Countless creams, pills, and beauty products have been formulated and advertised for age-defying benefits. Collagen supplements have become especially popular, with many collagen creams and pills purporting to improve skin, hair, and nails. These days it may seem like collagen is everywhere.
But before jumping into this latter trend, you’ll want to see if real science backs up such claims, and what the safest way to get more of this seemingly age-defying protein is.
What is collagen and what purpose does it serve?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, and is found in all connective tissues. “It’s the primary protein in skin and cartilage, the tissues that surround all of our joints,” says Walter Willett, MD, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Collagen is a major component of skin, bones, tendons, and muscles and is known to help make tissues stronger and more resilient to stretching.
Our bodies produce collagen naturally by combining and processing amino acids from the protein-rich foods we eat, such as beans, eggs, and dairy products. Collagen is abundantly found in red meat, poultry and fish.
What are collagen supplements?
Although collagen is produced in abundance throughout our bodies, “we decrease it as we age,” says Uma Naidoo, MD, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of This Is Your Brain on Food. “Collagen production can also be affected by lack of exercise or sleep, as a result of smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, and collagen may also be damaged by environmental exposures such as overexposure to sunlight,” says Naidu.
Collagen deficiency can lead to joint pain, muscle weakness, and may make a person’s skin appear dry and wrinkled.
People commonly take collagen supplements as “anti-aging” creams or pills, which are meant to enhance or smooth skin. It is also taken to treat arthritis. “Collagen supplements usually contain different forms of collagen, amino acids, peptides, and additional nutrients such as vitamin C and biotin,” explains Naidu.
Do collagen supplements work?
Although the effectiveness of collagen supplements is still debated among scientists, “some research suggests that supplementation may improve the appearance of the skin as well as joint mobility,” says Naidoo.
However, not all forms of collagen supplements are considered equally effective. For example, even dermatologists question the effectiveness of “collagen-rich” skin serums and creams because collagen is not naturally found on the surface of the skin, but in the deeper layers. Willett believes that collagen supplements taken orally are absorbed more effectively by the body, but again, “the evidence for any benefits is mixed.” “The main rationale for collagen supplementation is to reduce the effects of aging on the skin and to treat arthritis,” he says.
Is it safe to take collagen supplements?
Although there are different forms of collagen supplements, research shows that taking between 2.5 and 15 grams of hydrolyzed collagen each day is considered safe. However, it is important to keep in mind that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate health supplements. As such, it is a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider before adding collagen supplements to your daily routine.
And although Willett agrees that collagen supplements are “not likely to be harmful,” he says “it’s a very expensive protein,” and its benefits can be achieved in higher amounts and for very little money.
Those who want to save money can still help their bodies produce more collagen naturally by “switching to protein-rich foods such as wild-caught fish, daily grass-fed eggs and eggs, soybeans and legumes,” Naidoo says.
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This article originally appeared in the USA TODAY: Do Collagen Supplements Work? It’s all about anti-aging creams and pills