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Important for bones: Collagen

We Are Such Stuff As Fish Are Made Of

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Research Review: Collagen

For something that’s a very popular supplement, not many people understand what collagen is, where it comes from, or what it does.

In a nutshell:

Collagen is a kind of protein. Our bodies make it naturally, and we can also get more in our diet and/or take extra as a supplement.

Our bodies use collagen in connective tissue, skin, tendon, bone, and cartilage. It has many functions, but a broad description would be “holding things together”.

As we get older, our bodies produce less collagen. Signs of this include wrinkles, loss of skin hydration, and joint pain.

Quick test: pinch the skin on the middle of the back of one of your hands, and then watch what happens when you get low. How quickly and easily did your skin returns to its original shape?

If it was pretty much instantanous and flawless, congratulations, you have plenty of collagen (and also elastin). If you didn’t, you are probably low on both!

(they are quite similar proteins and are made from the same base “stuff”, so if you’re low on one, you’ll usually be low on both)

Quick note: A lot of research out there has been funded by beauty companies, so we had our work cut out for us today, and have highlighted where any research may be biased.

More than skin deep

While marketing for collagen is almost exclusively aimed at “reduce wrinkles and other signs of aging”, it does a lot more than that.

You remember we mentioned that many things from the bones outward are held together by collagen? We weren’t kidding…

Read: Osteoporosis, like skin ageing, is caused by collagen loss which is reversible

Taking extra collagen isn’t the only way

We can’t (yet!) completely halt the age-related loss of collagen, but we can slow it, with our lifestyle choices:

Can I get collagen from food?

Yep! Just as collagen holds our bodies together, it holds the bodies of other animals together. And, just like collagen is found in most parts of our body but most plentifully in our skin and bones, that’s what to eat to get collagen from other animals, e.g:

  • Chicken skin
  • Fish skin
  • Bone broth ← health benefits and recipes at this link!

What about vegans?

Yes, vegans are also held together by collagen! We do not, however, recommend eating their skin or boiling their bones into broth. Ethical considerations aside, cannibalism can give you CJD!

More seriously, if you’re vegan, you can’t get collagen from a plant-based diet, but you can get the stuff your body uses to make collagen. Basically, you want to make sure you get plenty of:

Read: Diet and Dermatology: The Role of a Whole-food, Plant-based Diet in Preventing and Reversing Skin Aging

Just be sure to continue to remember to avoid highly-processed foods. So:

  • Soy mince/chunks whose ingredients list reads: “soya”? Yes!
  • The Incredible Burger or Linda McCartney’s Sausages? Sadly less healthy

Read: Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practical Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet

👆 Meat-eaters might want to read that one too. By far the worst offenders for AGEs (Advanced Glycation End Products, which can not only cause collagen to stiffen, but also inactivate proteins responsible for collagen repair, along with doing much more serious damage to your body’s natural functions) include:

  • Hot dogs
  • Bacon
  • Fried/roasted/grilled meats

Is it worth it as a supplement?

That depends on you, your age, and your lifestyle, but it’s generally considered safe*

*if you have a seafood allergy, be careful though, as many supplements are from fish or shellfish—you will need to find one that’s free from your allergen

Also, all collagen is animal-derived. So if you’re a vegan, decide for yourself whether this constitutes medicine and if so, whether that makes it ethically permissible to you.

With that out of the way:

What the science says on collagen supplementation

Collagen for skin

Read: Effects of collagen supplementation on skin aging (systematic review and meta-analysis)

The short version is that they selected 19 studies with over a thousand participants in total, and they found:

In the meta-analysis, a grouped analysis of studies showed favorable results of hydrolyzed collagen supplementation compared with placebo in terms of skin hydration, elasticity, and wrinkles.

The findings of improved hydration and elasticity were also confirmed in the subgroup meta-analysis.

Based on results, ingestion of hydrolyzed collagen for 90 days is effective in reducing skin aging, as it reduces wrinkles and improves skin elasticity and hydration.

Caveat: while that systematic review had no conflicts of interests, at least some of the 19 studies will have been funded by beauty companies. Here are two, so that you know what that looks like:

Funded by Quiris to investigate their own supplement, Elasten®:

A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density

Funded by BioCell to investigate their own supplement, BioCell Collagen:

The Effects of Skin Aging Associated with the Use of BioCell Collagen

A note on funding bias: to be clear, the issue is not that the researchers might be corrupt (though that could happen).

The issue is more that sometimes companies will hire ten labs to do ten research studies… and then pull funding from ones whose results aren’t going the way they’d like.

So the “best” (for them) study is the one that gets published.

Here’s another systematic review—like the one at the top of this section—that found the same, with doses ranging from 2.5g–15g per day for 8 weeks or longer:

Read: Oral Collagen Supplementation: A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications

Again, some of those studies will have been funded by beauty companies. The general weight of evidence does seem clear and favorable, though.

Collagen for bones

Here, we encountered a lot less in the way of potential bias, because this is simply marketed a lot less. Despite being arguably far more important!

We found a high quality multi-vector randomized controlled study with a sample size of 131 postmenopausal women. They had these women take 5g collagen supplement (or placebo), and studied the results over the course of a year.

They found:

  • The intake of the supplement increased bone mineral density (BMD)
  • Supplementation was also associated with a favorable shift in bone markers, indicating:
    • increased bone formation
    • reduced bone degradation

Read: Specific Collagen Peptides Improve Bone Mineral Density and Bone Markers in Postmenopausal Wome

A follow-up study with 31 of these women found that taking 5 grams of collagen daily for a total of 4 years was associated with a progressive increase in BMD.

You might be wondering if collagen also helps against osteoarthritis.

The answer is: yes, it does (at least, it significantly reduces the symptoms)

Read: Effect of collagen supplementation on osteoarthritis symptoms

In summary:

  • You need collagen for health skin, bones, joints, and more
  • Your body makes collagen from your food
  • You can help it by getting plenty of protein, vitamins, and minerals
  • You can also help it by not doing the usual Bad Things™ (smoking, drinking, eating processed foods, especially processed meats)
  • You can also eat collagen directly in the form of other animals’ skin and bones
  • You can also buy collagen supplements (but watch out for allergens)

Want to try collagen supplementation?

We don’t sell it (or anything else), but for your convenience…

Check it out: Hydrolyzed Collagen Peptides (the same as in most of the above studies), 90 days supply at 5g/day

We selected this one because it’s the same kind used in many of the studies, and it doesn’t contain any known allergens.

It’s bovine collagen, meaning it’s from cows, so it’s not vegan, and also some subscribers may want to abstain for religious reasons. We respect that, and/but make our recommendations based solely on the science of health and productivity.

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