Do Collagen Supplements Work?

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First of all, you might not want to put it in your coffee at all, as collagen structures can melt in hot liquid, making the benefits negligible.

But collagen is the most abundant source of protein in the human body and forms the basis of our skin, bones, muscles, and ligaments. It’s a good thing to have.

And while a healthy diet that includes enough protein-based foods (which are broken down into amino acids – the building blocks of protein) helps our bodies make collagen, production slows down with age.

This deterioration is accelerated by alcohol consumption, smoking, sun exposure and pollution. Theoretically, we could just avoid these things and eat more protein foods like lentils, eggs, or chicken with leafy greens and vitamin C (which stimulates collagen production), isn’t- not? Theoretically, yes.

One argument against collagen supplements is that our bodies don’t know the difference between the protein we eat and the collagen supplements we take. They all break down into amino acids.

“There is little to suggest that [supplements] automatically group together to form collagen in the skin, as simplistically suggested by some promoting such supplements, ”says dietitian Joanna McMillan, who adds that there is“ good, though still emerging ”evidence around some types of collagen.

Hydrolyzed peptides or collagen, a type of collagen that breaks down into very small fragments, seem to absorb better in our intestines and therefore may have a different effect. At least that’s what recent studies suggest.

A systematic review of the effects of collagen supplements on skin health, published in 2020, found that taking peptides consistently resulted in improvements in skin brightness, hydration, and elasticity.

“While the evidence is a bit mixed due to trials looking at different specific outcomes, the preliminary results look good,” agrees Kamel Patel, nutrition researcher and director of examine.com.

Specifically, it is believed that by ingesting collagen peptides, we stimulate cells (called fibroblasts) to speed up the production process and, possibly, slow down the breakdown of our existing collagen.

“The other mechanism would be that by giving your body all the essential amino acids for collagen to break down, you have more raw materials to make collagen,” says Gunatheesan, the founder of ODE Dermatology which opens this month -this.

These raw materials could also be absorbed by the joints to repair cartilage, says Dr Michael Yelland of the Australian Association of Musculoskeletal Medicine.

A 2018 study found that collagen supplements offered “clinically significant” effects for the treatment of osteoarthritis, while separate research suggested they may help recover from certain injuries, reduce swelling, and eventually prevent joint pain and loss of bone density.

“I’ve been recommending it to my patients for a few years now, usually in conjunction with exercise and injection treatments,” says Yelland, who recommends 5 grams twice a day.

Joanna McMillan says supplements can trigger a particular immune response in the gut that dampens the body’s inflammatory response.

“More research is needed to understand this,” she says. “The supplements used for joint health are primarily unhydrolyzed collagen and labeled CII (type 2 collagen).”

So we’re talking about different types of collagen here?

That’s right. Most of the research supporting collagen supplements for skin health has focused on peptides, while promising muscle and joint research has generally used unhydrolyzed collagen. That’s not all.

Marine collagen, less efficient to extract and therefore more expensive, would be more bioavailable.

“It seems to be the gold standard when it comes to skin,” says Fiona Tuck, nutritional medicine practitioner and founder of beauty supplement brand Vita Sol. “If someone wanted to take collagen for muscles and joints, then the bovine [collagen – derived from cows] tends to be a cheaper alternative.

Joanna McMillan adds that so-called vegan powders haven’t been studied, so “we just don’t know yet” if they work.

Regardless of the type of collagen, those considering a supplement should know that not all collagen is created equal.

Some of the marine collagen comes from farmed fish, where the conditions and diet are unknown, says Tuck, while some comes from tilapia, which is “possibly unhealthy” to humans, or jellyfish. Likewise, concerns about heavy metals and other contaminants in bovine collagen mean that it is important to choose a reputable company, to look for grass-fed outdoor products.

“It’s doing your research and understanding what you [consuming], where it comes from and what else is in it, ”says Tuck, who adds that blowing agents are often added to make the product cheaper. “Fillers like maltodextrin – which have been shown to have an effect on the gut microbiota, silica or other powders, can mean that you are not getting enough collagen peptides to be effective.”

Carla Oates, founder of bio-fermented supplement brand The Beauty Chef, said it was an 11-year exercise in finding ethically-sourced and sustainable marine collagen that culminated with the launch of their last offer “Deep Collagen” in June.

“We avoided it as an ingredient until we were able to find a suitable and sustainable option,” says Oates.

Tuck recommends between 4 and 15 grams of collagen per serving, preferably in powder or liquid form for intestinal absorption, and supplements may need to be taken for at least 12 weeks to be effective.

The lack of solid research, however, makes it difficult to know what the optimal amount is or whether you are taking them forever or just for a while. It also means that it’s hard to tell if they may cause an immune response in some people or an allergic reaction in others.

Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan points out that people can be allergic or intolerant to any substance, so it may come down to walking carefully, staying informed, and remembering that nothing is a quick fix.

That said, the emerging body of evidence has changed Gunatheesan’s view. “These data are reassuring,” she said. “I think I buy them.”

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