Collagen is an extremely important protein, being the most abundant protein found our body. It is found in cartilage , bone , tendons, skin and even in the eye and helps with connecting and being the “glue” that sticks our body together. Based on this, it is has been suggested the supplementing with collagen can help with joint health, skin elasticity and immune boosting through the gut.
Collagen is a protein, meaning it is made up of several chains of amino acids. When you take a supplement containing collagen, which is a large molecule, your body can’t absorb the collagen whole hence why you see a lot of collagen supplements marketed as protein hydrolysates which are smaller chains to make the digestion process easier so if you going to take a collagen supplement make sure it hydrolysed.
Up until recently it was believed our body couldn't absorb these hydrolysates and would break them down to amino acids but some research is starting to show the presence of these hydrolysates in the blood post ingestion. However the key issue is that we are not sure what happens next. It is hard for us know what the body then does with these collagen peptides and where they are directed. There are a number of different types of collagen found in various places in the body and responsible for different functions so if you consuming a supplement for skin health benefits we can be sure they are going to go to the skin.
Collagen and the diet
As mentioned collagen is a protein made up of amino acids and increasing your intake of amino acids as well as protein can have various benefits, irrespective of the benefits collagen may provide. We also know that as we age our supply of collagen. made by our bodies diminishes. Our environment and diet affect our collagen levels for example a diet high in refined carbohydrate and sugar decreases the strength of collagen fibres along with sun exposure and smoking. On the flip side, Vitamin C plays an important role in collagen synthesis and so ensuring you diet is adequate in Vitamin C will help ensure a healthy supply of collagen. It is important to note than some people may have a genetic mutation which inhibits them form synthesizing collagen or transporting it in the body.
Alot of the research on collagen is anecdotal, meaning individuals have noticed a difference by taking the collagen however that could be due to a number of different variables . One study showed improvement in skin elasticity and moisture in women taking a collagen supplement however the supplement contained many other nutrients linked to skin health so the effect cant be isolated to collagen.
Another study done on middle aged women did find positive effects with a collagen supplements however samples sizes were small and the ethnic groups were not diverse which doesn't provide good quality research. There are some studies which show benefits with joint health however in my experience most are taking it for skin benefits and here the evidence is minimal
It is important to note than collagen is not regulated by medical council ro food and drug association. Whilst there are limited studies showing negative side effects , collagen powders can be expensive and in order to see results you may have to take them for a long period of time.
There is very limited research at this stage but hopefully we will have some more long term studies on collagen powders in future. There is no harm in taking them but if budget is a concern then you can think twice about supplementing with collagen based on the research. At this point in time we cant be sure where exactly the collagen peptides go once they absorbed however there is a benefit from taking the collagen if only to increase your protein intake or intake of some essential amino acids.