The Truth about Collagen Peptide Supplements

Walking through Costco I was offered a sample of a “collagen peptide” supplement. “Yum, more protein,” I said. “No, this is collagen, not protein,” said the sample lady. I replied, “Collagen is a protein. You know, the collagen triple helix?” Then I realized, most people don’t know enough molecular biology to make sense of the proliferating collagen supplement market. So let’s clear this up.

Short: Gelatin and collagen peptides are the same thing. And the bulk of them is just two amino acids you can get by eating other food.

Long: Collagen is a protein. Proteins are composed of amino acids – think of amino acids as the building blocks for your body. (And, by the way, “peptides” are just chains of amino acids.) Collagen makes up the bulk of skin, cartilage, and other connective tissues. Everyone wants healthy skin, so won’t eating collagen improve your skin? Well … does eating hair improve your hair? Does eating brains improve your brain? Not really: When you eat any protein your stomach breaks it down into its constituent amino acids. Your cells then use those amino acids to rebuild the proteins in your body from scratch.

Human bodies use 20 different amino acids to build the many thousands of different proteins that make our body grow and work. 9 of those amino acids are “essential” meaning we have to get them in our food. (The human body can create the other amino acids itself.) If you have a nutritional deficit of essential amino acids then you won’t be able to build all of the proteins your body wants. If you have more amino acids than your body wants then those amino acids are not going to get used. Your body doesn’t say, “Hey, I have some extra glycine and proline, why not use those to make some extra collagen to plump up my skin?”

The bulk of collagen is just two amino acids: glycine and proline – neither of which is essential. If you really aren’t consuming enough food for your body to make those amino acids, then yes your body will not be able to make as much collagen as it wants, and yes your skin and other tissues made of collagen will suffer. And yes, eating animal collagen is one way to make sure you aren’t deficient in the amino acids that make up collagen. But you don’t need precious collagen supplements. Gelatin is literally just denatured collagen (a.k.a., “collagen peptides”). And you get the exact same nutrients by eating bone broth, skin, and other animal-based food. But even if you don’t eat those exact things, your body gets the amino acids used to create collagen from the other food you eat.

Violin Bows

When I resumed violin a few years ago and began to study Bach Sonatas I found originalists advocating for playing Bach with an older Baroque style bow. It turns out a decent bow can be had for under $100, so I got one of those – shown at the bottom of this photo.

My violin with a new carbon fiber bow, my old pernambuco wood bow, and a baroque style bow.

I also discovered carbon fiber bows selling under $100 so I picked up one of those as well. I have found the carbon fiber bow to be as good as the pernambuco bow for my style of playing (though as I noted in a previous post my style is not … soft). The baroque bow has also been fun to use: It’s shorter, lighter, and more delicate, so it forces me to practice a more gentle approach to playing.

What are men good for?

Further On the Primacy of Women: Across the mammal class, adult females are capable of raising and providing for children without the assistance of males. Males are fundamentally only sperm donors. Furthermore, given the cost among higher mammals of bearing and raising children, fertile females are a limiting resource. And these circumstances lead almost inevitably to a terrible selective cycle for male violence: Males that can dominate fertile females are the ones whose genes survive. Sure enough, across primates we find males evolved to control reproductive access to females and kill competing males. Read these really great essays on the topic:

Violin fitting

Some classical violinists can play without a shoulder rest or even a chin rest. I was trained to grip the violin between my chin and neck firmly enough to hold it in a proper position without any support from my left hand. Given my long neck this was impossible to do without a shoulder rest, and even with a standard shoulder rest it was always a struggle. So when I resumed violin a few years ago I bought the Bonmusica shoulder rest, shown in the photos below, which was a great improvement. However, even with that adjusted to its maximum height I was contorting my neck uncomfortably to hold the violin in the proper position. Further research led me to an adjustable center-mounted chin rest by Wittner Augsburg. Installing that at its maximum height finally let me hold the violin with my chin in a relatively neutral position. Here are photos before and after that chin rest upgrade:

Playing violin takes a toll. Hearing damage in the left ear is one well known effect I enjoy. I suspect that my posture also cost me a left molar (since replaced with an implant) because I habitually clenched it between my upper jaw and left shoulder to hold the violin.

I lost weight using two simple tricks (and you can too)

I lost 15 pounds in six weeks. I went from 190 pounds to 175, and have stayed at 175 for two months. All I changed is what I ate and how much.

The first trick is what to avoid eating: Avoid simple carbohydrates, and absolutely no sugary food! Before this experiment I had a very carb-heavy diet (i.e., one built around cereals, rice, pasta, potatoes), and I never abstained from desserts. In my experience, eating simple carbohydrates – especially sugars – leads to blood-sugar crashes that make me extremely hungry after a few hours. When I cut out sugar I never experience hunger like that. So I stick to vegetables and protein. (My go-to snack now is a Pure Protein bar.)

The second trick is to eat less. Before this experiment I didn’t have any portion control: I would whatever was served, and at a shared meal I would volunteer to finish anything that was left. Now the question became how little can I eat? I could eat two hamburgers, but I can also eat just one. Where before I would pour a full bowl of cereal, now I pour half a bowl. Less also means avoiding extra fats when possible. So no adding butter or mayonnaise to things. No fatty/starchy snack foods. Nothing deep-fried.

Eating less actually reduced my stomach capacity. I get full on less food, and I can’t eat as much in a sitting as I used to.

Neither of these tricks completely eliminates hunger or cravings, but not being fully satisfied at all times is part of life. The only thing I allow myself to eat outside of mealtimes are protein bars, carrots, or diet soda. That’s it. A simple rule, so there’s no thinking, no bargaining, no calorie counting. And no way to not lose weight!

(NB: Some cravings might be driven by nutritional deficits, so I take a daily multi-vitamin. As long as I have body fat I don’t have a calorie deficit.)

AI Image Generators

I just got beta access to DALL-E, OpenAI’s large-language-model-based diffusion image generator. It’s a very interesting tool to play with.

Thomas loves cats and is showing exceptional aptitude at fencing, so I asked DALL-E for a “Vermeer style portrait of a dignified cat posing as an olympic fencer wearing a white vest and holding his saber in one arm and mask in the other.” Here are some of the results:

My war against advertising algorithms

I went to to check the price of a vacuum my mom wanted. Now I’m getting ads for it.

I couldn’t figure out how to get a trial of Adobe Creative Cloud off my computer. My search for their hidden uninstall tool now has me getting ads for Adobe services even though I despise them and was only searching how to get rid of them.

Do I click on the ad to make Adobe pay? Or do I not click, even on things that interest me, because I don’t want the algo to win?

The Immortality Key

The Immortality Key is an important book. I had only read the Forward and half of the Introduction when I was convinced of the book’s essential thesis:

  • The human psyche has an innate capacity for a common experience of “transcendence,” which in our cultural terms might be called “seeing or knowing God.” Transcendence can be found across cultures and time in religious archetypes and practices. But most humans can only obtain the real transcendental experience with the aid of entheogenic (a.k.a. psychedelic) chemicals.
  • Humans going back to prehistoric times have made ritualistic use of natural entheogens. Many have emphasized that the transcendence found through these chemically-enhanced rituals is critical to the well-being not only of individuals but also of human society.
  • It appears that a single powerful entheogenic experience is sufficient to convert a person for life. (For example, Greeks who underwent the entheogenic ritual at Eleusis were given the title epoptēs, or “witness.” And ongoing research with entheogens has found that a single dose of psilocybin can relieve major depression.)
  • Spiritual use of entheogens has perhaps been stigmatized by abuse in the 1960s and 1970s. The hippie movement profaned the use of entheogens that were, and probably should be, sacred.
  • Modern organized religions and governments have nefariously eliminated access to entheogens. For example, it is astonishing that chemicals like psilocybin and LSD have been banned under DEA Schedule 1, which is reserved for substances “that have a high chance of being abused or causing addiction, and no FDA-approved medical use,” whereas scientific research has always found them to be non-addictive, with low potential for abuse.

How do you “see God?” As with all human traits, there is a spectrum of capacity. Some people are gifted (or afflicted) with transcendental vision – most likely many of those called prophets. For many more people, transcendent vision can be obtained through devoted fasting, prayer, scourging, or meditation. But it appears that anyone can transcend with the use of entheogenic chemicals. The Immortality Key impresses the notion that Christianity is (in my words) a relatively dead religion: Christian doctrine correctly describes transcendence, but Christian rituals are hollow versions of those that humans have relied on for tens of thousands of years to actually experience transcendence. Yes, these hollow rituals are sufficient for some. For others, like me, they at best offer one fleeting glimpses of transcendence.

The Immortality Key has its shortcomings. After the first few chapters the author bogs down flogging the Pagan Continuity Hypothesis and exulting over his discovery of small scraps of evidence he found in a decade of research. Jerry Brown wrote a good review that should be read to put the book in its proper place.

The book does expound upon a few other worthwhile points. The author is an academic classicist, and along the way he (like all classicists) impresses on the reader how little our culture has evolved from that developed by the Greeks in the first millennium BC. Then he details the shocking efforts by early Christians to try to erase that culture. They nearly did, most unconscionably by burning the library at Alexandria. Today we have only 1% of classical texts known to have existed.

The last chapter is an interesting read: It shows how the concept of “witches” was developed by the middle Catholic Church and used to destroy whatever western folk knowledge of entheogens may have otherwise survived. Then, Christian missionaries in the Americas largely succeeded (often through the force of government) to suppress entheogenic use among indigenous Americans. Hopefully we are now at the end of the war on entheogens and the revival of mainstream acceptance of and access to transcendental experience.