Collagen powders, chews, and capsules — “What sorcery is this?” you might be thinking as you eye the supplement store’s products that declare they’ll strengthen your nails, reduce wrinkles, promote healthy hair, and support your joints.
With those results, it’s easy to see how collagen has become a popular supplement. The question is: Does it actually work, or is it really just all hype? We set out to find the answer.
First: What Is Collagen?
If it weren’t for collagen, we’d probably fall apart. It’s a protein that acts as the main building block of your skin, hair, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.
Collagen also exists in your connective tissue, providing it with structural support. It also plays important roles in immune response, cellular communication, and tissue repair and maintenance.
Speaking of tissue, connective tissue cells in your body called fibroblasts produce and maintain collagen. As we grow older, fibroblasts don’t function as well, our collagen begins to break down, and its production starts to, well, take its time.
These changes, along with the loss of another structural protein called elastin, cause signs of aging, such as wrinkles and droopy skin.
No need to sigh, however. There’s a possibility you can slow down these changes by consuming foods that help your body produce collagen.
How Can I Increase My Collagen Intake?
A supplement is certainly one way to increase your collagen intake, but you can also support collagen production with food such as:
- Chicken and turkey
- Tofu, tempeh, and soy protein
- Black beans and kidney beans
- Legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas
- Seeds, especially pumpkin, sunflower, and chia
- Nuts, such as peanuts, cashews, and pistachios
In addition to the amino acids found in the above foods, your body needs other nutrients to make and maintain collagen. For example, vitamin C is necessary for collagen synthesis.
So eating foods rich in vitamin C (think citrus fruits, berries, peppers, and leafy greens) should give your collagen production a boost.
Is the Hype About Collagen Really What It’s Made Out to Be?
Scientists have looked at collagen consumption and have found positive outcomes.
Taking collagen supplements for several weeks can improve skin elasticity (i.e., roughness and wrinkles), as well as reduce signs of aging, some studies suggest.
Other studies have shown that collagen consumption can improve bone density in older individuals, as well as relieve joint, back and knee pain.
One caveat: Many of these types of studies are small, and funded by companies that make the product, which increases the likelihood of biased results.
Yet, a 2019 literature review in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology suggests collagen consumption does have benefits. The review found study data to support findings that collagen could increase skin elasticity, collagen density, and overall hydration.
Our take based on what we’ve learned? Give a collagen supplement a try if you’re interested, and see how it works for you. Remember the results for each individual is unique, so any results you obtain may be different from your BFFs. You can also try different types or brands of collagen, too.
What To Know About Taking Collagen
If you’re ready to try a collagen supplement, bear in mind you’re in for a long-term commitment if you want to maintain results. You’ll have to take the supplement consistently.
Collagen supplements are generally well-tolerated, but take note of the ingredients if you’re allergic to foods such as eggs, fish, and shellfish.
Vegan options are also available, however.
For a healthy and less expensive alternative to supplements, consuming enough protein and vitamin C as part of a balanced diet is a way to go. By combining this with a regular exercise routine, you could help minimize collagen loss as you age, and maintain healthy nails, hair, and joints.
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What’s All the Hype About Collagen? was originally published in Think Dirty on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.