What Is Collagen?
Collagen is a strong, insoluble, and fibrous protein that makes up one third of the protein in our bodies. It is made up of the amino acids glycine and proline. There are numerous different types of collagen (at least 16 types), but 80% to 90% of collagen in the body belongs to types I, II, and III.
The word collagen derives from the Greek word kolla, which means glue. Collagen plays a major role in building your bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments; it is what holds our body together. When it comes to our skin, collagen makes up the middle layer called the dermis. It helps it feel and look tight, taught, and youthful. Collagen is a key support structure in your skin, with its network of fibres that provides a framework for the growth of cells and blood vessels.
What Happens To Collagen As We Age?
Unfortunately, as we age, our production of collagen (starting in our 30s) naturally decreases (1% per year), and our body makes lower-quality collagen as we age as well. This causes visible signs of ageing such as sagging skin, lines, and wrinkles as well as the weakening of other cartilage-rich areas such as our joints. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent this inevitable process of ageing.
Other Contributors To Collagen Destruction
How Does Our Body Make Collagen?
All proteins are made up of tiny molecules called amino acids. When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into its individual amino acids. Because of this, eating collagen doesn't directly increase collagen levels inside the body. Instead, it supplies your body with the building blocks needed to create its own collagen.
What Are Common Sources of Collagen?
While the most abundant source of collagen is found in animal foods (beef, pork, poultry, fish, egg whites), collagen can also be found in gelatin, bone broth, and within plant proteins (e.g. legumes, soy, quinoa).
Collagen supplements, as well as the collagen being sprinkled into various food products, is usually derived from the skin, hide, tendons, bones, cartilage, or other connective tissues of cows, pigs, chicken, or fish. Collagen found in supplements has already been broken down, or hydrolyzed (also called collagen peptides), which is why it's thought to be absorbed more efficiently than the collagen in foods.
Whether you ingest a collagen supplement or a steak, the body recognizes it as protein and breaks it down into amino acids in the digestive system.
Many cosmetic products containing collagen, including creams and powders, claim to revitalize the skin and make it stronger. Unfortunately, collagen molecules are too big to be absorbed through the skin, but on the bright side, collagen does have outstanding moisturising effects, so not all is lost.
What Are Potential Benefits Of Collagen Ingestion?
How Does Medical Aesthetics Stimulate Collagen?
Collagen is stimulated naturally by our body as part of the natural healing process. Medical aesthetics uses targeted tissue injury and products to support natural collagen stimulation within the skin.
What Does The Research Say?
There’s an amazing amount of subjective evidence saying collagen is great, but there’s not a lot of science to prove it. As the use of nutraceuticals (including collagen) for skincare has been rising, clinical studies regarding the potential effects of collagen-based dietary supplements on skin are increasing. Preliminary results are promising for the short and long-term use of oral collagen supplements for wound healing and skin aging. ⁶Oral collagen supplements were noted to increase skin elasticity, hydration, and dermal collagen density. It thought that collagen supplements are generally safe, having no reported adverse events.⁶
Oral supplementation with collagen peptides is effective in improving hallmarks of skin aging.⁷ At present, it is impossible to ingest a specific collagen (through meat, plant, or supplementation sources) that individually targets different areas of the body (e.g. joints, skin, nails, etc.). Instead, research supports more generalized improvement of body effects when collagen sources are increased. Essentially, taking in sources of collagen will have a generalized improvement in your joints, nails, hair, and skin.
¹ Bolke, L., Schlippe, G., Gerb, J., & Voss, W. (2019). A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients, 11(10), 2494. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102494
² Bello, A. E., & Oesser, S. (2006). Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature. Current medical research and opinion, 22(11), 2221–2232. https://doi.org/10.1185/030079906X148373
³ Proksch, E., Segger, D., Degwert, J., Schunck, M., Zague, V., & Oesser, S. (2014). Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Skin pharmacology and physiology, 27(1), 47–55. https://doi.org/10.1159/000351376
⁴ Porfírio, E. & Bernardes Fanaro, G (2016). Collagen supplementation as a complementary therapy for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis: a systematic review. Brazilian Journal of Geriatrics and Gerontology, 19(1):153-164. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/1809-9823.2016.14145
⁵Wadyka, S. (2020). The real deal on collagen. Can popping a pill or eating foods with collagen improve your skin, hair, nails, or joints? Consumer Reports. The Real Deal on Collagen - Consumer Reports
⁵ Choi, F. D., Sung, C. T., Juhasz, M. L., & Mesinkovsk, N. A. (2019). Oral Collagen Supplementation: A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications. Journal of drugs in dermatology : JDD, 18(1), 9–16.
⁶ Asserin, J., Lati, E., Shioya, T., & Prawitt, J. (2015). The effect of oral collagen peptide supplementation on skin moisture and the dermal collagen network: evidence from an ex vivo model and randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 14(4), 291–301. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.12174
Cindy is an experienced RN(NP) residing in Southern Manitoba, Canada, With a passion to support her patients looking and feeling their best at every age. This blog is to support patients in gaining knowledge about skincare, medical aesthetics procedures, and health & wellness practices. It is her goal to share the knowledge she gains from continuous reading of research, and regular continuing professional development sessions. Pursuit of personal and professional growth is paramount to Cindy and she loves to share this learning with her patients.