To fulfill our culture’s relentless desire for wrinkle-free skin and an everlasting youthful glow, collagen supplements have gained more attention, spurring a booming industry. How well do they work? The short answer: there is evidence that eating collagen can be effective, but experts say we can get what we need through a healthy diet.

There is no doubt that this protein – the most abundant in the body – is important. Collagen is derived from the Greek word kólla, meaning glue, and makes up about three-quarters of the skin. More than deep in the skin, collagen provides structure to bodily organs, blood vessels, teeth, bones, cartilage, tendons and ligaments (its properties have also been exploited for a variety of innovations including adhesive, musical instrument strings, fabrics and rope baskets) With

As with many other biological assets that young people take for granted, collagen begins to fade with age as bodies slow down and produce less of it. This manifests itself in wrinkles as the skin becomes less supple and able to maintain its tightness, potentially reducing its other vital functions such as hydration, antioxidant support and immune protection. Lower collagen production can also slow wound healing, which explains why increasing dietary protein can double the healing rate.

Here’s the hit: collagen is a complex protein made up of 19 different amino acids. If you eat it, the digestive tract’s job is to break down the amino acids before releasing them into the bloodstream – and there is no guarantee that they will be reformed in the same way.

“Collagen does not remain collagen,” explains Pia Winberg, a scientist who explores the benefits of seaweed for wound healing, “and [your body] does it only if [that’s] what you need first in terms of protein and you have the right set of amino acid building blocks to do it.

“Trading in collagen supplements is taking people for a ride, a little, unless they are deficient in some dietary amino acids, in which case of course they will benefit. But they can get it equally by increasing quantities and / or diversity of protein intake. “

Associate Professor Stephen Shumack, a clinical dermatologist, agrees that while there is little harm in taking collagen supplements, getting the basic protein blocks from a good, rounded diet is a logical and cheaper way to go.

“Collagen supplements are a current fad based on little scientific evidence,” he says. “Fortunately, there are a few drawbacks to getting them.”

Some evidence supports the additions

However, various animal studies suggest that all of the protein can be absorbed directly, so the story may be a bit more complex. Whether it is from all of the protein or its components, the small body of research that has been done in humans provides support for collagen supplementation (usually obtained from cows, pigs, and fish, even though Winberg is exploring seaweed as a source. vegetarian key. amino acids).

A 12-week placebo-controlled study reported that a collagen supplement with nutritional cofactors including vitamins C and E, and zinc improved skin quality in women over 35. Overall, one review found 11 studies that provide supporting evidence for improved skin elasticity and hydration and wound healing.

There may also be some benefit to osteoarthritis, backed by a controlled trial with athletes who found reduced subjective joint pain in those who took the collagen supplement. Another study reports superior muscle mass and strength after supplementation combined with strength training in male volunteers.

A limiting factor for the studies are inconsistent doses, which makes it difficult to determine optimal levels of supplements.

Dominique Condo, a sports nutritionist and researcher at Deakin University in Melbourne, says we are still learning about collagen, but she uses supplements regularly with elite athletes to strengthen their joints and muscles, especially important for the prevention and rehabilitation of injuries. She notes that the dose is important, especially considering that it can be used anywhere on the body.

“I can not talk to beauty products because I do not know enough about them,” she says, “but from the perspective of muscles and joints we know that there is a certain dose you need to see an increase in collagen production. “(about 15 grams per serving.) This is a good amount of collagen and so it may be that some of the products traded for benefits do not actually have the required amount.”

Supplements aside, there are several ways to protect and increase collagen levels, where healthy habits come first. First, avoid harmful collagen activities such as smoking, excessive consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates, lack of sleep and exercise, stress and ultraviolet rays from excessive sun exposure.

A healthy diet rich in varied plant foods can provide a set of antioxidants that help fight skin damage. We can also extract the necessary amino acids and nutritional cofactors that help the body produce collagen from dietary sources.

Amino acids come from protein-rich foods like eggs, legumes, milk, fish, poultry and meat. Vitamin C, a critical cofactor, is found in many plant foods, including red pepper, broccoli, citrus fruits, and berries. Zinc is also important, large amounts are found in shellfish, legumes, nuts and seeds. Others include proline, found in egg whites, wheat germ, dairy products, cabbage, asparagus and mushrooms, and glycine, given by gelatin and protein-rich foods. Copper can also help, which can be ingested through sesame seeds, organ meats, cashews, lentils – and for chocolate lovers, it is also found in cocoa powder.

So if you have started to see unwanted wrinkles or have deeper needs like wound healing and muscle repair, there is no harm in taking a collagen supplement. However, you are likely to get the same benefits from living and eating well and including lots of good quality protein.