Collagen has been a hot topic for some time now, so I thought I could shed some light on the subject. You may have heard of people consuming bone broth or supplementing with collagen in bulletproof coffee, their morning smoothies, or added to soups.
So what is collagen?
Collagen is the main structural protein found in animals and provides firmness to our skin and bones. It is mostly found in our ligaments, tendons, and skin, but also 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 over time.
What the heck is bone broth and why do I see it in the cold beverage section?
Supermarkets may have added it to your beverage section simply because people are buying it! While I don’t necessary love cold bone broth on a hot day (or the price tag!), some may. Bone broth is similar to stock and broth, both of which serve as a base for many soup recipes. It is made from roasted bones and vegetables, and may include some of the meat, typically beef, fish, or chicken. It is then cooked for about 24 hours, strained, and seasoned for consumption!
Why are people supplementing with collagen?
The internet will tell you that collagen consumption does a variety of different tasks including:
- Improves skin and hair, nails and teeth
- Reduces joint pain and further degeneration
- Heals leaky gut
- Increases metabolism
- Increases lean muscle mass
- Increases total energy
- Decreases “cravings”
- Improves health of the liver
- Good for cardiovascular health
So, what does it really do?
Collagen is a protein and when it is consumed, in either foods or as a supplement, our body will digest it into individual amino acids. Those amino acids will be spread throughout your body and used for a variety of tasks. Research shows that ingestion of collagen peptides can result in accumulation in cartilage and skin (1, 2).
So, let’s take a look at some specific examples!
Studies show that there may be an increase in skin hydration and a reduction in the formation of wrinkles when supplementing with collagen hydrolysate (3). Asserin et al. 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 (4). 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 (2). However, we also know that a healthy diet rich in vitamins C and E, among others, along with omega-3 fatty acids, can improve skin hydration and appearance (2, 5).
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 (1). According to Arthritis Research United Kingdom, research provided mixed results in terms of efficacy of collagen supplementation to reduce pain and improve locomotion in patients with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (6). However, collagen hydrolysate was tolerated well and had few undesirable side effects (6).
For athletes, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute recommends to consume more than 2 grams of gelatin with vitamin C about 30-60 minutes before exercise to prevent and decrease connective tissue injury (7). (Gelatin is just collagen that has been heated.) This recommendation is based off research done by Shaw et al. who supplemented male subjects with vitamin C enriched gelatin before 6 minutes of jump roping. Results indicated significantly increased levels of amino-terminal pro-peptide of collagen I in their blood, which researchers signified increased collagen synthesis (8). In another study, Penn State athletes showed improvements in pain after supplementing with hydrolyzed collagen for 24 weeks (9). Many of these studies cited that more research is needed to determine exact beneficial effects.
So what do we do?!
After looking at the research, it appears that supplementation with collagen may improve our skin and joint function. It is possible that supplementing with collagen may improve lean muscle mass due to the increased amount of protein that it provides. There is additional research that recommends collagen supplementation for people with pressure ulcers, which reflects the importance of consuming extra protein in order to heal (10).
However, there was little to no research suggesting that collagen improves our metabolism, increases total energy, decreases cravings, improves our liver health, or is good for cardiovascular health.
- Eat real whole foods including: fruits, veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. We know that eating foods rich in vitamins C, E, and essential fatty acids improves skin and cardiovascular health. Eating lean proteins can help increase muscle mass, keep you full longer, and decrease those so called “cravings”, which may just be you being hungry!
- If a supplement promises you everything, it is probably too good to be true.
- Drink water! Water is essential for skin hydration.
- If you choose to consume bone broth, remember moderation; too much of anything can be overkill. Shoot for a lower sodium version.
- If you decide you want to supplement, and want a lower cost option, try gelatin! (2$/box)
- If you decide to purchase a supplement, be a smart consumer and buy a third party tested product
- Get moving! Physical activity decreases stress, improves our metabolism, increases our lean muscle mass, and makes us feel good!
- When in the sun, use sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
- Sleep, sleep, sleep! We all know that lack of sleep can leave us with bags under our eyes, a lack of energy, and a desire for eating comfort foods on the couch.
- 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.
If you have any other questions, feel free to ask!
- Bello A, Oesser, Steffen. Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature Current Medical Research and Opinion 2006;22(11).
- Borumand M, Sibilla S. Effects of a nutritional supplement containing collagen peptides on skin elasticity, hydration and wrinkles. Journal of Medical Nutrition and Nutraceuticals 2015;4(1):47-53. doi: 10.4103/2278-019x.146161.
- Sibilla S, Godfrey M, Brewer S, Budh-Raja A, Genovese L. An Overview of the Beneficial Effects of Hydrolysed Collagen as a Nutraceutical on Skin Properties: Scientific Background and Clinical Studies, 2015.
- Asserin J, Lati, E., Shioya, T., Prawitt, J. . The effect of oral collagen peptide supplementation on skin moisture and the dermal collagen network: evidence from an ex vivo model and randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials Journal of Cosmetic Dematology 2015;14(4):291-301.
- De Spirt S, Stahl, W., Tronnier, H., Sies, H., Bejot, M., Maurette, J., & Heinrich, U. . Intervention with flaxseed and borage oil supplements modulates skin condition in women British Journal of Nutrition 2008;101(3):440-5.
- Kingdom ARU. Internet: https://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/complementary-and-alternative-medicines/cam-report/complementary-medicines-for-rheumatoid-arthritis/collagen/trials-for-oa.aspx 2017).
- Baar K. Internet: https://www.gssiweb.org/en/sports-science-exchange/article/sse-142-training-and-nutrition-to-prevent-soft-tissue-injuries-and-accelerate-return-to-play 2017).
- Shaw G, Lee-Barthel A, Lr Ross M, Wang B, Baar K. Vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis, 2016.
- L Clark K, Sebastianelli W, R Flechsenhar K, F Aukermann D, Meza F, L Millard R, R Deitch J, Sherbondy P, Albert A. 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain, 2008.
- Kwon Lee S, Posthauer M, Dorner B, Redovian V, Jane Maloney M. Pressure ulcer healing with a concentrated, fortified, collagen protein hydrolysate supplement: a randomized controlled trial, 2006.