From lattes to energy bars, face creams to injections, collagen is everywhere. And that’s an understatement. This structural protein contains amino acids that aid in musculoskeletal repair and keep your hair and skin looking healthy. It’s no surprise that people are making a beeline for collagen supplements in record numbers–so much so that collagen has been labeled a “supplement craze.”
Our body’s natural production of this protein slows down as we age. With every year that goes by, there is a 1% dip in our collagen level. What does this mean for us? We experience a minute, gradual slowing down of muscle recovery time, wrinkles appear, and our hair starts thinning out. This is all natural, of course. One way to keep your collagen level from dipping too quickly is to reduce sugar intake and increase collagen-rich food like chicken bone broth. Going easy on the alcohol will help, too.
But now, supplement makers have discovered how to create collagen hydrolysate protein chains, which can be absorbed by the body. Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of collagen and the resulting supplement craze taking over America.
Key benefits of collagen
The health benefits of this essential protein are numerous, ranging from beauty to overall body health.
Better Skin: Loose, saggy skin is a fear that lurks just behind the surface, quite literally. When collagen levels drop, your skin loses elasticity, that youthful shine begins to fade and those dreaded wrinkles start appearing on your forehead. Stretch marks and cellulite are other signs that you need to up your collagen intake. When you increase your collagen levels, you’ll notice your skin is less dry and rough patches are not as pronounced as before.
Decreased Joint Pain: The gelatinous nature of collagen allows our tendons and ligaments to move smoothly. Once this protein level drops, you’ll experience nagging joint pains and overall soreness. The general degeneration of your bones is your body’s way of saying you’re not getting any younger.
A recent study among osteoarthritis patients found that 4 out of 5 experienced, on an average, 26% less pain when they were given collagen supplements (UC-II, derived from chicken cartilage). The study also states that the exact relation between joint recovery and collagen is not completely clear, but that the protein may reduce inflammation. If nothing, it’s a positive sign that collagen might have anti-arthritic possibilities.
Metabolism and GI Boost: Collagen contains the simplest amino acid glycine that aids metabolism by converting essential nutrients. This helps you preserve muscle mass and shed excess calories while maintaining bone structure. There is proof that presence of glycine can also minimize GI inflammation, resulting in a healthier digestive system.
The amino acid proline in collagen helps with tissue repair in your arteries and keeps your blood pressure in check. Collagen is also known to protect the liver against alcohol toxins and foreign substances.
Types of collagen supplements (and whether they work)
Given these health benefits, it’s no surprise that collagen supplements have suddenly topped supplement sales lists. Here’s a quick rundown of the types of collagen supplements and what science, if any, has proven their effectiveness.
Collagen Pills: Before you stock up on pills, know that your body doesn’t wholly integrate collagen. However, a supplement can trigger your body to create more collagen, and that’s helpful in the long run. One study does show that 57 women who took collagen supplements witnessed a 20% decrease in wrinkles. However, the benefits of collagen pills aren’t as pronounced if you’re already on a well-adjusted diet.
Collagen Cream: You’ve seen the commercials and likely wonder if they work. The truth is that most collagen creams are a topical solution to saggy skin. These creams combine fatty acid with collagen peptides in order to penetrate the skin.
Back in 2004, a study among 20 middle-aged and older women found that there was significant reduction in wrinkles among 75% of the group after using a collagen gel over four weeks. But before you start celebrating, remember not to fall blindly for such creams. The benefits in this study were fleeting; a healthy diet is a better bet.
Collagen Injections: When it comes to fillers, your best bet is a healthcare professional who can guide you through the process. The dermis, or second layer, of skin is where collagen works its magic and helps keep wrinkles at bay. At most, two to four injections per year should suffice. Anything above and you should get in touch with your doctor.
Infection and swelling are common and easily treatable side-effects of fillers, according to a recent study. Radiesse injections, known to stimulate natural collagen, has been responsible for eyesight impairment in a few cases, though it was found the consumer wasn’t well informed before the procedure. A thorough checkup before saying yes to fillers is the best way to go.
Collagen Drinks: Collagen in lattes and shakes sounds like a great idea to keep your body looking, and feeling, youthful. However, research to date shows that the advantages are indirect. Since the collagen molecule is hard to break down, the chances of the crucial amino acids reaching your skin are slim. Meanwhile, amino acids that do enter your bloodstream are directed toward more important organs that need repair. The bottom line? Downing those collagen drinks or creamers in your coffee is safe, but offers only minimal results.
Regular energy bars have gotten a collagen upgrade. Not surprisingly, they cost way more than the typical energy bars. They’re a good choice if you feel like a snack between meals. Collagen water is also gaining traction.
With a first-time consumer being bombarded with articles about the benefits of collagen supplements, where does one turn for an unbiased review? The truth is that there isn’t enough comprehensive research out there for experts to make an absolute decision on whether collagen supplements are effective enough to warrant regular use. Studies have proven the benefits of ingesting collagen, but they’ve been carried out within small groups.
The best thing to do is to read the label and pick ones that have been checked for contaminants. An NSF certification is another good sign because it means the supplement has been tested by an independent consumer safety organization.
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t get too excited about collagen supplements. Just because it works for Jennifer Anniston doesn’t mean it’ll work for you, too. These products are expensive; don’t increase their intake if you don’t notice results. The benefits of ingested collagen are still being researched, and it’s to your benefit to make an educated choice.