Over the past year, we have heard so many anecdotes attributing a youthful, glowing skin, healthy hair and strong nails to some form of collagen supplement. Collagen is currently a popular buzzword in the beauty world because it is one of the most abundant proteins in the body. It comprises up to 70% of the dermis layer of our skin (just under the outer layer or epidermis).
Alarmingly, we start producing significantly less and less of this essential structural protein as we age causing, inter alia, our skin to sag and wrinkle. Manufacturers, appealing to our vanity, are marketing collagen supplements as a way to boost your body’s levels of the protein with numerous youthful benefits, especially to your skin and hair.
Swept up by the hype, I promptly pounced upon the band-wagon and started taking an oral collagen supplement, having done almost zero research. (Other than reading that the age-defying Jennifer Aniston is a fan!) But I eventually got around to asking myself: is there evidence to support the effectiveness of taking an oral collagen supplement? Is there research to support the claims around the benefits? What is the best form of collagen supplement? How much do I need each day? Here’s what I learned.
WHAT IS COLLAGEN?
The word “collagen” is derived from the Greek word for “glue”. This essentially describes the role it plays in our body. Collagen is a structural protein that “holds everything together”. It binds cells and tissues together while helping them maintain shape and integrity. Found throughout the body, collagen is concentrated in the dermis (skin), hair, nails, bones and connective tissue. Collagen is what helps skin to maintain its youthful appearance.
Our bodies naturally produce collagen however, the aging process takes a toll on collagen production causing it to slow down as we hit our mid-to late 20s. Collagen levels peak at this point and then start to decline. This is when we start to see the first visible signs of ageing like fine lines and wrinkles. To make matters worse, negative environmental and dietary factors deplete the collagen in our bodies. This includes toxins, environmental pollutants, excessive sun exposure, smoking, and eating a diet high in refined sugar and fried foods.
HOW DOES A COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENT WORK?
This might be stating the obvious (or it would indeed be the fountain of youth). Taking a collagen supplement itself cannot simply restore your collagen and directly give you glowing, youthful skin and healthy hair. What it does is provide support to the natural production of collagen by the body.
When taken orally, your body breaks the collagen down in the digestive system. From here it is absorbed into the bloodstream in the form of amino acids and collagen peptides. The network of blood vessels then transport the amino acids and collagen peptides to the dermis and elsewhere that they are needed. Once there, the peptides get to work to stimulate collagen production. The more collagen peptides present, the more collagen gets produced. The presence of Vitamin C is also important in collagen synthesis. Vitamin C together with the collagen peptides speed up the production of collagen. So basically, your body needs to be functioning pretty well in order for collagen supplements to have any effect.
ARE THERE PROVEN BENEFITS TO TAKING A COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENT?
Preliminary research supports the view that taking a collagen supplement can prompt your body to produce more collagen. The most “complete” research has to do with joint health. A much cited 2008 study found taking a hydrolysed (powdered) collagen is beneficial to bones and joints. Other studies have linked collagen supplements to lower rates of back pain or reduced knee pain among people with osteoarthritis.
It seems that research around the “vanity” aspects of collagen supplements is more recent and still subject to further debate and years of study. The existing research has however, linked collagen supplements to improved skin elasticity, skin moisture and a reduction in wrinkles. There is also research that claims collagen has been shown to support and increase the body’s hair building proteins. This can prevent hair loss, encourage hair growth, and reduce the appearance of grey hair. There seems to be a great deal more anecdotal evidence to support these claims. However, there is currently a fair amount of research being done on these particular benefits of collagen supplements. It is thus likely some new findings will more fully explain and support the anecdotal evidence.
Lifestyle choices are important
Modern lifestyle factors like stress, poor diet, and gut health imbalances can all decrease the body’s ability to make collagen. Smoking, high blood sugar, sun exposure, a sedentary lifestyle and weight gain all deplete collagen in our bodies. If you are going to try a collagen supplement, you need to also consider the lifestyle choices that impair the body’s ability to produce collagen.
WHAT COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENT SHOULD YOU BE TAKING?
The answer is not as simple as I originally thought. There are a number of facts that impact the answer to this question.
Type I, II or III collagen
There are numerous types of collagen but nearly 90% of the collagen found in the human body are referred to as types I, II, and III. Types I and III are concentrated in the skin, hair, nails, bones, tendons, and ligaments. Type II is found primarily in the joints and cartilage. So, if you want to improve skin and hair health, and reduce wrinkles you need to look for a type I collagen supplement. If joint health is your concern, you’d want to look at a type II supplement.
Pills vs powders or liquids
Collagen supplements at your local pharmacy or health shop most commonly come in the form of powders (hydrolysed), pills and liquids. Because of the way collagen supplements work, it is critical to consider the amount of collagen that is actually absorbed into your body when ingested. Not only do pills generally contain very little collagen, but the level of absorption is much lower. As a result, hydrolysed and liquid collagen supplements are considered most effective.
Sources of hydrolysed collagen
There are four different sources of collagen that are used to make hydrolysed collagen and collagen peptides. Bovine(cattle), chicken, porcine (pig), and marine (fish) collagen. Bovine, chicken, and porcine collagen consist mainly of type II collagen. Marine collagen consists primarily of type I collagen. Marine collagen is also considered a superior form of collagen because it is digested and absorbed by the body far more efficiently.
Look out for hidden sugars
Another important thing to look out for when purchasing a liquid or hydrolysed collagen supplement is the potential sugar or sweetener content. Some manufacturers add quite a bit of sugar or sweetener to make the liquid or powder form more palatable.
Because the research is still a little shaky dosage is quite variable. But many of the studies were based on the consumption of 10,000mg (10g) hydrolysed collagen per day over a period of 6-8 weeks. Anything from 5.5 (5,500mg) to 8g (8,000mg) per day should be enough if taken consistently, to see results.
Don’t forget your Vitamin C
It’s not enough to take a collagen supplement on its own. If you have too little vitamin C in your body, not enough collagen can be produced.
I am not a medical or other health professional. My opinion is based purely on what I have read. What appears clear to me is that if you’re looking for a way to increase collagen, simply applying collagen cream won’t cut it. This is definitely an “inside-out” thing.
For me, especially as a runner and fitness enthusiast, a collagen supplement for joint support is a good idea. And although thorough research-backed evidence seems a little light at the moment, there is just enough to convince me that consuming a drink made with hydrolysed, preferably marine, collagen on a regular basis has the potential to help stimulate collagen production in my skin.
Another important lesson I’ve learned is that not all collagen supplements are created equal. I have realised that I’ve been going about my collagen supplementation entirely wrong. The “collagen supplement” pill I’ve been taking actually contains almost negligible amounts of collagen. Importantly, I also can’t tell what type of collagen the pill contains. I’m taking a “compound formula” which has far higher amounts of Vitamin A than collagen. This is dangerous and bad for one’s liver especially if taking other medication which contains Vitamin A. I’ve immediately stopped taking these tablets. Instead, I’m going to search for a 100% hydrolysed collagen supplement, that doesn’t have added ingredients and ticks all the natural, GMO free boxes.
I’ll do a follow-up post and let you know what I find locally. Please drop me a mail or comment below if you have any suggestions. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic and any supplements you might think are brilliant.
(RELATED POST: Use your hydrolysed collagen in our mint chocolate collagen smoothie recipe.)
CONSULT A MEDICAL OR HEALTH PRACTITIONER
There appear to be no major risks in trying a 100% hydrolysed collagen supplement for 2-3 months to see whether it works. However, it is strongly advisable to consult a medical or health professional before taking anything. I think this is especially important when taking pills. More so after realising I’ve effectively been overdosing on Vitamin A for a while now! Even a quick chat to the local pharmacist is worth your while. If you do decide to try any collagen supplement, stop immediately if you experience any side effects or GI issues.
THIS IS NOT A SPONSORED POST