Collagen Supplements Are Trending, But What Are They And Do They Really Work?6 years ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Updated March 8, 2021
Many people are buying collagen supplements and even collagen-enhanced food products, like snack bars and protein powders. Reportedly, sales of collagen-infused snacks and drinks in the U.S. reached $60 million during the past couple of years. And in 2023, the value of the global collagen market is expected to reach $9.4 billion. Purchase of these products, like with most supplements, does not usually require any prescription or clearance from a doctor.
So What Exactly is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, accounting for about a quarter of our total protein mass. It is found in your muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, organs, blood vessels, skin, intestinal lining and other connective tissues.
“There are about 20 different types of collagen in our bodies, each adapted to the needs of specific tissues,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
What Are The Benefits of Collagen?
Often referred to as ‘the glue that holds our bodies together,’ collagen may help with bone and joint health (including relief from joint pain like arthritis), promote youthful looking skin and help with muscle building and fat burning. It may even help with digestive health (it is, afterall, the gut’s connective tissue).
Furthermore, “[t]hrough precise manipulation at a structural level, collagen can also be used as a construction material in the laboratory or clinic to help regenerate new tissue, repair damaged cartilage and bone, or aid in the development of new therapies for cardiac disease, blood disorders and cancer,” according to one source.
The allure of collagen-infused products and supplements is mainly connected to anti-aging benefits, particularly maintaining the skin’s elasticity and delaying the development of wrinkles.
(Along with collagen the skin contains elastin, “two proteins that share some properties with a rubber band,” according to Berkeley).
Why Take Supplements & Collagen Products If This Protein Is So Abundant in the Body?
As we get older, collagen decreases in the body. Some reports say we begin to make less collagen at just 25-years-old. And then by age 30, we start losing one to two percent of collagen each year.
So Is It Worth Spending Our Money On Collagen Supplements & Products For Anti-Aging?
There really is no definitive answer. But to put it simply, it is my opinion that you can’t ‘out-supplement’ a lacking diet.
“Aside from aging, the top reason people don’t have enough collagen is poor diet,” says Dr. Bradley with the Cleveland Clinic. “Your body can’t make collagen if it doesn’t have the necessary elements.”
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “When your body makes collagen, it combines amino acids — nutrients you get from eating protein-rich foods, like beef, chicken, fish, beans, eggs and dairy products. The process also requires vitamin C, zinc and copper. You may get vitamin C by eating citrus fruits, red and green peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and greens. You can get the minerals by eating meats, shellfish, nuts, whole grains and beans.”
“As you age, however, your body may no longer absorb nutrients as well or synthesize them as efficiently,” says Dr. Bradley. “To make sure your body has enough ingredients to make collagen, you may need to change what you eat or take dietary supplements.”
Improving your diet should always be the first course of action if you are lacking in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Supplementation can help if you take quality supplements per the advice of a competent healthcare professional.
And with collagen, this appears to be the general rule of thumb as well. If you have issues absorbing nutrients from the foods you eat that help make collagen, you may need to take collagen supplements. Some may even argue that vegans and vegetarians could use collagen supplements because they are not getting as much (or any) animal protein (which contains a lot of the amino acids needed to make collagen).
You may even receive some of the anti-aging benefits from collagen products. For example, one NIH study involving middle-aged women found that those who took oral collagen supplements had improved skin elasticity compared to the women who did not take supplements.
More research is needed, but the point is that a nutrient-rich diet is key. Dr. Bradley says it won’t hurt to take a collagen supplement. But I like to reiterate that it will hurt if you have a diet lacking all the essential vitamins and minerals.
Skin creams with synthetic collagen are also touted to help delay aging.
“It will add a film-like layer to your skin to reduce water loss and act as a barrier from environmental elements. But using skin cream is probably not as effective as healthy eating — and protecting your skin from excessive sun exposure and sunburns, especially early in life,” Dr. Bradley says.
And just to reiterate how diet is so key, a recent study found evidence which suggested that when it comes to skin health and anti-aging, a healthy diet greatly outweighs the benefits of collagen supplements.
"While some research has found benefits of collagen supplementation for some aspects of skin health, it's a case of buyer beware. The evidence is generally weak, with many of the studies claiming to find positive effects from collagen supplementation funded mostly by industries that manufacture these products. Therefore, the results need to be interpreted with caution," according to this Medical Xpress report discussing the recent research.
"Rather than spending a lot of money on collagen supplements that promise to defy signs of aging, smooth wrinkles and renew your skin, spend it on healthy food. You will get better value in terms of your health and well-being in the long-term."
I think this is one of the biggest takeaways. Of course, we all want beautiful, youthful-looking skin, but we also have to keep in mind that eating healthily will help protect us from so many devastating diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer and even depression. Eat for your skin and your overall health and well-being.
Clearly, it is difficult to make up for a poor diet. So eat healthily. I would highly suggest taking routine nutrient tests. Doing this will let you know if you have too little or too much of a specific nutrient, including vitamins or minerals that can help with collagen production in the body. You always want to avoid nutrient imbalances to feel your healthiest, delay aging and most of all further decrease your odds of getting sick. If you discover you are not nutritionally balanced, a competent healthcare professional can work with you on possibly changing your diet. He or she may also recommend taking quality supplements.
Finally, there is a belief among many that collagen supplementation may help those who have lost extreme amounts of weight and suffer from loose, sagging skin. The idea is that collagen will replenish some of the skin’s elasticity. But in these extreme cases of weight loss, it appears that corrective surgery may be the only option to address excess skin.
Take, for example, the story of this young woman who lost 312 pounds. Her excess skin caused her great pain and numbness. She underwent a 9-hour surgery by a plastic surgeon to remove excess skin.
“No food or supplement, including collagen supplements, will correct sagging skin. Exercise won’t remove or alter flabby skin, but strength training can tone and bulk up muscles under the skin, and that can improve appearance a little. You would have to build lots of muscle to fill out the sagging skin.If your problem is severe, your physician may refer you to a plastic surgeon,” reports Berkeley.
Read more about critical nutrients that may help delay aging in Minerals - The Forgotten Nutrient.
Enjoy your healthy life!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or another competent healthcare practitioner to get specific medical advice for your situation.
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