In the last two years, there has been an explosion of collagen supplements in the New Zealand market with a corresponding increase in marketing activity. But is there any science supporting this or is it all just this year’s bee pollen?
There is no doubt collagen is important. It is the most abundant protein in the body. It forms a triple helix of amino acid strands like string or a rope. This gives it great strength and suppleness. A network of collagen fibres holds our tissues onto our bones, acting as a soft tissue skeleton. When we are young and have abundant collagen our tissues are nicely supported. Age, sun exposure, an imperfect diet (especially sugars and processed carbs), and exposure to air pollution and cigarette smoke all degrade and deplete our collagen over time. Estimates vary from 1-4% a year from our peak collagen at age 18-25. The result of this is a lack of support. Our tissues start to just hang off our bones. On our face, this shows as sagging and wrinkles.
How to maintain and even improve our collagen?
The first thing is to follow the old saying – if you are in a hole stop digging! Stop smoking, use a facial sunscreen every day and limit exposure to the extremely fierce New Zealand sun. Avoid sugar and processed carbs. The next most beneficial is effective skincare. A regimen containing high strength vitamin A and vitamin C is proven to boost collagen levels. Procedures like IP and skin needling also boost collagen in the skin.
Collagen supplements have also been shown to help for two reasons:
1. Most of the collagen we swallow is broken down to its individual amino acids, mainly glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Our bodies can then use these as building blocks to make its own collagen.
2. Some swallowed collagen is only partially broken down to peptides – very short strands of only a few amino acids. These get absorbed and find their way to the fibroblasts – the cells that make collagen. The peptides stimulate the fibroblasts to make more collagen as well as hyaluronic acid and the other parts of the soft tissue skeleton.
So collagen supplements can definitely help our skin and tissues, but not as much as sunscreen.
The next questions are what form of collagen and how much?
No studies have been done to absolutely answer these questions but some things can be said:
1. Whole food collagen sources like bone broth or gristly bits of meat around bones would be the best source. As well as collagen we would get the other parts of the soft tissue skeleton in the most natural form. Processed collagen powders, either scoops dissolved in liquid or capsules are more convenient but probably not as good.
2. Be careful of your collagen source, especially country of origin and risk of contamination and infection. The usual sources are cow (bovine) or pig (porcine) skin and hooves or fish skin and shark cartilage. Currently, none have been shown to boost human collagen levels better than any other but that might change.
3. The dose is important. Collagen is needed all over the body so the supplement dose needs to be high enough to ensure there is enough to go around. One study has shown a dose of 10 grams of fish collagen peptides a day made the skin 10% denser on ultrasound, showing more collagen formation (1). Another study showed that athletes who took 15 grams (but not those who took only 5 grams) of gelatin with 50mg of vitamin C grew extra collagen after exercise (2). So ensure your dose is at least 10-15 grams a day.
Collagen supplements are not the answer to all of life’s problems but are one more thing that can help slow the effects of the aging process. If you want to add it to your regimen be sure to choose a safe source and an effective dose.
- DOI: 10.1111/jocd.12174
- DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.116.138594