Forever young.... Can collagen supplements help?
Collagen supplements are popular with those who have noticed the first signs of aging. But what exactly is collagen, do supplements work and can it really improve the appearance of aging skin?
What is collagen?
Collagen is a structural protein found naturally in the body, made from amino acids including glycine, proline, hydroxyproline and arginine. It is found throughout the body in the skin, hair, nails, bones, and cartilage where it provides strength, support and elasticity.
Collagen naturally declines as we age - by the age of 40 it is estimated the body’s total collagen will have declined by over a third. This is when many people start to notice the first signs of aging – skin loses elasticity and start to show signs of wrinkling, while joints may start to feel stiff and painful.
Collagen in the diet
Since collagen is made from amino acids, ensuring the diet has an adequate supply of high quality protein helps the body maintain its natural levels of collagen. Good quality proteins include poultry, fish, eggs and quinoa. Vegetarians and vegans can increase the protein quality of a meal by combining grains with legumes, to ensure all the essential amino acids are provided. Vitamin C is also vital to collagen production, so a high intake of fresh fruit and vegetables is essential.
Collagen is often found as a powder or liquid supplement that can be taken alone or mixed into a smoothie or yogurt. Collagen in its natural form is not bioavailable (which means it’s not well absorbed by the body). To increase bioavailability collagen is hydrolysed – or broken down - into smaller parts called peptides. So you may see supplements called ‘hydrolysed collagen’ or ‘collagen peptides’. The peptides are the product of hydrolysis.
Doses of up to 10g daily appear to be safe, however it is not advised to take collagen during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Always check with a qualified practitioner if you are unsure.
Benefits of collagen supplementation
Some studies have found that supplementing with collagen improves the hydration and elasticity of the skin when compared to a placebo. For noticeable improvements collagen needs to be taken daily for at least 2 months. Research into the long-term use of collagen (over several years) has found positive effects on bone density, indicating that collagen supplements might be useful to prevent osteoporosis. There is also evidence that supplementing consistently for several months can improve joint pain and mobility in osteoarthritis.
Lifestyle factors which affect collagen
- Smoking – speeds up the degradation of collagen
- Alcohol – reduces collagen production and damages the skin’s repair mechanism
- Processed foods – contain toxic compounds which damage collagen and slow down repair
- Excess sugar – contributes to a process called glycation, which reduces collagen turnover
- Sun damage – affects the production of collagen
Eating a good diet with high quality protein and plenty of vitamin C can help the body to maintain collagen levels as we age. Avoiding lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol and eating too many sugary and processed foods also helps to protect collagen. Supplements have been shown to benefit skin, joints and even bones, but to be effective they need to be taken consistently over several months or years.
This entry was posted on 24 February 2022 at 14:49 and is filed under Nutrition.