Is it just me, or do collagen supplements seem to be everywhere suddenly?
Whether it’s a mature, but youthful-looking, actor promoting a collagen powder, an Instagram influencer flogging a collagen cream or a news story about a suburban mum turning a collagen creamer sideline into a successful business, collagen is front and centre.
So what’s it all about? What are the health benefits of collagen powder? Are these promised collagen benefits valid enough for you to add a collagen supplement to your health regime? Or it is all hype and advertising?
Let’s take a look.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is a hard, fibrous protein and our bodies are packed full of it.
The best way to think of collagen is as the scaffolding that holds us together. Our bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage and the workings of our digestive system are all full of collagen.
And then there’s our skin. For us humans, around 70% of our skin is made up of collagen. Without it, our flesh loses its elasticity and ‘bounce’.
What Does Collagen Do?
It holds us together and allows everything to work smoothly.
Without sufficient collagen our joints may become ‘stiff’ and lose flexibility. We may start to have issues with our digestive system. Our bones and muscles may become weaker. Our skin may start to sag and wrinkle.
Basically, many of the things that we associate with ageing may be accelerated – aching muscles, sore hips, knees and elbows, sensitivity to certain foods and (Horror of horrors!) crow’s feet and drooping jowls – if our bodies don’t contain enough collagen.
It is interesting that whilst a lack of collagen proteins in your body may lead to serious health consequences such as reduced mobility and pain, a vast amount of the advertising surrounding collagen powders focuses on their possible anti-ageing powers.
Nothing sells like vanity, after all.
Please see here for a more in-depth explanation of collagen, the different types and why we need it.
The theory is that having sufficient collagen in your body will stop all of those nasty ‘ageing’ type issues mentioned above.
OK. So keep eating all the right things to support the bodies ability to make its own collagen and all will be fine. Right?
Sadly, it’s not as simple as that.
As we get older (there’s that irritating ageing problem again!), our bodies produce less collagen. And it is as this starts to happen that so many of those unpleasant signs of ageing that we find so alarming start to kick in. Maybe we find it a little harder to spring out of bed in the morning as our legs are stiff. Perhaps we notice that our ‘laughter lines’ are getting more firmly etched into our faces.
Eating a healthy diet which gives us the building blocks to make our own collagen is obviously a good thing, but it’s unlikely to result in the collagen benefits that we are used to.
A spoonful of collagen powder or a couple of collagen gummies may help to bridge the gap.
For information on foods which may help collagen production, see here.
Potential Collagen Benefits
Notice that magic word ‘potential’.
Before we start working our way through all the possible health benefits of taking a collagen powder, let me first say that research into the effects of collagen supplements are still in their early days. This means that much more testing needs to be done in a number of areas before definite claims can made about the pluses of taking collagen.
That said, although collagen benefits may not be 100% certain, at present, there is no evidence to suggest that taking collagen supplements can in any way harm your health.
This is the big selling point for a huge chunk of the collagen powder market.
There is some scientific evidence that people taking oral collagen supplements (particularly when they are part of a cocktail including hyaluronic acid and vitamins) see an improvement in both the hydration levels and elasticity of their skin. In addition, wrinkles become less severe. Yay!
There have also been claims that collagen peptides may assist in the treatment of acne, though we’re yet to find any studies that confirm this.
On a side note, I’m a menopausal woman who has been doing some personal research into this. I’ve been taking California Gold Nutrition CollagenUP Marine Collagen for about 3 months now and interestingly, when I had a facial a couple of weeks back, my regular beauty therapist commented on how healthy and hydrated my skin was, compared to before.
Thicker, Healthier Hair
Whilst men may lose their hair all together, women can also fall victim to confidence damaging hair loss. This is a particular problem for many women with the hormone changes that come from pregnancy and the menopause.
A number of studies have backed suggestions that adding a collagen powder to a woman’s diet may result in thicker stronger hair.
Again, on an anecdotal level, a female friend with thinning hair has begun adding a dose of Vida Glow Marine Collagen to her morning routine and feels that her hair is thicker and more luxurious.
Stronger, Healthier Nails
Rounding out the potential confidence boosting collagen benefits comes nail health.
Some people grow fabulously strong talon literally in their sleep. Others are cursed with brittle, slow-growing nails.
One study produced evidence that daily collagen tablets meant less chipping and breakages and nails that grew quicker.
Improvement in Osteoarthritis Symptoms
As far back as 2006, a literature review found that formulations containing collagen hydrolysate could be beneficial in treating osteoarthritis.
The theory is that collagen taken orally is absorbed into the body and helps to make healthier cartilage. This means improved joint function and less pain for sufferers.
Prevents Bone Loss
Collagen is vital for good bone health.
As we get older and our natural collagen production drops off, many of us – and again, post-menopausal women are particularly vulnerable to this – experience a loss of bone density and strength. If left unchecked, this can result in issues like osteoporosis.
There is some research that shows that taking a calcium plus collagen supplement is more effect than a simple calcium tablet in slowing deterioration in bones.
More Muscle Mass
Sports nutrition and different types of protein powder are big business.
Studies have shown that a regime of strength training combined with the addition of collagen peptides to the diet can assist in gaining muscle mass and thus, strength. The thought behind this is that the extra collagen gave the bodies of those in taking part in the research the building blocks and stimulation to make the proteins that create muscle.
See here if you would like to read more about the rapidly expanding world of protein powders.
Improved Heart Health
So far, this area has only attracted a small amount of research, but there is evidence that taking a regular dose of collagen powder may ease stiffness in arteries and possibly even lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels.
Other Collagen Benefits
There are plenty of other claims being made about collagen powders and tablets.
Some brands claim that a scoop of collagen added to a morning coffee may assist in improving and maintaining gut health. Given what we are beginning to learn about the importance of our individual gut microbiome for all aspects of our health, it may be that having the right bacteria in our guts may help with everything from weight management to quelling anxiety and improving our mental state.
If it is ever proven that a spoonful of collagen powder can improve our overall health in this way, that really would be something!