyle has led to increased participation in amateur sports and attention given to joint performance, with both factors driving growth in the market

Joint health issues have traditionally been viewed as a health concern associated with older members of society. However, the growing interest in joint health goes far beyond the remit of an ageing population.1

Heightened awareness of the importance of a healthy, active lifestyle, for example, has led to increased participation in amateur sports and attention given to joint performance, with both factors driving growth in the market.

As a study of 236 men and women aged 45–55 conducted by the University of California demonstrated, people who regularly engage in high-impact exercise experience a higher level of cartilage degradation than those with a lower activity level, meaning the general rise in sports participation will likely result in more people than ever seeking to safeguard their joints while reaping the benefits of regular exercise.2

The global obesity crisis is another factor currently driving joint health concern. Obesity puts extra strain on knees, making individuals 20 times more likely to need a knee replacement. With more than 650 million adults classed as obese worldwide, joint health is a pertinent issue for more than just older members of society and active lifestylers.3

Traditionally, joint health supplements mainly contained glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate as active ingredients. In recent years, a second generation of ingredients, collagen peptides, have been growing in popularity as the natural, safe, preventive option for both producers and consumers.

Whereas glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate are classified as medications and are often produced artificially in laboratories, collagen peptides are derived from natural sources and represent an exciting non-drug alternative.

The time is clearly ripe for the development of innovative, collagen-based joint health solutions; but, what makes collagen such an effective ingredient for joint health supplements and how can manufacturers ensure they choose a collagen product that can meet the needs of a rapidly increasing and diversifying consumer base?

Back to basics: cartilage degradation

To unlock the potential of joint health supplements, we need to understand the science of mobility, which all comes down to cartilage: a tough but flexible material that is the main type of connective tissue in the body. Covering the bones of a joint, cartilage serves as a cushion and as a shock absorber, protecting bones from damage and making joints more supple.

When joints are exposed to exaggerated stress, trauma or the effects of ageing, their protective cartilage can become degraded or damaged, leading to inflamed, stiff and painful joints. This condition, known as osteoarthritis (OA), currently affects 300 million people and is thought to be the most prominent cause of permanent disability worldwide.4

Supplements that contain type II collagen peptides, or hydrolysed collagen, are becoming a popular option for consumers who wish to protect their cartilage and promote mobility. Collagen peptides are uniquely suited to oral delivery formats; they are highly digestible, bioavailable and cold water-soluble, making them ideal for use in innovative functional foods, beverages and dietary supplements.

Nutraceutical manufacturers can therefore utilise collagen peptides to boost the functional value of their products and develop pioneering solutions with proven benefits for joint health.

A single matrix ingredient for joint health applications

Peptan IIm is the latest hydrolysed collagen ingredient from the world’s leading brand of collagen peptides, Peptan, which is produced and marketed by Rousselot. The ingredient originates from collagen type II, a material found naturally in cartilage.

Figure 1: Bioavailability of Peptan IIm

Figure 1: Bioavailability of Peptan IIm

Collagen type II differs from collagen type I owing to its triple helix comprising three identical type II collagen chains, whereas type I helices contain only two identical chains. This differentiation at the molecular level results in a mix of bioactive peptides that are unique to each type of collagen, with type II peptides being especially suited for cartilage supplementation applications … thanks to their highly absorbable structure (Figure 1).

A natural, bioactive, non-drug ingredient extracted from cartilage, Peptan IIm contains a matrix of glycosaminoglycan components (GAGs) and collagen type II fibres, the two key building blocks of healthy cartilage.

The ingredient works quickly within joints to produce three key benefits: it protects cartilage from degradation, promotes lubrication in the joint by stimulating the production of a lubricating matrix (proteoglycan) within chondrocytes cells and reduces inflammation in the encasing membrane (synovium), a painful symptom of OA that actively promotes the disease’s progression.

Indeed, several recent in vivo reports have found that a very low level of preventive Peptan IIm supplementation, corresponding to a human dose of less than 1 g daily, was effective in maintaining unchanged peak levels of hydroxyproline (a molecule vital to collagen stability) in mice exposed to a surgical injury of the knee joint, a procedure used to mimic the effects of osteoarthritis.5

Figure 2: Effects of Peptan IIm supplementation

Figure 2: Effects of Peptan IIm supplementation

Amongst the study’s control group, the onset of OA was demonstrated by a pronounced increase in markers of inflammation, in this case TNF (tumour necrosis factor). The group that received the low level of Peptan IIm supplementation, however, could fully normalise this local inflammation, demonstrating a pronounced anti-inflammatory effect of the ingredient (Figure 2).6

The same study also proved that a low supplementation dose of Peptan IIm not only effectively protected cartilage from degradation but actually increased the number of cells actively producing cartilage matrix molecules, while also stimulating the production of proteoglycan, increasing lubrication and reducing stiffness.6

In studies regarding systemic joint inflammation caused by obesity, Peptan IIm was also shown to reduce local synovial inflammation at a low dose corresponding to just 3 g/day in humans.6

In X-ray images taken of the knee joints of obese mice shortly after the onset of post-traumatic osteoarthritis, a pronounced brown staining can be seen in the control group, indicating the presence of inflammation, whereas the subjects treated with Peptan IIm were virtually stain-free, further proving the anti-inflammatory effects of the ingredient in the context of joint strain caused by excess weight (Figure 3).6

Figure 3: Effects on knee inflammation

Figure 3: Effects on knee inflammation

These studies demonstrate how, at extremely low doses, Peptan IIm effectively addresses each of the key risk factors associated with OA — from post-traumatic stress caused by injury or ongoing high-impact exercise to systemic inflammation caused by excess weight and cartilage degradation as a result of ageing — making it the ideal ingredient for supplements targeting a consumer base with a diverse set of needs.

Joining it up

Beyond its scientifically proven efficacy and efficiency, Peptan IIm is a highly attractive joint health solution for both producers and consumers. It is a clean label ingredient, derived from a natural source and free from additives or preservatives. Carrying a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status, and effective at low daily dosage (1–3 g/day), Peptan IIm is a widely approved ingredient that is easy for consumers to ingest and digest.

The new ingredient is also pioneering in terms of its versatility and potential product applications. Highly soluble, even in cold water, Peptan IIm can be easily formulated into tablets, capsules or delivered as a powder supplement in combination with other ingredients that support joint health, such as vitamin C.

It can be added to functional food and beverage solutions, such as liquid shots or gummies, and is fully adapted to tableting processes (direct compression and wet granulation) owing to consistent powder specification.

In light of current forecasts, demand for joint health supplements is only set to increase, meaning that manufacturers must be primed to deliver convenient and effective nutraceuticals to an ever-diversifying set of customers. In this context, the versatility, scientific effectiveness and proven safety of ingredients such as Peptan IIm are vital if producers want to meet their customers’ needs and deliver high-quality, tailored nutrition solutions.


  5. S. Soniwala, et al., “Oral Hydrolyzed Type 2 Collagen Protects Against the OA of Obesity and Mitigates Obese Gut Microbiome Dysbiosis,” poster presentation at ORS 2018 (New Orleans, LA, USA) and OARSI 2018 (Liverpool, UK).

This article features in the May/June issue of Nutraceutical Business Review. The previous edition is available online here.

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