The Elusive Fountain of Youth

Collagen is the main structural protein in your body and is present in your skin, bone, cartilage, and tendons. If you are not a vegetarian, you eat collagen every day. When collagen is processed with hot water, gelatin is created, and if gelatin is further hydrolyzed with enzymes, you get collagen hydrolysate. Collagen hydrolysate is what is used in all of the collagen supplements you see everywhere. While there are some promising findings from small research studies, a lot more work is needed before any specific recommendations can be made. I look forward to hearing if any relationship actually exists between collagen and blood glucose, blood lipids, and body weight. In the meantime, the number of unsubstantiated claims and personal testimonies continues to stack up. Most of these claims are related to skincare and joint health/athletic performance. Here are 10 things that you might want to consider before dropping a lot of cash on these supplements:

  1. Collagen, just like all proteins, is broken down by digestive juices in the stomach. The resultant amino acids are then absorbed and are distributed throughout the body wherever they are needed and not necessarily to your skin, your gut, or anywhere else you want them to go. The collagen that you ingest is no longer collagen by the time that it leaves your stomach.
  2. Slathering collagen onto your skin probably won’t do much for you since the collagen molecule is too large to be efficiently absorbed. Many dermatologists and estheticians believe that the benefits people see after using a collagen-containing skincare product are merely the result of moisturizing the skin. If you want to up the production of collagen in your skin, you might want to consider using a retinol.
  3. Although some small, short-term studies have shown improved athletic performance, improved joint function, and a decrease in pain from osteoarthritis, the truth is that over the long term, we don’t have any proof that collagen supplements help any more than a placebo. Some studies suggest that collagen administered with calcium and vitamin D has more significant benefit than any of the supplements when taken alone. Although some studies indicate that collagen is helpful for lean muscle health, it is more than possible that you would see benefit from consuming any sort of protein, and not just collagen protein.
  4. A lot of experts are concerned about the potential for contaminants, including heavy metal, in collagen supplements. The materials most commonly used for extracting collagen include pig skin, bovine hide, and bones. These parts of an animal tend to act as sponges for contaminants.
  5. There’s also some concern about Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease. In 2016, the FDA prohibited the use of some cow parts in dietary supplements because of this concern.
  6. More than a few people have voiced their worries about creatinine content of these supplements. Creatinine is the toxic breakdown product that comes from muscle tissue. Unhealthy kidneys are unable to filter excess creatinine from the body.
  7. Researchers have not identified what types of collagen peptides work for different conditions and there are a lot of subtypes. In this regard, collagen is similar (albeit on a much smaller scale) to the vast array of probiotics that researchers continue to sift through.
  8. Collagen is often combined with probiotics, fiber, or other ingredients, but no one knows if these substances interact with collagen and change how one or all of the elements work in the body.
  9. Claims made about collagen for improving gut health, improving sleep, decreasing anxiety, and keeping food cravings at bay are entirely unsubstantiated at this time.
  10. If you want to prevent damaging the collagen in your body, avoid smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, sleep deprivation, sun damage, and weight gain. You need enough protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, and copper in your diet for collagen production, so eat a well-rounded diet. And don’t forget to exercise – it prevents the breakdown of collagen.