What is this magical collagen?
When I say ‘collagen’ most people will think bone broth, face cream and supplements. For us with OG science brains, we think of the 28 different proteins that make up most (about a third!) of the protein in our body.
(Not so) Fun fact: The name collagen comes from the Greek word “kólla” meaning: glue. The perfect description for the building block of our skin, bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels and teeth! Collagen quite literally holds us together.
Given our bodies are made up of so much of it, it makes sense that it would have an impact on us physically. Here we’ll digest the science to see if collagen can do all that Dr Google promises:
- Reduce signs of ageing
- Strengthen hair and nails
- Manage joint damage and pain
- Build muscle, burn fat and reduce cellulite
- Improve gut health
Feel free to skip forward to your favourite. I won’t mind.
1. Reduce the signs of ageing
Collagen provides elasticity in our skin, keeping our skin looking healthy and youthful. As we age, we produce less collagen. This is when things kinda go south…if you know what I mean.
As collagen production declines, we can develop fine lines and loose, dry skin. So it makes sense that taking a collagen supplement could help…
Good news team, the science backs it up! Taking collagen supplements can help our bodies to produce collagen of its own, as well as elastin and fibrillin, two other proteins important for skin structure. This has translated to reports of improved skin appearance, elasticity and reduced wrinkles. Hurrah!
Supplementing with 2.5-5g of collagen per day has been recommended.
2. Strengthen hair and nails
Shellac and SNS left you with nails that can barely scratch an itch? Good news! Taking collagen CAN help to strengthen your nails by preventing brittleness. It has also been shown to stimulate our hair and nails to grow longer.
Conveniently for those with hair and nail as well as skin goals, the science has seen benefits with a similar dosing of 2.5g per day.
3. Joint pain and damage
Around about the same time we begin to notice our skin going south, we also start to make funny noises when we’re getting up off low chairs. Or start walking that extra bit funny after a tough gym sesh.
The cartilage in our joints weakens and deteriorates with age. We become more prone to stiffness, aches and pains, as well as more serious tendon injuries and osteoarthritis. Collagen is important for maintaining the integrity of our cartilage and there is some evidence to support the use of collagen hydrolysate to help reduce joint damage and pain.
Where smaller doses have been found effective with skin, hair and nails, studies indicate that larger doses of 8-12g per day are needed for joint and tendon pain and repair. For those looking to manage an existing injury, make sure you talk to your doctor or specialist to get their green light (and check it won’t interact with any other medications you’re taking).
4. Build muscle, burn fat and reduce cellulite
We’re on a roll here with the collagen…
Next on the agenda is whether it help us to build muscle or burn fat? We’ve looked at the science through an unbiased lens, and the current answer is: probs not. Sigh.
No sound studies have supported the ability of collagen supplements to promote weight loss or a faster metabolism. But it also won’t cause you any harm (except maybe to your bank account).
Between 1–10% of our muscle tissue is made up of collagen. We need collagen for the structure and function of our muscles. Whilst there is scientific evidence that collagen supplements post exercise might help boost muscle mass in elderly people with a loss of muscle related to ageing, there is little evidence that it makes a significant difference in otherwise healthy individuals.
If someone tries to tell you it will reduce cellulite, this is not backed by science (not even close, sadly a hard “nope”) so don’t get your hopes up! And just know that cellulite effects 80-90% of post-pubertal women. And we reckon the remaining 10-20% were lying (or need a trip to OPSM) :p.
5. Improve gut health
The theory here is good! Collagen is in the lining of our gut and is important for its structure and function.
Early research tells us that those with inflammatory bowel disease (including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) may have lower levels of circulating collagen but it’s still not clear whether supplementation with collagen will help in the management of these conditions. We’re really interested to see what comes of research into people with leaky gut syndrome or increased intestinal permeability as it seems really plausible that by adding more “glue” to our gut lining we could improve the integrity of the gut wall.
Jury’s out. Watch this space (or just ask us, coz we’ll be watching it for you!).
So there you have it, depending on your health goals, collagen may well be a worthwhile addition to your diet or repertoire! If you’re otherwise healthy and consume a balanced diet, you may not see any benefits.
Boost your glue: Some ways to add collagen to your diet
- Collagen is in normal foods: beef, pork, chicken, fish, egg whites. You could stop right there. No need for anything fancy! For vegetarians and vegans, ensure you’re getting a variety of amino acids from a range of plant proteins including tofu, tempeh, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Try bone broth. Simmer yourself or buy ready made and add to soups, stews or as a ‘stock’ when cooking grains like quinoa, barley and rice.
- Powdered gelatin. My clever sister-in-law used to make these delish fruit or coconut jellies – simply just gelatin and fresh fruit. Jelly for adults. So yummy.
- Collagen peptide supplements – easy and convenient (if your bank account allows), most supplements will contain hydrolysed collagen peptides which means the proteins have been broken down into a form that our body can easily absorb. Add it to your smoothies, bircher, soups or coffee. Make sure you check the ingredients if you have any allergies to fish, shellfish or eggs as some are made from these sources. Side effects are reasonably minor and include unpleasant taste and reflux or indigestion. As always, check with your health professional or make an appointment with us to make sure a supplement is appropriate for you.
- Aloe vera can help to promote collagen production. It can be applied topically to the skin but don’t consider an oral supplement until you’ve spoken to your medical professional or dietitian as they are NOT suitable for everyone.
- We need vitamin C to produce collagen from pro-collagen. So don’t skimp on your fruit and veggies!
- Smoking and too much UV exposure can reduce collagen production so slip, slip, slap and butt out!
As always we’re here to help. In the name of collagen, let us be the glue between you and your best you!
Questions, confusions, areas of interest? We’d love to hear from you. Don’t hesitate.
T A I L O R Y O U R P L A T E | B U I L D Y O U R B E S T Y O U
Accredited Practising Dietitian