All about collagen

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#collagen.  It is trending. You can find it in creams, powders, supplements, protein bars and even in water! But what exactly is collagen and what are the benefits? Is bumping up your levels via collagen supplements a smart move?

What is collagen? 

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. Think of it like the stuff that “glues” your body together. You will find it in your bones, muscles, teeth, skin, tendons, cartilage, hair and nails, blood vessels and even the gut! 

What happens to collagen as we age? 

As we age, the production of collagen slows down and we also produce lower quality collagen. This process starts in our late 20’s and is probably most noticeable in our skin as fine lines and wrinkles begin to appear. Other noticeable signs of collagen degradation include less agile and achy joints (as the cartilage degrades), brittle hair and nails, digestion issues and perhaps more pronounced cellulite. Aside from ageing, a poor diet is the next probably reason for low collagen levels. If your body doesn’t have the necessary building blocks it is not able to make collagen. In addition, eating to many refined carbohydrates appears to interfere with collagen’s ability to repair itself. Just as the body can make collagen, it can also breakdown collagen from spending too much time in the sun (without sun protection) and smoking. Things like air pollution and stress reduce collagen thickness and strength. 

Collagen Science – Do collagen supplements work

The first thing to point out is that as collagen is a new topic of study the research on it is fairly limited. Most research on collagen supplements is related to joint and skin health. Human studies are lacking but some recent randomized control trials have found that collagen supplements improve skin elasticity. What is important to note is that within the supplements given in this study included other nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, biotin and vitamin E, so it could have been the collagen peptides or all the nutrients together having a positive effect on the skin. What’s more, it is still very unclear what dose of collagen is optimal. It also seems to be that once you pop collagen supplements to keep the benefits you must keep popping!

Other trials have found that supplements can improve joint mobility and decrease joint pain such as osteoarthritis. A randomised trial (good quality research) looking at people with knee osteoarthritis found that taking type II collagen supplement leads to a significant decrease in pain and stiffness, even if only in the short-term. Although the review noted that the quality of studies pooled was low and there was no long-term evidence available, other studies have shown that collage is important in helping reduce inflammation, a key issue in joint pain. Some other human studies suggest that doses of 10 – 40mg of undenatured collagen per day may also improve joint health.

In summary, when looking at the science, it’s helpful to remember that while the evidence to date does look promising, it is still inconclusive. A lot of the research that does exist is also industry funded (which one would expect to an extent), however in the scientific world this links it to a higher degree of bias. More research is needed to fully understand the benefits. Collagen is a safe supplement to take, with no recognised upper limit.  If you choose to take a collagen supplement, ensure that you invest in the very best. 

Choosing a collagen supplement 

Not all collagen is created equal. Since collagen is a product derived from animals, I recommend choosing collagen from a reputable source. For example, look for collagen that comes from grass-fed, pasture raised or sustainably sourced fish. The less additional fillers and additives the supplement has the better. 

Liquid collagen vs collagen powder

When it comes to the world of collagen supplements, you have a number of choices. There’s liquid, power and even powder in capsule form. While some manufactures claim that liquid collagen is the most bioavailable type of collagen there is currently no evidence suggesting that one form is more superior than the other. The choice of which collagen supplement to take for now can be based on personal preference. 

How much to take?

Currently there are no official guidelines regarding how much collagen to take per day. To determine the correct dosing for you, work with a dietitian or nutritionist to ensure that you match the collagen type and amount to the reasons why you want to take it! This way you will maximise its potential benefits.

When to take it?

You may have heard some people swear by taking collagen in the morning on an empty stomach. Yet others love taking it in pill before bed! The reality is that no studies have shown that one time of day will provide better results than the other, with or without food.  The most important thing is that you are taking collagen within a routine that is easy for you to remember as you will need to take it daily for at least 8-12 weeks for a noticeable result. And oh, if you’re looking for long-lasting effects, get ready to take them for a lifetime.

Take home message

Collagen is key nutrient that your body needs especially as you age. Diet first always. Real food is always better; however, a supplement may be a convenient help. Finding the right one makes a big difference.