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Collagen In The Press

How a collagen pill can beat arthritis

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When long-distance runner Annie Conroy learned that the cartilage in her arthritic knee had virtually worn away, she thought she would have to hang up her running shoes.

Her orthopaedic surgeon told her she was in so much pain because there was little cartilage left. But he gave her hope by recommending collagen supplements.

Until recently, collagen has mainly figured as a skin treatment for removing the lines of ageing, but there is growing evidence that it can stimulate the growth of new cartilage in joints.

'It was virtually bone on bone, and I was told I might need a knee replacement operation in a few years if things got worse,' says Annie. 'I'd already torn one knee cartilage and recovered, and this setback seemed the final blow.

'The consultant performed a keyhole operation to clean up the debris that had accumulated in my joint and then suggested I took a collagen pill to see if it would help.

'It was a case of try the pills or face being in pain and discomfort until I got the chance of a new knee. The anti-inflammatory drugs I had been taking hadn't really worked.'

Annie a, 55-year-old retired teacher from Cardiff, started taking daily collagen supplements and found that after three months the pain faded away. She is running again and has not looked back.

'I was amazed, because this wasn't a drug, and I thought it quite unusual for a hospital doctor to be recommending an alternative treatment,' she says.

'I train about 35 miles a week and have recently recorded personal bests in road and cross-country races. I don't think I would have achieved those successes without the supplements.'

The claim that collagen can stimulate the growth of new cartilage in joints is borne out by recent medical studies which say that patients with arthritic or damaged joints showed improvement in mobility and pain relief when taking the supplement.

A laboratory study has also shown that collagen can stimulate the growth of new cartilage tissue. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body at about 33 per cent. It is present in bones, joints, muscle and other connective tissue. Scientists believe that in some people, particularly the elderly, its production slows down or stops.

Supplements seem to perform the same role as natural collagen in keeping the tissue in joints healthy and supple.

Dr Stefan Oesser, of at Kiel University in Germany, published research which demonstrated that by adding collagen to cartilage tissue, it was possible to encourage extra cells to grow.

'This is the first time anyone has demonstrated that collagen has this effect on cartilage and backs up anectdotal evidence and patient trials,' he says.

'We are still trying to unravel why collagen works this way. That might be difficult to establish because there is a series of complex interactions. But we have at last established that it happens.'

Research two years ago by Roland Moskowtiz, a professor of orthopaedics at Case Western University in America, looked at 400 patients with arthritic knees from the U.S., Britain and Germany. Some got a placebo while others were treated with collagen.

The latter group showed significant reduction in pain and an improvement in joint mobility, with 93 per cent achieving positive results, some after only two weeks.

Dr Oesser, a physiologist, says further research due to be published later this year will add to the growing evidence that collagen is effective in damaged joints. Meanwhile, Annie Conroy is convinced that collagen tablets helped her knee.

'I shall be taking them every day for the rest of my life,' she says. 'I was quite depressed at the thought of having to hang up my running shoes, but now that won't be necessary.' Chris Wilson, an orthopaedic consultant in Cardiff, says a number of supplements, including collagen, appear to work.

'I have always had an open mind about alternative treatments, he says. 'If a patient says she has pain relief and movement after taking collagen, I am perfectly prepared to believe it works. 'With arthritic pain, I don't think mainstream medicine has all the answers, and I would encourage patients to try treatments such as collagen and glucosamine.'

Could taking collagen pills ease your creaky joints?

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Suffering from arthritic joints? At the moment, pain relief or, as a last resort, surgery are the only options conventional medicine has to offer you and the other 8.5 million Britons affected by osteoarthritis.

No wonder, then, that many people turn to alternative remedies to try to alleviate the pain and discomfort.

These include treatments such as acupuncture, or supplements such as glucosamine - both of which have conflicting research reports about their effectiveness. Another popular option is collagen. This is the ingredient that gives our skin elasticity and stops wrinkles. It's also found in bones, joints, muscle and other connective tissue, including cartilage (giving it its strength and elasticity).

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage breaks down, causing bones to rub directly on each other. In young people cartilage regenerates at a rapid rate, but by the age of 30 this process of regeneration has slowed down and the thickness of cartilage around the joints begins to thin. Repetitive sports, being overweight or leading a sedentary lifestyle exacerbate the process.

The theory is that collagen supplements can help maintain or even replace lost cartilage. The pills are sourced from fish, cattle, pig and chicken bones. However, until now, there has been no real scientific proof either that collagen can work to repair human cartilage, or how it works.

Now, however, the makers of a new collagen product are claiming that two research findings prove not only that taking a supplement does help in the repair of joint tissue in older patients, but also it goes some way to explain how it happens.

The main ingredient in the product is collagen hydrolosate - a processed form of collagen powder mixed in water, said to be more easily digested than unprocessed collagen.

Researchers at Harvard Medical school and Tufts Medical Centre in Boston, in the U.S., evaluated 30 patients over the age of 48 with arthritis of the knee. The patients were divided into random groups; half of them took collagen hydrolosyte and the other group a placebo. The patients underwent an MRI scan at one week, 24 weeks and at 48 weeks.

The year-long trial reported that while the cartilage in the placebo group deteriorated over the weeks, as expected, the groups taking collagen experienced a growth in cartilage. Laboratory studies suggested the supplement 'stimulates the renewed synthesis of the cartilage', said the researchers.

Pat Jones, 68, a former Olympic hurdler, has been taking the supplement since September last year. Now a dog agility trainer, she has suffered from osteoarthritis of her left knee for more than a decade and was becoming dependent on painkillers to give her enough mobility to walk her dogs. She was worried that she would soon no longer be able to work as a dog trainer.

'I have taken many supplements over the years - but nothing helped,' says Pat, from Woking, surrey. 'If I walked for 20 minutes, I was in dreadful pain for several hours afterwards. 'I didn't want to undergo knee surgery, because it is a major operation, but for the first time I was beginning to think about it.

'Within a week of starting the pills, I thought I was simply having a good run because my recovery rate after going for a walk was shorter than it had been. But the improvement carried on, and suddenly I was able to walk the dogs for two hours a day.

'At Christmas, I stopped taking painkillers for the first time in ten years. I still have the odd bad day, but they are few and far between. I have also noticed that my knee is much less swollen than it had been before.'