Eggshell Membrane– a Collagen Source that is not Just for Vegetarians

Eggshell Membrane– a Collagen Source that is not Just for Vegetarians

In my book, I noted that all collagen products were derived from animal sources and as such, a true vegan/vegetarian collagen supplement was not available.

I was not entirely correct. Yes, all collagen products are from animal sources, but not all are derived from living animals. There is one kind that comes from a chicken egg – as the title of this blog says eggshell membrane, ESM for short.  So, if someone is an ovo-  or lacto- ovo-vegetarian they could choose to take an ESM supplement, but of course a strict vegan or lacto-vegetarian would likely not.  Nor could a person with an egg or egg white allergy.

Yet perhaps the more important question is why choose to take an ESM supplement – what benefits could one expect?

To answer this question, an understanding what ESM is would be helpful. Eggshell membrane is the thin membrane that lies between the hard eggshell and the “fluid” white of a bird’s egg.  It is isolated from chicken eggs and contains not only a lot of Type I collagen (as well lesser amounts of types V and X), but also glucosamine, chondroitin, glycosaminoglycans, and hyaluronic acid. These biological compounds have been studied separately for their positive effects on joints. The fact they are all combined in one naturally-derived supplement is pretty amazing

A few studies have been conducted on humans using ESM, in the form of a product called Natural Eggshell Membrane (NEM®).  NEM is partially hydrolyzed through a patented enzymatic process similar to ones used for other high quality forms of collagen peptides.  It is available in vegetarian capsules.

The studies were sponsored by the product manufacturer, ESM Technologies LLC.  In all studies, a daily dose of 500mg of NEM was taken with water before breakfast.  Participants were required to discontinue all prescription and OTC pain relief medications before and for the duration of the study.  They also were not permitted to take joint-targeted supplements  such as glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate.

In the first smaller pilot study, five adult women and six adult men, all seeking relief from persistent painful joint and connective tissue conditions, were enrolled.  There was no control or placebo group.  In this study, the participants had a 43.7% increase in flexibility, a 72.5% reduction in general pain, and a 75.9% reduction in range-of-motion-associated pain.

In a second study reported in the very same publication, 28 subjects, six male and 22 female, again with various joint and connective tissue conditions, were enrolled.  Fourteen were randomly chosen to receive NEM-Y and similarly 14 received NEM-X (two different ESM formulations). There was no placebo group. Twenty of the 28 participants completed the one-month study.  Results were compared to the baseline at the time of entry into the study.  Both treatment groups experienced a significant reduction in pain (NEM-Y 31.3% and NEM-X 18.4%) after one week, so the “Y” group was switched to the same NEM-X supplement.  After 30 days, the mean reduction in pain was 30.2% for the combined X and Y group. The report did not detail the differences between the X and Y products.

Considering both of the above studies, a significant proportion of the study populations (64% in the smaller group and 35% in the larger group) experienced a greater than 50% reduction in pain after 30 days. These two studies were small and “open-labelled” which means that both the researchers and the participants knew who was taking what, and there was no control group that took a placebo. From these initial investigations, NEM appears promising, but as any good researcher would state, “more studies need to be done.”  Indeed, a few other promising studies have been conducted with NEM, and I will comment on the most recent one below.

A third more extensive study was recently published in 2018, again conducted by ESM Technologies.  In this placebo-controlled randomized trial, 30 post-menopausal women were given NEM and 30 received a placebo. Similar to the first two studies, the researchers measured changes in exercised-induced joint pain or stiffness. Additionally, they measured changes in cartilage turnover induced by exercise, using a urinary marker called C-terminal cross-linked telopeptide of type-II collagen, or CTX-II for short. Elevations in CTX-II are seen in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, but also in healthy individuals including college-aged cross-country runners who put considerable stress on their joints. Interestingly, college swimmers and rower do not show elevations in urinary CTX-II, which is not unexpected due to the low-impact nature of their sports.  Postmenopausal women have twofold higher levels than age-matched premenopausal women.

This study of 60 post-menopausal women was a little different than the first two studies in that it measured changes in pain (and CTX-II) following the performance of a “stepping” exercise regimen every other day.  Supplementation with NEM resulted in significant reductions of urinary CTX-II after one and two weeks of exercise, to levels below those measured at the onset of the study.  After the two weeks, the amount of pain the NEM group experienced immediately following exercise was 38.1% less than the placebo group, however this was not statistically significant.  Most notably, at the end of the two weeks, “recovery pain” (pain experienced immediately following and 12 hours after exercise) had nearly returned to “resting pain” levels for the NEM group, while the placebo group had levels of recovery pain that remained significantly higher.  A similar effect was observed for recovery stiffness between the two groups.

The researchers attributed the improvements in the NEM group to a proposed reduction in proinflammatory compounds called cytokines, which are released by the body in response to physical stress. They also suggested that the NEM has an immune-modulating effect and noted that half of those diagnosed with progressive osteoarthritis experience immune-mediated collagen degradation.

My suggestion is if you are experience joint pain with physical activity, and after a couple of months of a joint-targeted collagen supplement with the addition of glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate and MSM, and perhaps turmeric or bowellia extracts, you still have pain or stiffness, you may want to try eggshell membrane collagen.

If you want to try this at home, you may want to start saving your empty egg shells and drop them into your broth as it simmers for the last couple of hours.  Just be sure to wash them before you use the eggs as the outside may harbor harmful microbes.  You can store them in the freezer as you collect them, and then soak them in apple cider vinegar which will help release the calcium into your broth.  I used to do this but fell out the habit – but after this article I will definitely be trying this at my home again!