While the fountain of youth has yet to be found, scientists and corporations have worked to fight the effects of aging in the lab.
Countless creams, pills and beauty products have been formulated and advertised to have age-defying benefits. Collagen supplements have become especially popular, as various collagen creams and pills have been purported to improve one’s skin, hair, and nails. It might seem these days like collagen is everywhere.
But before you jump on this latest trend, you’ll want to learn whether real science backs such claims, and the safest way to acquire more of this seeming age-defying protein.
What is collagen and what purpose does it serve?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, found throughout our connective tissues. “It’s the primary protein in skin and in cartilage, the tissue that surrounds all our joints,” says Walter Willett, MD, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Collagen is considered a major component of skin, bone, tendons and muscles and is known to help make tissue stronger and more capable of withstanding stretching.
Our bodies produce collagen naturally by combining and processing amino acids from the protein-rich foods we eat, foods such as beans, eggs and dairy products. Collagen is prevalently found in red meat, poultry and fish.
What are collagen supplements?
Though collagen is already produced in abundance throughout our bodies, “we make less of it as we age,” says Uma Naidoo, MD, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and the author of “This is Your Brain on Food.” Collagen production can also be affected by a lack of exercise or sleep, as a result of smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, and collagen may also become “damaged by environmental exposures such as too much sunlight,” says Naidoo.
A lack of collagen can lead to joint pain, weakened muscles, and may cause one’s skin to appear dry and wrinkled.
People take collagen supplements commonly as “anti-aging” creams or pills, meant to enhance or soften one’s skin. It’s also ingested to treat arthritis. “Collagen supplements usually contain various forms of collagen, amino acids, peptides and additional nutrients like vitamin C and biotin,” explains Naidoo.
Do collagen supplements work?
Though the effectiveness of collagen supplementation remains a debate among scholars, “some research suggests that supplementation may improve skin appearance as well as joint mobility,” says Naidoo.
Not all forms of the collagen supplementation are considered equally effective, however. For instance, even dermatologists question the effectiveness of “collagen rich” serums and skin creams because collagen is not naturally found on the skin’s surface, but in deeper layers. Oral collagen supplements are believed to be more effectively absorbed by one’s body, but, once again, “the evidence for any benefits has been mixed,” cautions Willett. “The main justification for collagen supplements has been to reduce the effects of aging on skin and to treat arthritis,” he says.
Is it safe to take collagen supplements?
Though there are different forms of collagen supplementation, research shows that taking between 2.5 and 15 grams of hydrolyzed collagen each day is considered to be safe. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate health supplements. As such, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider before adding collagen supplements to your daily routine.
And though Willett agrees that collagen supplements “are not likely to be harmful,” he says “they are a very expensive protein,” the benefits of which could be achieved in higher amounts and for less money.
Naidoo says that those wanting to save money can still help their body produce more collagen naturally by “turning to protein-rich foods such as wild-caught fish, eggs, grass-fed daily, eggs, soy and legumes.”
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