Collagen products have flooded the market lately, with supplements claiming to make skin look younger, boost bone density and improve muscle mass. But do collagen supplements work? We dive into the science to discover whether they really are a youthful elixir or just another fad
Collagen benefits in a nutshell:
- Collagen supplement benefit #1: Makes skin look younger
- Collagen supplement benefit #2: Relieve joint pain
- Collagen supplement benefit #3: Increase bone density
- Collagen supplement benefit #4: Boost muscle mass
- Collagen supplement benefit #5: Stronger hair and nails
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and one of the major building blocks of bone, muscle, tendons, hair, nails and skin. It’s often regarded as a sort of ‘glue’ substance which binds all these things together (indeed, the Greek for glue is ‘kólla’).
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How is collagen produced?
Procollagen is the precursor to collagen, the building blocks of which are the amino acids glycine and proline. In the presence of vitamin C, these two amino acids synthesise to create procollagen. In short, ensure you’re getting enough glycine, proline and vitamin C and you should have healthy collagen levels:
- Vitamin C – citrus fruits, bell peppers and berries
- Glycine – gelatine, bone broth and other protein foods
- Proline – egg whites, cabbage, asparagus and mushrooms
Why all the hype around collagen supplements?
Over the last few years, collagen supplements have sprouted in healthy nutrition shops, on supplement websites and beauty retailers.
Why? Because as we age we naturally produce less collagen – a decline accelerated by lifestyle choices like smoking, excessive sun exposure and poor diet – meaning as we age we experience deeper wrinkles, fragile bones, increased joint pain and more delicate hair and nails.
Increased research supporting collagen supplementations to slow and even reverse some of these ailments is what’s caused the boom in the supplement market.
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So, what are these claims? Let’s take a look.
Collagen supplement benefit #1 – makes skin look younger
Probably the best known and researched benefit (and most recognised reason for supplementing) lies in its impact on skin health, for studies have shown collagen’s ability to increase skin elasticity and minimise wrinkles and lines.
One study separated 72 women aged 35+ into two groups – one given collagen, the other a placebo – for 12 weeks. Skin hydration, elasticity, roughness and density were statistically analysed. In conclusion:
“Skin hydration…skin elasticity…skin density all significantly increased” in the collagen group, while skin roughness (ie, wrinkle depth) “decreased by up to 40%”. Impressive.
Another found that daily collagen supplementation led to “a noticeable reduction in skin dryness, wrinkles, and nasolabial fold depth…and a significant increase in skin firmness after 12 weeks”.
Collagen plays an important role in joint health
Collagen supplement benefit #2 – relieve joint pain
Collagen maintains the integrity of your cartilage, thus it’s an important nutrient for reducing joint pain and osteoarthritis. A study of 147 individuals found joint pain during walking decreased with collagen supplementation.
Collagen supplement benefit #3 – increase bone density
Bones are predominantly comprised of collagen, so it’s easy to see why optimal collagen levels equal healthy bones. This study showed how a daily 12g dose of collagen “promoted a significant improvement in the symptoms of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis”.
Another found “The loss of whole body BMD [bone mineral density] in women taking CC [collagen] was substantially lower than that of the control group”, while this research similarly found “In the SCP [collagen] group, BMD [bone mineral density] of the spine and femoral neck increased significantly compared to the control group”.
Collagen supplement benefit #4 – boost muscle mass
Collagen is a protein, hence the clear link between it and muscle growth. While decades of research have shown protein’s positive impact on muscle development, few have solely studied collagen.
Collagen supplementation has been linked to the maintenance and development of muscle mass
However, research published in the Nutrients Journal, concluded “the use of RET [resistance training] in combination with collagen supplementation results in a more pronounced increase in BM [body mass], FFM [fat-free mass], and muscle strength than RET alone.”
Of particular interest to older people who begin to suffer from sarcopenia (age related muscle loss), this research paper found “subjects in the collagen-supplemented group showed a higher increase in FFM [fat-free mass] and muscle strength as well as a higher reduction in FM [fat mass]”.
Collagen supplement benefit #5 – stronger hair and nails
Collagen has, in limited studies, been shown to reduce the brittleness of hair and nails. Studying 25 participants, collagen supplementation resulted in fewer broken nails and faster hair growth.
Collagen supplements – just another fad?
While some benefits are well-researched, it’s worth remembering that despite the growing body of evidence, studies showing great results are generally small and short-term and – in some cases – funded by companies with a vested interest in positive results.
Fish scales, among other animal parts, form the basis of collagen supplements
For us, the red flag is what goes into collagen supplements: ground up fish scales, cow or pig bones and skin, in the most part. Due to the use of these ‘ingredients’, there’s worry around the levels of toxic heavy metals like cadmium.
Anyone who’s researched into collagen supplements will know they don’t come cheap and, while supplements flood the market, there’s plenty of brands which so little collagen as to have no real impact. If you’re going to buy it, get a quality brand which delivers an adequate dose – around 8-12g per day.
Collagen supplements – conclusion
Scientific research on collagen is fairly conclusive – adequate levels bring a wealth of health benefits we’re all keen to maximise.
But as with all things, we take a natural-first approach.
We believe that if you’re consuming a well-rounded diet, are getting the right exercise stimulus and generally avoiding poor lifestyle choices, then you have nothing to worry about and don’t need to fork out for supplements.
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If, on the other hand, you’re not able to get what you need from your food and your lifestyle isn’t conducive, then the research would suggest collagen supplements could be for you.