Everyone seems to be taking a collagen supplement, but do they work? Is it the miracle cure-all for aging we have been looking for? Collagen is the primary protein in skin connective tissue, acting like a scaffold to hold tissues in place. So sure, it’s important, but eating more brains doesn’t make us just have more brain in our skull, so does eating more collagen automatically make our skin structurally better?
Skin is the largest organ in the human body. We can sometimes think skin is simply a superficial layer to keep us looking beautiful, but it has a lot more important functions than that: skin has a sensory role, it provides a physical barrier against environmental factors, vitamin D is synthesis happens in the skin, absorption of topical applications, as well as playing a role in regulating body temperature.
Collagen isn’t just for beauty, collagen-derived peptides control lots of functions in our cells – such as cell shape, differentiation (differentiation is when cells change from one type to another) and synthesis of proteins throughout the body.
One study with supplementation of 50ml of collagen a day for 60 days showed noticeable reduction in skin dryness, wrinkles and nasolabial fold depth. In addition, a significant increase in collagen density and skin firmness was observed after just 12 weeks. The data from this study suggests that collagen can counteract some of the signs of natural ageing. Another study with 10g supplementation over 6 weeks had improvements in skin hydration, decreased formation of deep wrinkles and improved skin elasticity. This study noted that the anti-aging effect was more obvious in women aged more than 30 years.
As well as providing improved structural integrity of the skin, hydrolysed collagen has been found to enhance the activity of antioxidants in the body, which in themselves act as anti-aging molecules by reducing free radical damage.
Other cool points that are beyond superficial anti-aging:
- Osteoarthritis: Studies show that collagen supplementation reduces pain in patients suffering from osteoarthritis, due to its role in cartilage matrix synthesis.
- Wound healing: Collagen has been shown to accelerates wound healing.
- Brain function: Hydrolysed collagen has the ability to cross the blood brain barrier, and promote neurogenesis
- Type 2 diabetes: A study showed that over a 3 month period, collagen supplementation had a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose and HbA1C, as well as improved insulin sensitivity.
- Bone mineral density: Collagen supplementation was shown in one study to increase bone mineral density in post-menopausal women with primary, age-related reduction of bone mineral density. Additionally, supplementation was associated with a favourable shift in bone markers, indicating increased bone formation and reduced bone degradation.
- Skin tear: One study looked at elderly populations prone to skin tears and found improvement over an 8 week period in the skin elasticity.
Read the label
The most common sources of collagen production are bovine hide, bone, fish and pigskin. This means our vegan and vego friends (or those who find this information gross) need to carefully read the labels.
The lower molecular weight hydrolysed collagen have been shown to have better results in studies on skin aging and appearance. Hydrolysed collagen has smaller molecules and has been found to cross the gastrointestinal wall easier better than earlier collagen supplements.
Beauty begins in the gut
For collagen to be able to be active in the skin and provide it’s benefits, we need to be able to absorb it, meaning it needs to cross through the intestines and reach blood circulation. If you experience issues with digestion (bloating, gas, IBS, constipation, diarrhoea etc.) you may not be getting all the benefits of collagen (or from really any supplements). If you want the benefits, try working on your digestion with a naturopath.
My take on collagen
As we age, our skin is bombarded with sun damage, varying diets and nutrients (or lack of nutrients), hormones, chemicals and just the regular decline in our body’s ability to repair with normal ageing. Studies on nutrition and skin appearance are everywhere, with diets higher in vitamin C and linoleic acid and lower intakes of carbohydrates and fats showing improvements in skin appearance (wrinkled appearance, senile dryness and skin atrophy).
Eating a better diet overall has a more significant effect than any supplement or topical application. Fill your plate with antioxidant colourful vegetables, drink more water and wear sunscreen to see the biggest improvements in anti-ageing outcomes. Even more important for me is knowing that ageing is a natural part of our life, with wrinkles and spots not making us less beautiful.
If you are interested in reading where any of this info came from, here are the super interesting studies I found the info at.
Benadiba, M., Serruya, R. & Maor, Y (2018). Bioaccessibility of Shore Magic® collagen, a low-molecular-weight collagen supplement, in different in vitro barrier models. Heliyon, 4(9), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2018.e00821
Borumand, M., & Sibilla, S. (2014). Daily consumption of the collagen supplement Pure Gold Collagen® reduces visible signs of aging, Clinical Interventions in Aging, 2014(9), 1747–1758. https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S65939
Borumand, M., & Sibilla, S. (2015). Effects of a nutritional supplement containing collagen peptides on skin elasticity, hydration and wrinkles. J Med Nutr Nutraceut, 4(1), 47-53. https://doi.org/10.4103/2278-019X.146161
Miyab, K.B., Alipoor, E., Vaghardoost, R., Isfeedvajani, M.S., Yaseri, M., Djafarian, K., Hosseinzadeh-Attar, M.J. (2020). The effect of a hydrolyzed collagen-based supplement on wound healing in patients with burn: A randomized double-blind pilot clinical trial, Burns, 46(1), 156-163. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.burns.2019.02.015
König, D., Oesser, S., Scharla, S., Zdzieblik, D., & Gollhofer, A. (2018) Specific Collagen Peptides Improve Bone Mineral Density and Bone Markers in Postmenopausal Women—A Randomized Controlled Study, Nutrients, 10(97), 1-11. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10010097
Hongdong, S. & Bo, Li. (2017). Beneficial Effects of Collagen Hydrolysate: A Review on Recent Developments, Biomed J Sci & Tech Res, 1(2), 1-4. https://doi.org/10.26717/BJSTR.2017.01.000217
Tatsuya, N. & Shinji, I. (2020). Effect of an Oral Nutrition Supplement Containing Collagen Peptides on Stratum Corneum Hydration and Skin Elasticity in Hospitalized Older Adults: A Multicenter Open-label Randomized Controlled Study, Advances in Skin & Wound Care, 33(4) 186-191. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.ASW.0000655492.40898.55