Does Collagen Protein Improve Skin, Joints and Bones?
Collagen supplements are a HOT topic. Proponents of collagen claim it’s the ideal “anti-aging” supplement and can improve skin, bones, joints and hair and as well as gut health. It’s consumed as supplements and is added to shakes, coffee and even beauty products as well as found naturally in bone broth. Hmmm … could this really be a fountain of youth? Can you grow a thick mane of hair, plump cheeks and strong bones and joints? There are tons of anecdotal evidence on the internet. But I always like to see studies before recommending products. However, I’m also open-minded and like learning new things. So if collagen can slow the aging process, I want to know about it asap! Read on to take a deeper dive into the science of collagen (pic credit: canva)
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is an important component of skin, muscles, joints, tendons, blood vessels,
hair, skin and nails. Think of collagen as the “glue” that holds your body together. (FYI – the word collagen means “glue” in Greek!) It plays a crucial role in our skin, which is made up of the fibrous material of the dermis, the epidermis, elastin network, and subcutaneous fat tissue. Collagen is responsible for giving skin its appearance and functionality. Aging causes a loss of collagen, starting in your 20’s and 30’s. As a person ages, their skin tends to become less elastic and the epidermis tends to become thinner, leading to more wrinkles and visible signs of aging. This loss of collagen may be more evident at an earlier age in women, who have less collagen than menthe plump rounded skin of a 15 year old versus someone in their 50’s. Hormones, UV radiation and smoking accelerate this aging process.
Collagen can also be obtained from supplementsderived from animal bones or skin, and others from animal cartilage – which is what we’ll be exploring in the rest of this post.
What does the research say about collagen?
We know that collagen plays an important role in the body and levels decrease as we age. But here’s the big question – will consuming collagen in food, bone broth or supplements go from our stomachs to the areas in need … like our aging skin or achy joints? It’s important to look at research before believing claims.
There is some research that suggests collagen may have a positive effect on skin.The best evidence in humans supporting the use of collagen for aging skin uses VERISOL (Gelita AG), a collagen peptide made of hydrolyzed, porcine-derived type I collagen. Several studies have been done using this supplement.
– This study, using Verisol® looked at collagen peptide supplementation in 69 women ages 35-55. The results showed that oral intake of specific bioactive collagen peptides reduced skin wrinkles and had positive effects on dermal matrix synthesis in just 8 weeks. Keep in mind this study was done using a specific product and the results can’t be extrapolated to CH in general. Reference
– This study, again using Verisol®,focused on crow’s feet wrinkles around the eyes of women ages 45 to 65. At 4 weeks of treatment with 2.5 grams of VERISOL daily, eye wrinkle volume was reduced by 7.2% in comparison to placebo and, at 8 weeks, by 20.1%. Even 4 weeks after treatment, wrinkle volume had decreased 11.5% more than placebo. In addition, fluid extracted from skin (of the inner arm) showed that procollagen type I content increased by 65% compared to placebo after 8 weeks of treatment and elastin increased by 18%. All of these findings were statistically significant
Reference #1 Reference #2
– This study demonstrated that supplementation of 6 g collagen per day for 12 weeks can give beneficial effects on skin crack reduction and serum collagen concentration. However the sample size was fairly specific and small, with only 30 Korean middle-aged women. Reference
Bone mineral density
This systematic review suggests collagen hydrolysate has a positive therapeutic role in osteoporosis and osteoarthritis: potentially increasing bone mineral density, having a protective effect on articular cartilage and, primarily, providing symptomatic relief of pain. The research, however, does not make it clear the proper dosage required to achieve these benefits. Even then, a greater understanding of the onset of these bone conditions must be obtained in order to know when to initiate adequate collagen supplementation. Reference
Proponents of collagen claim it helps with leaky gut andmaintains and promotes optimal gut lining health. In theory, it makes sense. Collagen is in the gut’s connective tissue and can help support and strengthen the protective lining of your digestive tract. This is critically important because alterations in the barrier function of your intestine, also known as leaky gut syndrome, can allow particles to pass into the bloodstream. This may result in inflammation.
In fact, a study from 2003 looked at 170 individuals with inflammatory bowel disease and found that they were more likely to have lower levels of serum collagen. So the current theory is that by increasing your intake of collagen, you could help build up the tissues that line your gastrointestinal tract and promote better gut health. However, current research is limited on the direct effects of collagen supplementation on the digestive system. Reference
One 2008 study from Penn State University found that athletes who, for six months, took a hydrolyzed collagen supplement—basically collagen proteins that have been broken down into easily digestible amino acids—experienced less joint pain during activity and at rest.However, the study size in this research was been small, with several other limitations; so further research is needed. Reference #1 reference #2
In this study, participants, ages 40-75, took a type II collagen supplement made from chicken necks for 90 days. Results showed that osteoarthritis symptoms decreased by 40 percent while the severity of symptoms dropped by 33 percent. Reference
Considerations when consuming collagen
Here are some practical tips for consuming collagen supplements or protein powder:
1. First all, you don’t NEED collagen supplements as you get it naturally from food including beef, chicken, pork, fish and egg whites.
2. Drink bone broth as it contains collagen. Make it yourself or buy it at a trendy joint like Brodo.
3. Different forms of collagen include protein powders, pills, and liquids (flavored or unflavored).
4. Looking for a protein supplement? Try collagen protein. Most brands sell hydrolyzed collagen peptides, which means that the amino acids in collagen have been broken down so that they’re more easily digested and absorbed.Some popular brands include: Vital Proteins, Bulletproof, Dr. Axe, Neocell, and Ancient Nutrition.These can be found in health food stores, vitamin/supplement stores (i.e. GNC, Vitamin shop) and stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joes.
5. Powders can be mixed in water (hot or cold), juices, smoothies, shakes, coffee, or tea for a protein boost
6. Use in baking, cooking or add to oatmeal, etc.
7. Can be used as a thickener; can be added in sauces and mixes.
Little words of warning….
8. More is not better! Our bodies need a certain amount of protein a day, which can usually be met from food. Taking more than this for food or supplements has no additional health benefits. And it certainly won’t grow you a thick head of hair or the skin of a 15 year old. In rare cases, excessive amounts of protein can be dangerous if you have certain medical conditions like kidney disease.
9. Keep in mind that the FDA does not regulate supplements, including collagen. While they are likely safe, one expert has concerns. Dr. Mark Moyad, director of preventative and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan,says “Since this stuff comes primarily from ground-up animal parts, I would want to know the heavy metal content of these supplements, and also the creatinine content,” he says. Harmful heavy metals like copper and arsenic have turned up in meat products, and creatinine is a toxic breakdown product that comes from muscle tissue. Dr. Moyad has seen collagen supplements linked to side effects like nausea, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues.Reference Make sure to consume collagen from a reputable brand. If concerned, consult your physician (or your registered dietitian) to see if this type of product is safe for you to take.
10. Beware of allergies. People with an allergy to certain sources of collagen (such as fish) should avoid products sourced from these ingredients.
Time will tell if collagen protein is a fad or if it can live up to its health claims. Our research showed there is some evidence that it may improve joints, skin and bones – but much of it is anecdotal. The strongest evidence may be for women and skin health, however most of the studies were done using one branded ingredient, VERISOL. It is still a relatively new supplement that has only begun to gain some traction in the supplement world. More research is needed before collagen supplements can live up to it’s claims. But in the meantime, there is likely no downside … just don’t expect it to turn back the clock 20 years!
If you are using collagen protein/supplements, let us know how you like it!
I’d like to thank Shemelkhay Murdakhayev for helping do some research for this blog post. He is a student at CUNY Hunter College, working to obtain his Master’s Degree in Nutrition. “I’ve always had a passion for the nutrition field. Once I learned that food was the real medicine, I knew that I wanted to become an advocate for proper nutrition. I wanted to move away from the old adage that prescription medication heals all ailments and prove that the right foods can provide the same (if not more) positive results. More importantly, you can bypass all of the dangerous side effects when you consume the right foods.”