While the use of collagen has been around for decades, its popularity in the wellness world has spiked in recent years. Get to know what the science says around its health benefits.
Collagen has been a hot topic for some time now. From the rising popularity of bone broth to taking supplements or adding collagen powder to their Bulletproof coffee or morning smoothies, you’ve likely heard about all the health-boosting benefits of this protein compound.
So what is collagen?
Collagen is the main structural protein found in animals, which provides firmness to our skin and bones. It is mainly found in ligaments, tendons, and skin, as well as in the cornea, blood vessels, the gut, and even in intervertebral disks.
The production of collagen naturally decreases as we age, resulting in the formation of wrinkles and potential joint disorders over time.
And it’s why people are looking for different ways to supplement with collagen.
The internet will have you believe that collagen consumption will benefit you in a variety of different ways, including improved skin, reduced joint pain, and better athletic performance.
It’s one of the reasons you’re seeing a growing trend of bone broth (which is made from roasted bones and vegetables) in your supermarket’s cold beverage section.
Along with a hefty price tag.
But before you splurge on bottles of bone broth, it’s important to keep in mind that when collagen is consumed, either through food or as a supplement, your body will digest it into individual amino acids.
It does not necessarily retain the collagen as a whole as it breaks it down into individual building blocks for other proteins throughout your body, although there is evidence suggesting that certain collagen forms can retain its bioactive peptide even after ingestion.
Let’s take a closer look at what the science says about collagen and its health effects.
Studies indicate there may be an increase in skin hydration and a reduction in the formation of wrinkles when supplementing with collagen hydrolysate. One study found that oral supplementation of collagen peptide for 8 weeks increased skin hydration. Because decreased skin hydration is an indicator of aging, the authors concluded that this supplementation may counteract that action.
Another study supplemented post-menopausal women with hydrolyzed collagen peptides to determine anti-aging effects. Results found that oral supplementation of hydrolyzed collagen, hyaluronic acid, vitamins C, D, and E, along with several other vitamins and minerals, improved wrinkle depth, skin elasticity and skin hydration after 9 weeks. However, we also know that a healthy diet rich in vitamins C and E, among others, along with omega-3 fatty acids, can also improve skin hydration and appearance.
Collagen supplementation may be beneficial for joint health. In a review, Bello et al. found that supplementation with collagen hydrolysate may improve pain and overall function for individuals with osteoarthritis.
According to the UK non-profit organization Versus Arthritis, research has shown mixed results in terms of efficacy of collagen supplementation to reduce pain and improve locomotion in patients with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. However, collagen hydrolysate was tolerated well with few undesirable side effects.
Reduced Athletic Injury
For athletes, limited studies have shown that consuming gelatin (which is collagen that has been heated) with vitamin C before exercise may help prevent and decrease connective tissue injury. Results indicated significantly increased levels of amino-terminal pro-peptide of collagen I in their blood, which researchers signified increased collagen synthesis.
In another small study, Penn State athletes showed improvements in pain after supplementing with hydrolyzed collagen for 24 weeks. Many of these studies, however, cited that more research is still needed to determine exact beneficial effects.
From the research, it appears that supplementation with collagen may improve your skin and joint function.
It’s also possible that collagen supplementation may improve lean muscle mass due to the increased amount of protein build blocks that it provides. Additional research recommends collagen supplementation for people with pressure ulcers, which reflects the importance of consuming extra protein in order to heal.
But supplementation alone won’t keep your skin and joints healthy! As with all supplements, it is meant to fill nutritional gaps that you may not be getting otherwise. Anything that promises you everything is probably too good to be true.
Focus on eating real whole foods including fruits, veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. In particular, we know that eating foods rich in vitamins C, E, and essential fatty acids improves skin and cardiovascular health. Eating lean proteins can also help increase muscle mass, keep you full longer, and keep you satisfied longer. And be sure to drink enough water, which is also essential for skin hydration.
If you do decide to purchase a supplement, be a smart consumer and buy a third party tested product or consider gelatin as a lower-cost option (it’s $2 a box!).
And finally, consider embracing those laugh lines that come with age. Imagine, if you didn’t have them, how fun would life be? There are so many other things we could spend time on other than fixating on something we may not be able to change.
After all, a healthy life isn’t about slowing down time.
It’s about going with the flow.
Adapted from the original post.
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Rose Mattson, MS, RD is a private practice dietitian who runs a Salt Lake City-based nutrition practice, through which she sees clients both locally and virtually. Specializing in Intuitive Eating, sports nutrition, and digestive disorders, Rose’s mission is to help people find satisfaction and joy in eating all foods, without unnecessary restriction or deprivation. When she’s not working, you can find her outside in the mountains, at the local farmer’s market, or scoping out the most delicious meals in the area.