It’s safe to say that collagen supplements in all their shapes and varieties are HOT property. Every 2nd person I meet and every 2nd order I’m wrapping seems to be jumping on the collagen bus.
From a professional standpoint, I generally am not a fan of nutrition fads and ‘lord knows’ there have been so MANY. However, when you start to look into the science of collagen, there actually appears to be a pretty good narrative there too. So… let’s talk all things ‘skin function’, ‘why we need collagen’, plus ‘collagen and ageing’; and then you can decide….
Skin 101: The Skin’s Functions
The skin helps to protect us from our external environment and all the nasties we come into contact with on a daily basis; think viruses, bacteria, pathogens and infection (plus so much more). Our skin also keeps moisture in and regulates our bodies temperature. Our 2 main layers to the skin include;
This is what you can see & touch. Within this layer we have cells called keratinocytes – these cells help with strength and structure, particularly of the hair and nails. We also have cells called melanocytes; important in the skin’s colour.
Here is where the collagen magic happens. It’s where our connective tissue lives, as well as our sweat glands, and fibroblasts – which are the compounds that produce collagen.
Why do we need Collagen?
As we age (which sadly starts to happen rapidly after our teens!) our epidermis and dermis get thinner and thinner, and 1 of the proteins in our skin, called elastin reduces. This is why our skin gets dryer and we produce less sebum, or oil. When you put this together with environmental attack from the likes of pollution, smoke and sun damage - it starts to come as no surprise we start getting a little ‘weathered’ and wrinkly’ through the years.
Thankfully, with knowledge comes power; and there is a LOT we can do to ‘slow down’ this process to look better, whilst also reducing risk factors considerably for skin cancers.
The Science of Collagen – How Does it work it’s Magic?
Collagen is a large and complex protein molecule. It makes up about 30% of our total protein mass so it’s hugely important and abundant in our bodies, and it is very, very strong. As said above, collagen sits in our dermis and chemically, collagen is known as a triple helix structure. Basically, what this means is it’s kind of like a very, VERY strong intertwined rope, and it’s this meshwork type structure that gives skin its strength, its structure, its bounce and its resilience.
There are really only 3 key amino acids that make up collagen – glycine, proline & hydroxyproline. The most common types of collagen are types I, II & III. Type I & III are most commonly found in skin and blood vessels, and type II collagen is mostly contained in cartlidge and bone.
As a Naturopath, I was particularly sceptical on collagen, as I thought it was just another protein that breaks down into a kind of amino acid 'soup', so there was really no point in taking something specific. However, collagen isn't actually digested into individual amino acids – it breaks down into di and tri peptide units which are unique to collagen. The key to collagen that is different to any other protein in the body is this hydroxyproline. This particular amino acid you only see in dietary collagen. In the body, these di and tri peptides act as signals and bind to fibroblast receptors and these fibroblasts are our collagen and elastin factories in the body. This is why now clinical trials are now finding a medium to large size benefit on the skin, improving it's hydration and reducing fine lines and wrinkles.
Collagen and Vitamin C
1 of the key vitamins to make collagen is vitamin C. If you are heavily vitamin C insufficient or deficient you develop scurvy (which is sadly more common than you think…..) and when you are insufficient or deficient in vitamin C it means that you can’t heal properly. This is because you can’t make that key amino acid specific to collagen production i.e. Hydroxyproline.
Bone broth is a really popular whole food supplement that does contain a source of collagen, however it’s an unreliable source in terms of exactly how much collagen you gain per serve. So whilst diligently sipping on nourishing bone broth has many health benefits (which you can read more about here), you may miss the mark on your skin and anti-ageing goals; so supplementing with pure collagen gives you a guaranteed amount of collagen.
Collagen – What’s the Dose and What’s the Science?
Turns out, you don’t need bucket loads of collagen to reap the rewards. The majority of the research is looking at a dose of around 5g – so like 1 teaspoon a day. And the effect size across the board with these studies is medium to large – this means people generally see and feel a BIG difference particularly to skin hydration and reducing fine lines and wrinkles.
There have now been more than 20+ randomised controlled clinical trials & at least 1 meta-analysis to show a reliable effect of taking hydrolysed collagen to support the visual appearance of wrinkles, skin elasticity, skin hydration and collagen density. This is consistent on ALL the trials, and (side note) these are NOT funded by collagen supplement companies.
Whilst topical skincare is a crucial piece of the puzzle; protecting us from the elements and supporting hydration, it will not boost your internal supply of collagen. This is because the collagen molecule is too large and too complex to penetrate the dermis and stimulate internal collagen production.
What Type of Collagen do I Need?
The most common source is marine collagen which generally comes from fish skin and you want to look out for hydrolysed collagen. Hydrolysed collagen is much easier to disperse as the very long amino acid ‘chain’ has been broken down & pre-digested into smaller particles, making it more absorbable.
You can also use gelatin as a source of collagen. If you take collagen - boil it and ‘denature’ it, you get gelatin. So…. gelatin is just collagen that’s been cooked. However gelatin doesn’t easily dissolve in water making it not so easy to have as a supplement; however it's great to use cooking and has amazing benefits for the gut healing.
Finally, like most things; you need to commit to see results – think a daily serve for 1-2 months.
So what do you think? That’s enough for me & my saggy skin. I’m IN and these are my favourites;