ARE COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENTS WORTH THE HYPE?
When we talk about nutrients for beautiful skin, collagen is always mentioned, and for a good reason. Celebrities have been using it to fight the effects of aging, and now many bloggers are sharing their experiences too. Collagen infused skincare products and oral supplements that can be taken daily are filling the shelves and promise beautiful skin. What is all the hype about?
Collagen is a protein widely found in the body, including tendons, connective tissues, hair, nails and skin. Amongst its functions, it provides structure and strength to the skin, keeping it supple and elastic, hence why it is so popular in the beauty industry. It has been researched for long time for its role on joint health in strengthening ligaments, tendons and cartilage cells. Collagen is made by the combination of amino acids glycine, proline, arginine and hydroxyproline, but it also needs adequate amounts of other nutrients to be converted into its final form.
Which type of collagen?
The human body contains 28 different types of collagen, with type 1 as the most abundant, found mostly in skin, blood vessels, tendons and ligaments. Each type of collagen is used for different tissues, however when you ingest collagen, regardless of which type, your body can convert it into other types of collagen on a “as needed” basis.
Do we need more collagen?
Collagen is continuously produced in our body, but we can also take it from food. Our grandparents were eating a very diverse diet compared to us, and when eating meat, they were consuming all parts of an animal from nose to tail, including all the gristly bits that contain most collagen. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you could then struggle to have enough collagen, because is mostly found in eggs, fish, and meat. Even omnivores thought need to pay attention to their plate: in order to create collagen, you also need vitamin C, zinc and copper, so if you have insufficient levels of these nutrients you might struggle to produce enough collagen. The most common reason for insufficiency is poor diet, followed by malabsorption, which can both have a negative effect on its production.
Collagen production decline slowly with age, with a decrease in production of 1% for each year of age after 20. UV rays’ exposure, along with smoking, pollution and stress also slow down collagen production. Collagen insufficiency can present in a variety of ways: as wrinkles due to the lack of elasticity, as digestive issues due to the thinning of the intestinal lining, joint pain due to the progressive loss of cartilage, and stiffer limbs due to the lack of elasticity of tendons and ligaments.
Oral or topical collagen?
There is a huge variety of collagen-rich skincare, that promise to reduce wrinkles and water loss, but also to keep the skin more supple. In skincare products, collagen is broken down into smaller particles that can penetrate the skin more easily, this is called hydrolysed collagen (the smaller the molecule, the more chances the body has to absorb it). This type of collagen can support your skin to retain extra moisture, helping individuals with dry skin to achieve a healthier and nourish complexion. Scientific research so far is inconclusive on its effect on wrinkles reduction, hence I would wait for more solid evidence before investing on collagen-rich skincare for this purpose. On a more optimistic note, skincare products that contain vitamin A in the form of retinol can support collagen production e deliver more positive results.
In terms of oral collagen, with the consumption of a balanced diet, the majority of people does not need to supplement, particularly due to the high cost and the limited scientific evidence around it (although I might occasionally suggest it for certain medical conditions). There are several types of collagen available in the market: type 1, 2, 3 and hydrolysed collagen are the most common, but as mentioned before, the body can convert any type into the one needed at that moment. If you are keen on taking extra collagen and have the budget for it, then it might be helpful in improving skin elasticity, thus improving skin appearance. When choosing a collagen supplement, check how it is harvested and purified, if it is tested for impurities and heavy metals Always talk to your healthcare practitioner for advice on type, dosage and length of treatment.
Is it safe?
Usually, collagen supplements taken within the recommended range are safe and well tolerated, however there is always a small percentage of individuals that can experience some side effects. They include digestive discomfort, bloating, feeling of fullness, skin rashes and heartburn (discontinue the supplement if you experience any side effect). Also, if you have a kidney issue you should consult your healthcare practitioner before taking collagen supplements.
You do not need to supplement collagen as you should have plenty from a varied, balanced diet, but it is a good idea to add vitamin C and zinc rich foods to maximise its production. At the moment, there is no strong evidence for using collagen-rich skincare, unless you’re looking for extra hydration. Feel free to use the skincare products that you like the most and can afford, ensuring that are nourishing and gentle on the skin. Always consult a trustworthy healthcare practitioner before changing dietary regime, as they can help you to be safe and savvy in your food and supplement choices.
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Barati, M. Jabbari, M. Navekar, R. et al. (2020). Collagen supplementation for skin health: A mechanistic systematic review. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 19(11), pp.2820-2829. doi: 10.1111/jocd.13435. Epub 2020 May 21. PMID: 32436266.
Proksch, E. Segger, D. Degwert, J. et al. (2014). Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 27(1), pp.47-55. doi: 10.1159/000351376. Epub 2013 Aug 14. PMID: 23949208.