March 2021 Should I Take Collagen Supplements?
By Katie Fischer & KRNC Staff
The fountain of youth is said to restore youthfulness to those who drink it, which sounds similar to the marketing promises of using collagen products. Collagen supplement sales are booming and companies are claiming they can improve joints, skin, nails and gut health. But do these claims have scientific truth? Are collagen supplements safe? Should you be taking them? Let’s dive in to see if collagen truly is the fountain of youth.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. This protein adds structure to connective tissues such as skin, nails, hair, muscles, tendons, and cartilage. Like other proteins, collagen is made up of amino acids. The body can make collagen by combining amino acids together with the help of certain vitamins and minerals. There are 28 types of collagens and each one has a different amino acid pattern and function in the body.
What affects my collagen production?
The body’s natural collagen production slows naturally with aging. Some other factors that decrease the production of collagen include smoking, high intake of alcohol, lack of sleep, exposure to sunlight without a protective barrier, and even too much exercise. There are also some health conditions that impact the body’s natural ability to make collagen.
The body can build collagen from the appropriate amino acids regardless of the source. Meaning, whether the amino acids come from dietary collagen or other proteins, the body can make the same collagen. This is why getting adequate protein is important for producing collagen. Various types of collagens can be found in foods such as meat with connective tissue, bones, bone broth, and fish. The building blocks of collagen chains are the amino acids proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline. Some foods that contain these amino acids are beef, pork, fish, turkey, eggs, dairy, legumes and soy foods. The body also needs vitamin C, zinc, iron, and copper to make collagen. Eating a well-balanced diet that includes variety is a great way to support natural collagen production.
Check out our March KRNC Recipe of the Month- Chickpea Avocado Salad– which is a good source of Vitamin C, E and Copper, all of which are needed for natural collagen production!
|Food Sources of Zinc||Food Sources of Vitamin C||Food Sources of Iron||Food Sources of Copper|
|Poultry, liver, fish, beef, pork, wheat germ and bran, sunflower seeds, milk, tofu, almonds, kidney beans, peanut butter, whole wheat bread||Tomatoes, peppers, oranges, papaya, strawberries, grapefruit, broccoli, mango, cantaloupe, collards, potatoes||Beef, liver, poultry, pork, salmon, fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, wheat bran, beans, eggs||Organ meats, fish, nuts, seeds, oysters, mushrooms, soybeans|
Are collagen supplements beneficial?
Most of the promises made by collagen supplement companies are not supported by research. While human studies are lacking, there is some limited evidence that collagen supplementation is associated with improvements in skin elasticity and joint health. Research of collagen’s impact in humans is often funded by groups that would benefit from positive outcomes, so there’s risk for bias influencing the results. The fact that there are so few studies, and that many of the available studies may have questionable bias makes it hard to know how effective collagen supplements actually are.
Also, collagen supplements aren’t necessarily used to make collagens in the body. Because collagen is a protein, when it enters the body, it will be broken down into individual amino acids to be absorbed and re-used to build new proteins. The body will decide what it needs to use the amino acids for, and it’s not always to make more collagen.
Risks associated with collagen supplements
First, supplements including collagen are not well-regulated. Supplements are not held to the same testing standards as food products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate claims made by supplement companies, nor does the FDA test products to ensure they are safe and that the product in the bottle matches the label. Some supplement companies will optionally pay for third-party testing; this is one way to ensure purity and quality. There is also concern that concentrated sources of collagen could contain heavy metals and excess calcium.
The evidence supporting collagen benefits is weak. Collagen supplements are not necessary for good health, and may come with some risks. KRNC advises taking a food-first approach to support collagen productions, which includes getting adequate protein, zinc, iron, vitamin C and copper. Practicing other collagen-preserving approaches like wearing sunscreen and sun-protective clothing, smoking cessation, sleep hygiene and stress management is also recommended.
Get to know our author:
Fischer was a recent dietetic intern at the KRNC. She graduated in May 2021 from University of Northern Colorado with a Bachelor of Sciences in Dietetics. Katie is a native to Chicago, Illinois. She is interested in gastrointestinal related diseases and disorders and the connection between gut bacteria and the mind. Katie plans to work in clinical nutrition as well as open a private practice for nutrition counseling. She says “My favorite thing about working with the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center is the diverse opportunities and experiences that are offered to me. I also enjoy that I can bring in my own creativity to the table for projects and events!”
For additional resources for healthy eating, check out these programs from our registered dietitian nutritionists. Find delicious and healthy recipes on our Recipes page! More health tips are also available at the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest board. Lastly, don’t forget to sign up for the KRNC monthly newsletter!