Collagen Supplements: A new age 'fountain of youth'?

Growing up, we’ve all heard one or two stories about the never-ending quest for the elusive ‘fountain of youth’, right? Movies, TV shows, and social media are flooded with young, beautiful people encouraging us to try today’s newest, quick and easy ‘miracle’ foods, creams and supplements. It seems collagen is the newest go-to to trend to rejuvenate our skin, shine up our hair and harden our nails to reduce the tell-tale signs of aging. There is also some talk of collagen providing digestive health benefits.

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Collagen is a protein naturally produced by the body that is found in connective tissues and makes up thirty percent of the body’s total protein. Dietary sources of collagen come from foods like bone broth, chicken, fish, shellfish, egg whites, leafy greens, citrus fruits, berries, tropical fruits, beans, soy, garlic and white tea, to name a few. Sources of external collagen include animal or marine and come in pill or powder form. Much like a rose is still a rose if called by any other name, collagen is collagen; always the same protein, no matter the source (1).


Collagen helps make bones strong and is responsible for the elasticity of our skin and other tissues. Ready for an interesting tidbit of trivia? The collagen fibres in our tendons are stronger than steel and can be stretched without breaking. Up to ninety percent of the collagen in the body is type I, II or III.

  • Type I: found in our bones, ligaments, tendons and skin.

  • Type II: component of cartilage - helps joints absorb weight and shock (2).

  • Type III: partners with type I in skin, blood vessels and organs (3).

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Let’s talk facts…


There’s no denying the popularity of collagen supplements, these days, even though there’s still a lot of work to do to develop regulations for quality, absorption and efficacy for skincare (4). Eating collagen-rich foods doesn’t guarantee that new collagen will be made, but there’s just not enough research available to confirm the hard and fast benefits of collagen supplements, making it tough to differentiate the benefits of collagen protein from other sources of protein available in a healthy, balanced diet (1).


Studies suggest quite a few benefits from collagen supplementation that include improved bone health, muscle growth, reduced joint pain, wound healing, weight management, a feeling of overall improvement in well-being and, of course, anti-aging properties (3).


As we get older, the levels of collagen in our bodies drop, leading to wrinkles and saggy skin, muscle weakening, stiffness, joint pain, osteoarthritis and some digestive issues (1). Sounds like we’re just going to grow up to fall apart, right? But wait, there’s more! Exposure to other factors like stress, smoking, environmental toxins (e.g., cleaners and cosmetics), sunlight and chronically high blood sugars (e.g., diabetes) contributes to the breakdown of collagen, too (5). The good news is, we can do things to try to slow down the process.



Will I see better results if take extra vitamins and minerals, too?


Remember when your mom always nagged you to take your vitamins? Well, vitamin C works as a co-factor in our body to help stimulate collagen production in the skin. Have you ever heard of hyaluronic acid (think Eva Longoria commercials; ‘hi·y​a·l​ure·on·n​ik‘)? We need vitamin C to make hyaluronic acid and help boost collagen production in our bodies (14). Most collagen supplements already have vitamin C mixed in and - while it’s not necessary to also take a vitamin C supplement to reap the benefits - combining collagen supplements with vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits, bell-peppers, broccoli, or strawberries or with a vitamin C supplement might maximize the benefits. The daily recommended amount of vitamin C is ninety micrograms (90mcg) for adult men and seventy-five micrograms (75mcg) for adult women (13).


Vitamin A also helps us make collagen and supports the growth of bone, blood vessels and tendons, our immune function, vision, and healthy, too. Foods sweet potatoes, kale, berries, and organ meats are a dietary source of vitamin A. The recommended daily amount for vitamin A is nine hundred micrograms (900mcg) for adult men and seven hundred micrograms (700mcg) for adult women (13). Again, it’s not necessary to supplement collagen with vitamin A, but it could help enhance absorption.


Other important vitamins and minerals that help to activate and regulate enzymes that contribute to energy stores, muscle building and healthy skin, hair and nails include zinc and copper (7,9).


No definitive answer has been established say one kind is better, or more effective than the other, but all available data from studies encourages taking collagen in combination with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for maximum benefit. However, we can get all of these vitamins and minerals through the foods we eat, especially if we’re eating at least 3 healthy, balanced meals a day. A balanced plate is made up of half a plate of fruits and/or vegetables, a quarter plate of protein and a quarter plate of whole grains. Even black pepper extract has been clinically proven to increase collagen absorption. As always, it is recommended that you consult your doctor or dietitian before adding a new supplement to your daily routine.


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Let me put my science-nerd hat on for a second...


One study showed that taking a daily, oral dose of marine collagen has the potential to reduce joint pain by forty-three percent, improve skin texture and hydration for people over thirty, and increase elasticity by forty percent. More than seventy percent of the participants in the study agreed that their physical wellbeing improved (6,7,8). Other suggested benefits of taking collagen supplements include stronger bones and muscles, reduced hair loss and improved sleep, mood, immunity and weight control (1).


Most collagen supplements are hydrolyzed. That means that they are broken down to make them easier to for our body to digest or to make into pills and powders. Bovine collagen supplements have both type I and III (mentioned above) and are the most common choice to boost hair, nail and skin health.


C14 labeled collagen, fish hydrolyzed collagen and hydrolyzed porcine collagen are primarily made of type I and some people over thirty have found that they help to improve skin elasticity, texture and hydration.


Collagen peptides, or type II collagen may be beneficial for people who are challenged by osteoarthritis. Collagen has a naturally protective effect, helping to increase joint mobility and reduce inflammation and joint pain. Some people claim collagen supplements have delayed progression of the disease and improved their quality of life (6,7,8,12).



Does collagen replace protein? NO.


You can enjoy the benefits from collagen-rich bone broth as a food source of collagen, but it does not replace good old-fashioned protein. In fact, substituting collagen for protein could lead to your body losing stock of its essential amino acids; the body’s building blocks of protein (5). Taking collagen in supplement form does not replace dietary sources of protein because most collagen supplements aren’t ‘complete proteins’ that include all nine essential amino acids the body needs (but can’t make on its own) for building muscle and fuelling metabolism (10). Collagen supplements only have eight of the nine essential amino acids required, and are unbalanced in favour of glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. Supplements may help to reduce joint pain and inflammation, but will not provide the body with what it needs to rebuild, recover and fuel our muscles (11).



Are collagen supplements risky?


Collagen supplementation is generally safe as long as your daily dose doesn’t exceed twenty grams (20g) per day. Note: most scientific literature suggests taking only ten grams (10g) per day. Any side effects reported are mild and include:

  • diarrhea

  • heaviness in the stomach

  • rashes

Over-supplementation may end up thickening the skin or causing organ damage (1). Like many other products on the market, some supplements are safer than others (3,5). There needs to be more research to figure out what the best method, dosage and time of day to take collagen supplements is, but health risks for adults taking collagen supplements are generally minimal (3).



Some final thoughts…


The evidence is limited, but it does support a variety of health benefits thanks to collagen supplementation. Just remember, many of the same results can be achieved through diet and lifestyle. As a dietitian, I always encourage my clients to get what they need through whole foods, first. Reducing external factors that damage the collagen you still have can have a positive impact, as well. Now that the weather is nicer, do what you can to protect yourself from pollution, toxins and harmful UV rays. If you smoke, quit. Try to find ways to reduce stress and limit processed and refined high-sugar foods and sugar sweetened beverages.


One last time: if you are looking to take a collagen supplement it is important to speak to your family doctor or registered dietitian, first.


~ written by Kristen Garland, RD, MAN, Pn1 for Maiya Ahluwalia, RD in June 2020


References

1. David, C. (2020). Collagen Diet; Facts You Should Know About the Collagen Diet. MedicineNet. Retrieved from: https://www.medicinenet.com/collagen_diet/article.htm

2. Lodish H, Berk A, Zipursky SL, et al. Molecular Cell Biology. 4th edition. New York: W. H. Freeman; 2000. Section 22.3, Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21582/

3. Choi, F. D., Sung, C. T., Juhasz, M. L., & Mesinkovsk, N. A. (2019). Oral Collagen Supplementation: A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications. Journal of drugs in dermatology : JDD, 18(1), 9–16.

4. Life Science Weekly. (2019). Reports on Extracellular Matrix Proteins Findings from University of California Provide New Insights (Oral Collagen Supplementation: a Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications). (2019, February 19). Life Science Weekly, 3928. Retrieved from: https://link-gale-com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca/apps/ doc/A574454553/AONE?u=guel77241&sid=AONE&xid=9b72bcd2

5. Calton Nutrition. (2020). Collagen vs Whey: Let’s Talk About Protein Powder. Retrieved from: https://www.caltonnutrition.com/collagen-vs-whey-lets-talk-about-protein-powder/

6. Czajka, A., Kania, E., Genovese, L., Corbo, A., Merone, G., Luci, C., & Sibilla, S. (2018). Daily oral supplementation with collagen peptides combined with vitamins and other bioactive compounds improves skin elasticity and has a beneficial effect on joint and general wellbeing. Nutrition Research, 57, 97–108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2018.06.001

7. Bolke, L., Schlippe, G., Gerß, J., & Voss, W. (2019). A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients, 11(10). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102494

8. Laing, S., Bielfeldt, S., Ehrenberg, C. & Wilhelm, K. (2020). A Dermonutrient Containing Special Collagen Peptides Improves Skin Structure and Function: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Triple-Blind Trial Using Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy on the Cosmetic Effects and Tolerance of a Drinkable Collagen Supplement. J Med Food. 23(3), 147–152. DOI: 10.1089/jmf.2019.0197

9. Santa Cruz, J. (2019). Dietary Collagen — Should Consumers Believe the Hype?. Today’s Dietitian; 2019 : 21(3), 26. Retrieved from: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0319p26.shtml

10. Genuine Health. (2019). Can Collagen Replace My Protein Supplement?. Retrieved from: https://www.genuinehealth.com/en-ca/genuine-hub/can-collagen-replace-my-protein-supplement/

11. Flinn, A. (2018). Can Collagen Replace Your Post-Workout Protein Powder?. Well Good. Retrieved from: https://www.wellandgood.com/good-food/collagen-protein-powder-workout/

12. Laurence, E. (2017). Everything You Need to Know About the Different Types of Collagen. Well Good. Retrieved from: https://www.wellandgood.com/good-food/different-types-of-collagen-benefits-explained/

13. Wang, D. (2017). Vitamin C and Collagen. Pranin Organic. Retrieved from: https://www.pranin.com/blog/vitamin-c-and-collagen/

14. Cobb, C. (2017). 5 Ways to Boost Collagen. Healthline. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/ways-to-boost-collagen#ginseng

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