Collagen is widely known as a treatment in many medical procedures, most notably cosmetic. However, the popularity of edible supplements has vastly expanded the protein’s market. Are collagen supplements healthy and will they make you look younger?
The problem with supplements is the lack of regulation from the FDA. This is usually because of a lack of scientific data with conclusive evidence to support claims.
Plus, the FDA doesn’t really like giving the “OK” on products that appear more like miracle cures…even if they truly are.
What is Collagen
Collagen is a protein that is widely found within the human body. It aids in the formation of everything from bones to skin. Collagen helps hold everything together, such as your joints and tendons.
As we get older, the levels of collagen in our bodies decrease. This is one of the most influential problems when showing signs of aging. Wrinkles, arthritis and even digestive problems are common when you get up there in the years.
This is why many beauty supplies include collagen – to reverse the signs of aging.
Benefits of Collagen Supplements
A lot of people speak about the benefits of collagen supplements, but I would rather put science into the equation. It’s one thing to say something works, it’s another to prove it.
Here’s what I found while looking for facts to support claims.
Hair and Skin Health
It’s found that collagen-rich edibles contribute to the health and strength of hair and skin. In fact, many foods rich in elements to promote collagen synthesis show a significant difference after 24 weeks. 1
A variety of the foods you eat contribute to developing the component. This includes anything rich is vitamin C, E or omega-3 fatty acids. These also contribute to weight loss, in case you’re interested.
For instance, dietary tomato paste rich in lycopene contributes to protecting the skin against ultraviolet radiation. Now, this doesn’t mean that eating a bushel of tomatoes will act like sun screen. However, tomatoes and other lycopene-rich foods reduce the damage caused by UV light. 2
Improves Joints and Relieves Pain
In a 24-week study, evidence supports how collagen hydrolysate has great potential to treat the joints of heavily active individuals. This means it supports athletes by reducing deterioration and pain experienced during activities. 3
As collagen is used in our joints and tendons, it only makes sense that increasing the body’s output would improve how we move. This has great potential for those who suffer from arthritis, and is often used to treat it.
Bear in mind, the study above was over a span of six months. Taking collagen supplements may not immediately impact the body. But evidence suggests that it will over time.
Empowers the Metabolism…of Bones
I’ve come across a lot of articles stating how collagen supplements encourages our metabolism and helps us lose weight. In reality, I have yet to see an actual study demonstrating that claim.
However, I have found a study that demonstrates how collagen enhances bone metabolism, which has potential to strengthen against diseases like osteoporosis. But here’s the kicker…the study everyone is talking about was done on rats. 4
Don’t get discouraged, though. A lot of things that affect rats also affect us in the same way. Because there is evidence supporting bone health, there is potential that collagen supplements will help your skeletal frame.
Improves Muscle Mass
According to one study I found, collagen peptides as well as resistance training improved overall strength and motor control of men over the age of 65. While this does show promise, keep in mind there were only 53 elderly participants in this study. 5
Does a lack of participants mean collagen doesn’t affect muscle mass? Absolutely not. It does show how more studies are needed and how there is potential to vastly improve muscle strength in the elderly.
Why is age such an important issue to consider? Because humans decrease collagen production as we age. What affects someone at the age of 65 may not work on someone in his or her 20s. It’s all about balance, and the elderly have more of a depletion factor than the young.
Over the course of three months, it’s possible collagen supplements may improve overall strength during weight training workouts.
Enhances Energy Output
So collagen has potential to improve energy levels, but only indirectly. Collagen consists of amino acids including glycine and proline. These two components are commonly found in a variety of supplements such as whey protein powders like the Maxpro Elite mix. 6
To say that collagen promotes energy is a bit misleading, really. Although it contains amino acids that contribute to energizing the muscles, it’s also not as concentrated.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found a solid study to promote the idea these types of supplements are good for getting you moving. However, evidence does support how it will assist in improving your physical activity.
Aids in Cardiovascular Health
The only evidence I can find of collagen supplements aiding in cardiovascular health center around rats. According to one study, collagen is capable of improving the flexibility of arteries and the heart. 7
Atherosclerosis is a disease known for the hardening of arteries. It’s usually a common problem many elderly people experience. And collagen, among other things, assists by making the tissue softer.
Although this focuses more on rats, it still lends a bit of truth to how it may help in cardiovascular health. Then again, many people swear by it. So perhaps there is more truth behind it than we have evidence to support.
Improves Sleeping Patterns
This is another one of those “yes/no” issues for collagen supplements. The claim is how it improves sleep, but it’s not really the collagen itself doing this. Again, it’s the glycine involved in the genetic makeup of collagen that promotes better rest. Which doesn’t make sense when you compare to how it’s supposed to be used to promote energy. 8
This goes to show how you can have conflicting results within small studies. Does it promote rest or activity?
What Are the Drawbacks to Collagen Supplements?
Now that we know a few of the proposed benefits behind collagen supplements, what are some of the health factors? Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find much in terms of actual studies regarding the actual downsides behind collagen consumption.
However, here are a few of the most talked about points on the Internet.
Hypercalcemia – or too Much Calcium
Unfortunately, I am unable to find causes for how collagen supplements can cause hypercalcemia. All I come across are blog posts and articles regurgitating the same information without actually citing studies.
So, let’s approach this a different way. Increasing the amount of collagen in your body may create an abundance of an element you don’t need. While most of the time the body rids itself of high-levels of these elements through urination, it’s possible collagen calcifies in the blood stream.
Which would make a bit of sense since collagen supplements are used to promote bone health.
If you know of any actual studies, hit me up on Twitter or leave a comment below.
People have also complained about certain types of collagen causing issues. For instance, those who are affected by shellfish may want to stay clear of collagen derived from sea-dwelling creatures.
On the up side, allergic reactions are rare when compared to the sheer number of people who take or use collagen products.
Lack of Regulation
Perhaps the most damning part of collagen supplements is the lack of regulation regarding these products. It means you should use at your own risk and cross your fingers you’re not negatively affected.
But like I mentioned earlier, the FDA doesn’t support a lot of things that actually have significant evidence to support claims.
What’s the Bottom Line?
In the end, it all boils down to “does it work.” Based on the actual evidence I can find, I would have to say yes, but with an asterisk.
There is evidence to support certain aspects of these kinds of pills or topical ointments, but not enough to truly say with certainty that you’d benefit – especially if you’re under the age of 65 and are not a rat.
Personally, I wouldn’t spend money on collagen pills or other supplements. As you can get and promote collagen synthesis through certain types of foods, I’d rather do that. Besides, it would ensure I get other nutrients to improve health overall.
As always, feel free to comment if you found actual studies that prove or disprove collagen as a healthy product. I’d love to know and might add it to this article.[template id=”3591″]