- Collagen supplements (not pictured) might not be as effective as you think.
- Even though research about the effectiveness of collagen supplements is still in its early stages, pills and powders that contain collagen have gained popularity in recent years.
- Collagen is an important part of one’s skin – it provides structural support and elasticity. After age 20, people begin slowly losing their body’s collagen supply each year.
- Collagen supplements are often advertised as being able to do things like restore sagging skin and diminish wrinkles. Some research supports the idea that collagen supplements can be beneficial to one’s skin and overall health, but the research is very limited.
- When you consume collagen supplements, you can’t actually target specific areas of your body and these products may not be absorbed by your body in a way that will make a visible or notable difference in your skin.
- Most collagen supplements and powders are not highly regulated. Since the FDA categorizes supplements as a food, not a drug, they do not verify the claims made about these items.
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Collagen supplements are trendy wellness items that have been advertised as being able to give someone plump skin, shiny hair, and strong bones.
According to findings from Nutrition Business Journal, US buyers spent an estimated $122 million on collagen supplements in 2018 – an increase compared to the year before. And this ingestable’s sales are predicted to continue to increase.
However, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of consuming collagen through supplements for vanity and health purposes, mostly since limited research has been conducted on this topic so far.
INSIDER spoke with Dr. Tom Rifai and registered dietitian nutritionist Jenna Gorham to learn about the science behind collagen supplements and if they’re really worth taking.
Collagen is an important part of one’s skin, so it’s not surprising that the wellness industry is trying to harness its power
“Collagen is a vital component of the skin because it provides structural support and elasticity, resulting in youthful and healthy appearing skin,” Dr. Aanand Geria of Geria Dermatology in New Jersey previously told INSIDER.
After age 20, people begin slowly losing their body’s collagen supply each year. As the production of collagen starts to break down, one’s skin can lose its elasticity, leading to wrinkles, sagging skin, and fine lines.
Some research supports the idea that collagen supplements can be beneficial to one’s skin and overall health, but the research is very limited
- Adding collagen powder to your morning smoothie might not be achieving much.
Over the past few years, some emerging research has suggested that collagen supplementation may improve skin’s hydration and elasticity and help improve one’s muscle mass.
In addition to possibly rejuvenating skin, some small studies and analyses have also suggested that adding certain types of collagen supplements to one’s diet can potentially help ease symptoms in patients with osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease.
Although these studies seem promising, experts have noted that the results from early research about the potential benefits consuming additional collagen are far too limited to actually be deemed conclusive or widely accepted.
These supplements can’t actually target specific parts of your body – and your body might not even recognize that you ingested collagen
Even though collagen has been touted as a fountain of youth for its supposed ability to restore sagging skin and diminish wrinkles, Dr. Rifai said it’s important to note that it’s impossible to specifically target certain areas of the body when you ingest a collagen supplement.
When you consume a source of collagen, it will be broken down, absorbed by your bloodstream, and will go to different parts of the body as needed.
“All proteins are broken down completely and they’re not just comfortably put in as collagen where collagen in needed. It doesn’t work like that,” said Dr. Rifai. “The raw science is that it won’t be collagen when it’s absorbed. Your body won’t have a clue that you ate collagen because it will be individual amino acids when it’s absorbed in your body.”
Essentially, this makes it difficult to tell if ingesting collagen will have any sort of sizable impact on your body, let alone your skin.
Plus, collagen supplements and powders are not highly regulated and they can contain a variety of ingredients
In most cases, ingredients in these supplements may include animal bones and skin as well as fish scales, which can potentially be high in heavy metals. Potential side effects of consuming these heavy metals can include diarrhea, nausea, heartburn, and skin reactions, said Gorham.
Also, per the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), federal law doesn’t “require dietary supplements to be proven safe to FDA’s satisfaction before they are marketed.” That isn’t to say all supplements are dangerous, but it is worth noting that what you’re taking may not necessarily be safe to ingest.
And as Business Insider previously reported in 2017, some supplement manufacturers have been found to use contaminated products and print incorrect nutritional information on labels, which can be extremely dangerous. So, it’s up to the consumer to do their research and only purchase supplements from companies they really trust.
Notably, since the FDA categorizes supplements as a food, not a drug, they do not verify the claims made about these items.
There are many ways to boost your collagen production and take care of your skin without taking supplements
- Berries are said to boost your body’s collagen production.
- Jack Taylor/Stringer/Getty Images
If you’re looking to boost your collagen intake, you can do so by consuming more vitamins and foods you’d typically incorporate in your diet anyway.
“Vitamin C, in particular, helps promote collagen production,” Gorham told INSIDER. Plus, foods like bone broth, egg whites, chicken, and berries are all said to help promote collagen production in your body, per Healthline.
In addition, instead of ingesting supplements people should focus on cutting out lifestyle habits that can break down collagen production, Dr. Rifai told INSIDER.
“Our body breaks down all protein, and protein is applied where it’s needed and where it’s able,” Dr. Rifai says. “And the body is not going to be able to make it if you have a poor lifestyle – [a poor diet], cigarette smoking, excess alcohol, and excess sun are the drivers of the issue when it comes to [having low levels of] collagen, not inadequate protein intake.”
From hotpot dinners to fortified smoothies, collagen has fast become one of the most popular health supplements on the market.
In the past, we would mainly supplement through food (such as bone broth, beef tendon, salmon or chicken feet), but the ‘eat clean’ movement has rapidly popularised collagen supplements, creating a high demand for faster and more convenient methods of collagen intake.
Now, the market is flooded with many types of supplements – pills and powders that you can mix into smoothies and lattes, collagen-packed protein bars, and injections.
Collagen has been touted for its ability to maintain youthful and supple complexions, relieve stress, soothe aching joints, and perhaps even improve gut health.
But how true are these claims?
What collagen is, types and how they work
In its medical form, collagen is the most abundant type of amino acid, or structural protein of connective tissue in animals.
It is an essential building block in our bones, skin, cartilage, tendons, muscles, skin and connective tissue, along with much else.
When heated for soups and cooking, collagen becomes gelatinous after being chilled, and this is perhaps the most familiar form of collagen that we are used to.
It’s a trend in some hotpot restaurants to offer “collagen” broths that tout beauty benefits.
Essentially, these are gelatinous pieces of bone broth that melt into a silky soup when heated up in a pot.
In other forms, collagen powder or pills also become gelatinous when mixed with water. All forms of collagen get broken down into individual amino acids for our body to use as building blocks to regenerate and repair vital organs and other parts of our anatomy.
This also includes producing more of our body’s own collagen.
It is a common assumption that the collagen we consume goes directly to our skin and joints, but the reality is that it has to go through the same process of digestion and biochemistry as the rest of our food.
Still, there are a few key types of collagen that are known to benefit different parts of our body.
There are 16 different types of collagen, but if you want healthy hair, skin, nails, and bones, there are two types that work best – Type I and Type 3.
Collagen Types 1 and 3 contain 19 amino acids, all of which are essential to the functions of the skin, muscles and bones. These amino acids are produced by the cells in connective tissues, known as fibroblasts, as well as cells that build bones, known as osteoblasts.
More than 90% of our body’s collagen is made up of Types 1 and 3.
Type I collagen is the most common form of collagen in the human body. Supplementing this collagen can have a dramatic effect on the health of the hair, skin and nails. Ingestion of Type I collagen can heal the skin by promoting density of collagen fibrils and fibroblasts, thus stimulating collagen production.
Type 3 collagen is the second most abundant collagen in the body. This type of collagen is also found in the skin and is responsible for its elasticity. It is also a building block for the extracellular matrix that forms the structure of blood vessels and organs.
Proteins found in these types include glycine, proline, alanine and hydroxyproline.
Glycine is found in the highest quantity in collagen, and requires large amounts of serine, a metabolic amino acid, to achieve the optimum levels in metabolic processes. It seems to have a calming effect on the nervous system, which can improve sleep.
Proline, a non-essential amino acid derived from glycine, plays an important role in our joints and tendons. Together with hydroxyproline, it also aids in stabilising the structure of collagen itself.
Finally, alanine is used in the biosynthesis of proteins.
Collagen Types 1 and 3 are often taken together in supplement form and are good for skin, muscles, bone health, as well as hair and nail growth and maintenance.
Collagen Type 2 is produced by chondrocytes, and it is a liquid-like filling within healthy cartilage.
It benefits the fluids and function in the cartilage and joints, but supplements should be consumed separately from Types 1 and 3 to ensure more efficient absorption.
Our bodies already produce collagen on their own, with the help of nutrients and vitamins that we derive from daily food intake. Additionally, we consume collagen if we eat dairy, eggs, fish and meat.
The reason that collagen supplements are popular, or maybe even essential, is because our body becomes less efficient in collagen production as we age, especially after the age of 30.
We experience wrinkles, sagging skin, and joint aches and pains because collagen production begins to decrease as early as our mid-20s, by approximately 1% every year.
Benefits of a collagen supplement
There is a growing body of research indicating that collagen supplements support skin and joint health, as well as muscle recovery and even stress relief.
While the latter two are still being studied, there is more indication that collagen supplements are beneficial for skin elasticity and hydration.
A 2017 study from China Agricultural University showed that the formation of deep wrinkles was reduced once collagen hydrolysate supplements were added to a participant’s diet for at least six weeks.
Participants older than 30 were observed to benefit the most from supplements.
Supplements may also help improve the condition of brittle peeling nails, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, in which 25 participants took 2.5g of specific bioactive collagen peptides for 24 weeks, followed by four weeks of no supplements.
The trial resulted in the increase of 12% nail growth rate, and a decrease in the frequency of broken nails by 42%.
The research for joint health is even more compelling. A 2008 study at Penn State University showed that athletes with exercise-related joint pain who took 10g of collagen daily had a reduction of their symptoms.
The study indicated that collagen hydrolysate has an anabolic effect on cartilage tissue and is possibly beneficial to patients with osteoarthritis.
In fact, many studies link collagen to reduced symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Undenatured type 2 collagen was found to be an effective treatment for four out of five osteoarthritis sufferers who took a daily 40 mg oral dose.
The American study, which appeared in the International Journal of Medical Sciences in 2009, also noted that participants experienced less pain, with pain levels dropping by an average of 26%.
Some things to consider
Considering that our body’s need for collagen goes far beyond skin deep, adding a supplement seems to be an easy decision to make.
Collagen powders and pills are especially popular now. But vegetarians and vegans should note that these supplements are usually made from bones or skin of cows, or scales of fish.
There are also several other considerations, such as efficiency in absorption, and cost.
There is a common misconception of how collagen gets absorbed.
Food or supplements you take don’t reach the intended targets in the original form it was in before being swallowed. It has to go through the digestive process, and most of it gets broken down by stomach juices and biochemical processes.
So the claims that collagen directly benefits our skin, for example, may not be entirely solid.
Types 1 and 3 collagen is more likely to be broken down by our gut’s digestive enzymes and acids, the type found in most collagen peptide powders. Meanwhile, Type 2 collagen may be able to slip past the digestive process without losing its chemical structure.
One possible theory on why collagen intake seems to be beneficial to our skin and joints is that it reduces inflammation, rather than adding to our body’s overall collagen supply.
Whether or not you choose to take a supplement, it’s no wasted effort in maximising your body’s own collagen output.
Your diet will need to incorporate high quality protein, which is easily obtained from bone and tendon broth, egg whites, meat, poultry, fish and plant proteins, such as beans, nuts, seeds and grains.
Other non-meat foods to increase collagen include legumes, like soybeans; spirulina, which can be added to smoothies or fruit juices; and agar, which is cheap and easy to make. These foods are sources of proline and glycine, two of the main amino acids in collagen that can help your body to boost its own production.
Apart from eating collagen-rich foods, you can maximise the absorption. Certain nutrients can kick-start the body’s production of natural collagen and optimise the effects of food and supplements.
Nutrients like vitamin C and iron are both essential for collagen production, and omega-3 fatty acids will protect the body’s collagen stores from damage.
For athletes or fitness enthusiasts, taking collagen protein within an hour after exercise may improve performance, as you may be able to use collagen more efficiently, right after a workout.
Supplements now come in pill or powder form, and they are often costly.
The recommendation is that you should pick a supplement that contains hydrolysed collagen, or collagen peptides, as it contains a complete amino acid profile. (Hydrolysed means that amino acids chains have been broken, allowing them to dissolve in liquids of any temperature.)
The high dose of hydrolysed collagen entering our bloodstream on a regular basis triggers our body’s “wound repair” response – a process that identifies and repairs damaged collagen in the dermis by stimulating the growth of new collagen.
Four main sources of hydrolysed collagen found in supplements are bovine (cow), poultry, marine (fish), and also pork.
Research on the benefits of collagen continues to grow, especially in identifying how the types of collagen peptides work in different conditions.
But because health authorities like the US Food and Drug Administration do not currently regulate collagen supplements, be sure to choose a supplement that is certified by a third-party quality-testing company, like NSF International or United States Pharmacopeia (USP).
Otherwise, testing out a supplement for two to three months should be fairly safe and may even bring benefits.
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist. For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.