2. UC-II ® Undenatured Chicken Collagen
Although ASU works directly to build and repair joint cartilage, it doesn’t address a major aspect of the problem (in fact few things address this particular aspect). A key component of most joint destruction (sometimes an initial cause as in rheumatoid arthritis and sometimes a secondary factor triggered by an initial trauma to the tissue as in osteoarthritis) is when the immune system goes out of control and starts attacking the cartilage. In other words, once a person starts down the road of joint pain, either early on or later in the process, at some point the immune system usually “goes wrong” and becomes a factor in the gradual destruction of joint tissue. Literally, the immune system reprograms itself to treat joint tissue as a foreign invader and “eat it up.” Re-reprogramming the immune system through the use of immunomodulators is often an essential step in stopping and reversing this damage.
In the past, I have recommended several immunomudulators including CMO (cetyl myristoleate) and L-Carnosine, but UC-II seems to represent a choice uniquely suited to dealing with joint and cartilage problems. Although this discussion ultimately applies to all forms of joint damage, for the moment, let’s focus our attention specifically on rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a common autoimmune disease in which killer T-cells of the body’s own immune system (most likely triggered by invading bacteria) reprogram themselves to attack joint cartilage, resulting in inflammation and joint destruction. The current treatment strategies of suppressing immunity and inflammation offer only limited success. “Oral tolerance,” on the other hand, is a long-recognized mechanism for inducing immune tolerance — that is, suppressing a misdirected immune response. But rather than suppressing the entire immune system, oral tolerance targets specific immune cells responsible for tissue damage. Inducing the immune system to tolerate joint cartilage, rather than identifying it as a “foreign” substance, requires a specific sequence of events to take place within that part of the immune system found in the gastrointestinal tract lining.Studies have shown that small doses of undenatured type II collagen can indeed trigger this particular sequence of events, thereby deactivating killer T-cell attacks of joint cartilage in humans.Other studies have demonstrated that the undenatured type II chicken collagen found in UC-II retains its activity when exposed to human digestive fluids, which is not necessarily true of other sources. Time-dose measurements by ELISA immuno-assay of UC-II activity have shown that it retains approximately 50% activity even after as long as 90 minutes after exposure to digestive juices.
What is UC-II?
Most type II chicken collagen sold in dietary supplements is denatured, or hydrolyzed, which is another way of saying that the chemicals and high-heat used to process and refine it have changed its molecular configuration. An undenatured extract is made using little or no heat and limited processing. It is usually extracted using pepsin with just enough processing to concentrate the collagen and make it soluble. Denatured or hydrolyzed extracts, on the other hand, typically use high heat, acids, and enzymes to make the protein molecules more soluble; but these methods fundamentally alter the structure of the protein. Denatured proteins are often called hydrolyzed proteins — thus denatured collagen is often called hydrolyzed collagen. This does not make it useless. Hydrolzyed type II chicken collagen still has value as a source of some of the components of aggrecan, including collagen itself, hyaluronic acid, chondrotin sulfate, and glucosamine. But to receive this benefit you need to consume it in large amounts, as much as 3-10 grams a day. But more importantly, one significant thing does change in the process of denaturing. When denatured, type II chicken collagen loses its immunomodulating ability. Type II collagen must be in its native (undenatured) form to be effective in this capacity.
UC-II is extracted from chicken sternum cartilage using a patented, low-temperature process that ensures the undenatured biological activity of the type II collagen even when exposed to digestive juices for 90 minutes or more. As mentioned earlier, undenatured collagen administered orally works with the immune system to promote healthy joints by a process called oral tolerization. This process helps the body to differentiate between foreign invaders, such as bacteria, and elements that are good for the body, such as nutrients. The process of oral tolerization takes place in the small intestine where food is absorbed. Through a complex process, lymphoid tissue in the mucosal lining of the small intestine screens incoming compounds and serves as a “switch,” turning the body’s immune response on or off to foreign substances, depending upon what that substance is. In the case of undenatured type II chicken collagen, small amounts (typically around 10 milligrams) taken orally have been shown to correct a faulty immune response specifically targeted at the type II collagen present in bone joint cartilage — in effect, modulating the body’s immune response so it works correctly once again. At a cost of over $17,000 per kilogram of active ingredient, UC-II is undoubtedly the single most expensive ingredient I have ever used in a formula. Fortunately, it only takes 10 mg a day of its active ingredient for maximum effect. (In fact, it loses effectiveness if too much is used, losing all effectiveness at levels over 20 mg a day). But cost aside, the fact that it specifically addresses the problem of the immune system destroying the body’s own cartilage mandates its inclusion in the formula.
Studies on Joint Mobility and Flexibility
There have been a number of studies conducted with UC-II on both animals and humans, including research at the Harvard University Medical school — all of which have shown that the undenatured type II chicken collagen found in UC-II effectively reprograms the immune system to promote healthy joints and increase joint mobility and flexibility.
In a pilot clinical study, for example, 5 older women (58-78 years old) suffering from significant joint pain were given undenatured type II chicken collagen (10 mg/day) for 42 days. Improvements in pain reduction and joint flexibility were reported, along with reduced morning stiffness. In another study, researchers at Harvard Medical School found that six of ten rheumatoid arthritis patients taking undenatured type II collagen for three months showed substantial improvement, while one patient recovered completely. In addition, there were no side effects. And finally, in a 90-day, double-blind, placebo-controlled, follow-up study on patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis, Harvard scientists found that 28 patients taking undenatured type II collagen showed significant improvement compared to the placebo group, while four patients recovered completely.
An Important Note on Supplement Amounts
When we talk about a 10 mg dose, we’re talking about 10 mg of active glycosylated undenatured type II chicken collagen. But there are no readily available pure sources of this component. Standard hydrolyzed chicken collagen, as explained earlier, has virtually none. And most sources of undenatured collagen offer it in the range of 10-25% concentrations. In UC-II, for example, active glycosylated undenatured type II chicken collagen comprises 25% of the whole. That means it takes 40 mg a day of UC-II to get 10 mg of active undenatured collagen. I have noticed that several of the supplement providers who are using UC-II in their formulas have mistakenly used 10 mg of UC-II itself. That means they are only providing 2.5 mg of active undenatured collagen. Given the cost, I can see why, but from your perspective, you want a full 10 mg, which requires 40 mg a day of UC-II — or more from other sources.
What It Means
For anyone suffering from progressive cartilage damage (which ultimately means anyone suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or long term osteoarthritis), reprogramming the immune system with undenatured type II chicken collagen as found in UC-II is an essential component of his or her joint repair regimen.