Collagen injections were all the rage in the 1980s among people looking to give their skin a plumper, smoother appearance. Today, hyaluronic acid injections are the dermal filler du jour, but science has shown that the benefits of collagen extend beyond banishing wrinkles. That might be why some people have taken to adding it to their food and drink in hopes that it will stem the tide of aging.
But collagen’s also an important building block for your body and needs a certain level of it for healthy function. Is eating collagen a safe means of getting there?
Importance of Collagen
Before you start adding collagen to your coffee, you should know that your body probably already produces plenty of this protein. Collagen is made up of chained amino acids called peptides, and it’s predominantly found in your bones, joints, teeth, skin and connective tissue. (It’s sometimes thought of as a sort of scaffold or netting for the body.) In fact, collagen makes up between 30 and 40 percent of the proteins found in the human body, according to the Database of Useful Biological Numbers.
As we age, our bodies start to produce less collagen. Other lifestyle choices — smoking, poor diet, prolonged sun exposure — slow the body’s collagen production, too. Lower collagen levels cause wrinkles, and they can also cause joint and muscle problems, reduced flexibility in ligaments and tendons, and digestion problems.
Even with the slowdown, your body’s probably producing enough collagen for healthy function, as foods such as meats and eggs are packed with collagen-rich protein. Collagen supplements are an easy way to add even more of this vital protein to your diet and reap the benefits of collagen.
Edible collagen can be found in a bone broth, but it’s often sold as a powdered gelatin or as hydrolyzed peptides that can be mixed into liquids. It’s also sometimes found as a pill and sometimes in a ready-to-drink package. These products are made by extracting collagen from fish and animal bones. There is no vegan alternative.
What Science Says
According to a 2015 study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology featuring Peptan, the collagen supplement was shown to improve skin hydration as well as the density and the structure of the collagen network of the dermis. Additionally, a 2014 study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology showed that women who took collagen hydrolysate saw an improvement in skin elasticity.
A 2016 study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that two collagen peptides, Pro-Hyp and Hyp-Gly, led to overall skin improvement when taken as an oral supplement. Participants saw improvements in facial skin moisture and elasticity, and reduced wrinkles and roughness. A study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging went so far as to say that one collagen supplement, Pure Gold Collagen, can reduce the signs of aging.
It’s important to note that some of these studies were short-term, involved only small groups or were paid for by companies with a vested interest in the product. So while they claim significant results, you should take these results with a substantially large grain of salt.
Other studies have shown collagen to help with joint pain, but with fleeting results. The British Journal of Sports Medicine, for instance, showed that while collagen initially reduced pain in those with osteoarthritis dramatically, relief appeared to taper off over the long term.
Weigh Your Options
With many products promising better health from collagen ingestion, choosing one can be overwhelming.
Consuming collagen is generally safe. Studies that used either collagen hydrolysate or undenatured collagen didn’t turn up any side effects. A number of collagen products have been recalled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; you can find the latest recalls here. So before you buy, read labels carefully and do some research about the company.
And while collagen supplements are showing a lot of promise for improved skin and joint pain, the results have been inconsistent. More definitive studies are needed to fully answer if eating collagen offers any tangible health benefits. While scientists agree that it doesn’t hurt to supplement collagen, it may not do you a whole lot of good, either. So before you dish out the dough on expensive supplements or additives, ask around. Some of your friends may report great results from supplementing collagen or be able to steer you clear of it entirely.
Your dermatologist or doctor is the best bet to help you decide if your coffee is better with collagen. Find a Lahey Health professional near you.